Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary


NAICS 6113

Universities comprise establishments primarily engaged in providing academic courses and granting degrees at the bachelor or graduate levels. The requirement for admission is at least a high school diploma or equivalent general academic training for baccalaureate programs, and often a baccalaureate degree for professional or graduate programs. Canadian universities employed 267,200 workers in 2016, distributed proportionately to population: 37% in Ontario, 22% in Quebec, 14% in British Columbia, 12% in Alberta, and 15% in the remaining provinces. The workforce is characterized by a slight majority of women (53%) and a relatively high share of part-time employees (23%). Key occupations (4-digit code) include:

  • University professors and lecturers (4011)
  • Post-secondary teaching and research assistants (4012)
  • Administrators - post-secondary education and vocational training (0421)
  • Education policy researchers, consultants and program officers (4166)
  • Educational consellors (4033)
  • Librarians (5111)

Economic activity in universities is mainly driven by demographic trends in the 18-24 age cohort and particularly sensitive to government expenditures in education. Growth in output was particularly strong over the past ten years, primarily driven by solid gains in population aged 18 to 24. During that period, a large number of millennials graduated from high school (or from CEGEPs in Quebec) and began to attend universities. An emphasis on attracting foreign students also contributed to increase attendance in many Canadian universities. Output expanded continuously over the past decade, even during the recession of 2008-2009, reflecting the fact that during bad economic times, youth usually stay in school longer while displaced workers return to school in response to poorer job opportunities. However, employment was more volatile, declining somewhat in 2008, 2009 and 2014, before quickly recovering in subsequent years. On average, real GDP in universities increased at an annual rate of 3.3% over the period 2007-2016, compared to 1.3% for employment. This means that productivity accounted for about 40% of output growth, although the concept and mesurement of productivity in educational services may differ from the other sectors of the economy where goods and services are traded and more easily valued in monetary terms. Nevertheless, new technologies such as online courses and e-learning applications have enabled universities to meet the growing demand for their services without increasing employment excessively. This allowed universities to contain costs at a time when many provinces had to cope with surging fiscal deficits following the recession of 2008-2009.

Over the period 2017-2026, output and employment growth in universities is projected to slow markedly relative to the previous ten years, primarily reflecting the significant decline anticipated in population aged 18 to 24. However, the growing demand for higher educated and skilled workers resulting from the continued shift toward a knowledge-based economy is expected to keep pushing up enrolment rates in post-secondary education. Universities are also expected to increase their efforts to attract foreign students, but this may be challenging because the demographic patterns observed in Canada are also present in many other developed countries, although the persisent weakness anticipated in the Canadian dollar represents a competitive advantage. The resulting pace of growth in universities’ real GDP and employment is projected to average 0.6% and 0.3% per year respectively from 2017 to 2026, a notable slowdown from the previous decade, as higher enrolment rates anticipated in post-secondary education will not be enough to offset demographic trends. As it is generally the case for all new technologies, the impact of online courses and e-learning applications on productivity are expected to fade over time, partly explaining the slower pace of growth projected in productivity over the projection period.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Universities

Figure showing the annual growth of real GDP and employment over the periods 2007-2016 and 2017-2026 for the industry of Universities. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Universities, 2007-2016 and 2017-2026, in Percent
  Real GDP Employment
2007-2016 3.3 1.3
2017-2026 0.6 0.3

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

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