Nova Scotia

University enrolment in N.S. rebounds after COVID-19 dip last year

Most Nova Scotia universities hit hard by the pandemic in 2020 are reporting some gains in 2021.

Overall trend is up but not felt by every school

The University of King's College in Halifax shown in a file photo. King's reported one of the largest gains in student enrolment, more than counterbalancing its 2020 decline. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

For many Nova Scotia universities, enrolment numbers are back to pre-pandemic levels after student counts waned in 2020.

This week, the Association of Atlantic Universities released the results of its survey on preliminary student enrolment, which includes figures from Nova Scotia's 10 universities as of Oct. 1. 

Overall, full-time undergraduate and graduate enrolment in Nova Scotia increased 3.8 per cent from the same time last year. The jump more than counterbalances the 2.9 per cent dip recorded early in the 2020-2021 academic year.

Not every university benefited equally, however.

NSCAD and Cape Breton University were hit hardest by the pandemic in the 2020-2021 academic year, reporting full-time enrolment declines of 16.2 per cent and 25.8 per cent, respectively.

This year, both schools saw enrolment rise, but nowhere near as much as it dropped the year prior. NSCAD enrolment increased 3.6 per cent and CBU's increased four per cent.

A sign outside one of NSCAD University's downtown Halifax buildings. NSCAD was hit hard with pandemic-related enrolment declines. It made small enrolment gains this year. (Robert Short/CBC)

St. Francis Xavier (up 7.8 per cent), the University of King's College (up seven per cent) and Saint Mary's (up 4.7 per cent) saw the largest gains, after dropping 3.2 per cent, 1.1 per cent and 3.6 per cent, respectively, the year before.

Acadia (up three per cent), Dalhousie (up three per cent) and Mount Saint Vincent (up 3.3 per cent) reported increases within one point of the average. Last year, the same three schools saw enrolment drop within one point of the average.

Two schools didn't benefit from the trend: Atlantic School of Theology (down 11.4 per cent, with 39 students compared to last year's 44) and Université Saint-Anne (down 1.1 per cent).

First-year student numbers soar

In a news release, the chair of the Association of Atlantic Universities attributed the upward trend to universities reopening their campuses after being largely shut down since the arrival of the pandemic.

"After a year of mostly online learning, we know that students are eager to return to campus for in classroom learning, residential living and extra curricular activities that are core to the complete university experience," said Dawn Russell, who is also the president and vice-chancellor of St. Thomas University in Fredericton.

Russell noted a large increase in full-time first-year students, which was reported across Atlantic Canada (up overall by 17.1 per cent), but especially so in Nova Scotia (up 26.4 per cent). Nova Scotia's gains in full-time first-year students more than make up for last year's 9.7 per cent decline.

There was also a marked increase in new transfer students, at 12 per cent overall. That jump doesn't quite make up the 14.4 per cent drop reported last year.

Part-time, international enrolment down

Conversely, the enrolment survey found registration for part-time graduate and undergraduate students decreased, almost across the board.

Overall, the count of part-time students dropped 7.5 per cent, but it still remains higher than pre-pandemic levels. Part-time enrolment increased 22 per cent last year.

Dalhousie University's entrance sign on University Avenue in Halifax. The school is one of only two in Nova Scotia to report an increase in part-time student enrolment. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

The exceptions to the downward trend in part-time enrolments are Dalhousie (up 8.9 per cent) and Mount Saint Vincent (up 9.8 per cent).

International student enrolment also declined, by 0.9 per cent overall, although that figure varies significantly by institution.


Taryn Grant


Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?