Otago University Faces On-going Issue Of Declining Enrollment

Otago University saw a 2.2 percent decline in overall student enrollments in 2015, with 2016’s enrollment numbers set to be announced at a University Council Meeting on Tuesday afternoon. 

With humanities and commerce departments feeling the brunt of the declining numbers over the last few years, there will be particular interest in whether that trend will continue. According to the ODT, the humanities faculty alone witnessed a 14 percent decline in student numbers since 2010. In addition, commerce and humanities fell 4.7 percent and 4.6 percent respectively last year alone when compared to 2014’s already disappointing numbers. 

The University faces a serious issue, with enrollment declining year-on-year since 2010, with a five percent drop from 2010-2014, declining from 19,918 in 2010 to 18,830 in 2014. In comparison, The University of Auckland’s total equivalent full-time students (EFTS) has increased 4 percent year-on-year over the same period, highlighting the ground Otago University is losing to Auckland University in the race for enrollment and thus funding. 

Pro-vice chancellor of the Humanities Department, Tony Ballantyne, in a comment published in the ODT in December 2014, admitted there is a “crisis” facing humanities subjects, before criticising the National Government, who he said undervalues humanities subjects. Tertiary Education Minister, Steven Joyce, responded in the same article, stating Ballantyne’s comments were frivolous and the Government did indeed value humanities subjects.  

An opinion piece by Otago University Vice Chancellor, Harlene Hayne, has noted the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to the student enrollment figures. 

Harlene Hayne, while discussing the threat of Massive Open Online Courses in issue 35 of the University of Otago Magazine, said that, “As the only truly residential university in New Zealand, we will continue to deploy our resources, including out human capital, to ensure that current and future generations of Otago students have the opportunity to learn directly from teachers and directly from peers.” 

One of the most significant consequences of the declining enrollment numbers is the financial pressure that will result from it. Fewer students mean less funding for the University. Due to this trend becoming commonplace over the last few years, all eyes will be on the University Council Meeting on Tuesday to see whether 2016’s enrollment numbers have fallen once more, and what the University will do in response to the worsening situation.

This article first appeared in Issue 6, 2016.
Posted 10:14am Sunday 10th April 2016 by Joe Higham.