Falling student enrolment is a key trend in Global North

Following decades of growth, dropping student enrolment has become a major trend in higher education in the Global North. Demographic decline has combined with factors such as the global financial crisis and sliding gross enrolment ratios to shrink tertiary education sectors and threaten the viability of universities and colleges in several countries, says a new world report.

“The regions where enrolment declines are truly dramatic are Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where you see declines in the ballpark of 30% across a host of jurisdictions,” said Jonathan Williams, vice president at Toronto-based Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA), which produced the report.

Within overarching enrolment trends, there has been considerable variation. “There has been growth in some countries – such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands – and steep decline in others, such as Romania and Russia.”

One finding that was “definitely a surprise” was that after 2011, 15 out of 56 countries studied (see the list of Global North countries below) had student number declines of 5% or greater.

The HESA research found continuing high levels of funding for higher education globally. This translates into increased quality in the Global North, Williams said, although in the past decade many universities and colleges – public but especially private – have been squeezed by flatlining enrolments and funding.

Comprehensive global research led Williams and HESA President Alex Usher to co-author the report, World Higher Education: Institutions, students and funding, which will be launched on 31 March 2022 at a webinar hosted by HESA and University World News.

The webinar is titled “How Higher Education Enrolment is Changing Worldwide: The triumphs, the challenges and the growing funding gap between regions”.

The speakers include Alex Usher, along with Simon Marginson, a higher education professor at the University of Oxford, and Francisco Marmolejo, higher education president at the Qatar Foundation. (You can register to participate here).

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