HALIFAX -- The enrollment of many Atlantic Canadian universities is down from last year, according to a new report from the Association of Atlantic Universities.

The Association of Atlantic Universities says full-time enrolment (undergraduate and graduate) declined by -1.3% (-1,023) students year-over-year while full-time visa students declined -6.6% (-1,264) during the same period.

“Not a surprise,” said Allister Surette, AAU Chair and president of the Université Sainte-Anne in a release. “Once our universities were past the immediate response to the pandemic during the Spring semester and began planning in most cases for delivery of online learning in the fall semester, some declines were expected.”

“Any enrolment decline is a concern, especially among first-year and international students, however, the results illustrate the strength and stability of the university sector in Atlantic Canada at a time when the pandemic has had a devastating effect on so many people and other sectors,” continued Surette.

All but six Atlantic universities (Atlantic School of Theology, Dalhousie University, Mount Saint Vincent University, Mount Allison University, University of New Brunswick and University of Prince Edward Island) reported a decline in international student enrollment.

The report points to national and international travel restrictions and the temporary closure of visa processing offices worldwide as reasons for the decline in international students

“However, the decline in domestic students is not nearly as significant as initially projected,” said Surette. “In fact, many of our universities reported incremental increases in total enrolment.”

As of October 2, the Canadian government is easing travel restrictions on international students so they can begin to return to campuses for the winter semester.

“The importance of visa students to the internationalization of our campuses as well as their cultural, social and economic impacts in communities across the region cannot be overstated. International students are critically important to regional population growth,” says Surette, adding that research conducted by the AAU among graduating international students in 2017 revealed that 65% would like to stay in the region following their graduation.

The report also shows that the number of full-time first-year students has declined more than 10%, with 1,477 less full-time first-year students registered than last year.

However, the part-time enrolment has increased nearly 20% (2,438 more students).

“One could hypothesize that many first-year students opted to go part-time because of travel restrictions and uncertainty about their adaptability to virtual learning versus traditional in classroom learning”, said Surette.