York consolidates its position as Ontario’s #2 preferred university

York University continues to be the second most preferred university in Ontario according to statistics released yesterday by the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC). Both the overall number of applications and, crucially, the number of students who made York their first choice confirm York’s position.

Almost 29,000 Ontario secondary school students have applied to York for the Fall 2007 term. Of those, over 8,000 students designated York as their first choice – the second-highest among the 19 member institutions for which OUAC produces statistics. 

Left: Students on York’s Keele campus

"What these numbers tell us loud and clear is that students are emphatically choosing York on its academic merits and not as a back-up to other universities," said Rob Tiffin, York vice-president students. "As the application pool this year has increased by 5.2 per cent this year, the question is not one of quantity but of the quality of applicants that a university can attract. We are very happy to be in such a strong position as we start the applicant conversion process."

As of Jan. 11 – the deadline for submission of university applications – almost 80,000 secondary school students had applied for first-year admission to Ontario universities for Fall 2007. The significant growth comes on top of major increases in applications in recent years, even after the double-cohort had been accommodated. This year’s applications to Ontario universities represent an increase of nine per cent over 2005 levels and 11.7 per cent over 2004.

The increased participation rate in the university system in Ontario is a testament to the value of a university degree. "This is part of a long-term shift that is taking place across the world as students – and their parents – increasingly see a university degree as an invaluable asset for building a career or indeed as a springboard for graduate studies," said York Vice-President Academic Sheila Embleton. "These data also show us that there is a continuing shift toward the professional and applied programs with less growth being seen in what might be termed the traditional liberal arts degree. Science and fine arts programs continue to grow in line with the market."

The number of applicants to Ontario universities has exceeded projections, as it did in 2006 and 2005. This aspiration and commitment to university education is good for Ontario – university graduates contribute immensely to Ontario’s social and economic development, to the health and well-being of its citizens and to its competitive position in the global knowledge economy. But the increased demand poses significant challenges for the university sector.

The increase in applications coincides with the province’s Reaching Higher plan, introduced in 2005 to enhance quality, accountability and accessibility in postsecondary education in Ontario. The Reaching Higher plan improved financial support for students and allocated $2.8 billion over five years in new funding to universities.

Right: York students study in the Steacie Science Library

The province and the universities anticipated that the increased investment would fund quality improvements on campus, including improved student-faculty ratios to enhance the student experience. However, according to the Council of Ontario Universities’ November paper, Progress Report: University Access, Accountability and Quality in the Reaching Higher Plan, higher-than-anticipated enrolments have constrained the universities’ capacity to make quality improvements.

The report said that these enrolments, which this year are 14,000 higher than planned for in the Reaching Higher projections, have created a funding shortfall of about $100 million in 2006-2007, a figure that will grow to at least $300 million annually by 2009-2010. Funding these additional students requires new expenditure by the province – funds announced in the Reaching Higher plan for graduate enrolment expansion and quality improvement must not be diverted for this purpose, says the COU report.

This year, each Ontario university entered into a multi-year accountability agreement with the Ministery of Training, College & Universities. The agreements bind the universities to substantial quality improvements on campus, improvements that will be at risk if the province does not commit new funds to meet the demands of additional students, the COU paper says.

Over the past decade, the universities and the Government of Ontario have worked to accommodate massive growth in demand for a university education. The current 2006-2007 enrolment of 357,300 students represents an increase of over 40 per cent since 2000-2001.

Detailed institutional figures and a full analysis of the figures will be posted on the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre Web site today.