@ Issue Paper No. 7 Expanding Opportunities for Graduate Studies: The Recent Experience of Ontario

Executive Summary:

Ontario graduate enrolments surge over the last decade by more than 50 per cent

Ontario has outpaced the rest of Canada in graduate enrolment growth over the last decade. Doctoral enrolments increased by 67 per cent and master’s enrolments were up by 51 per cent, according to a summary research report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

To ensure that Ontario is well-positioned in the changing knowledge-based economy, the provincial government encouraged the expansion of graduate study opportunities. For the student, a graduate education holds the promise of greater employment opportunities, income, satisfaction, and stability; for the economy, graduate students are more likely to possess the knowledge and skills needed to successfully engage in the labour market.

The research shows that there has been a huge growth in enrolments from students who are 22 to 29 years of age and that more graduate students are studying full time. The research also indicates that Ontario universities responded to the enrolment growth by creating new programs and broadening field of study choices.

Project Description

Focusing on graduate enrolment in Ontario’s master’s and doctoral programs from 1999-00 to 2008-09, this @ Issue paper, Expanding Opportunities for Graduate Studies: The Recent Experience of Ontario explores the recent growth in master’s and doctoral degree programs in the province, the demographic characteristics of graduate students, where the growth took place; examining growth in universities, and in fields of study.

The report utilizes data from three sources: the 2006 Census to provide overall measures of degree holders in Ontario; the Postsecondary Information System (PSIS) for current enrolments; and the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies (OCGS) for data on new programs.

Key Findings

Overall enrolment

 – From 1999-00 to 2008-09, Ontario doctoral enrolments increased by 67 per cent and master’s enrolments expanded by 51 per cent, as compared to the rest of Canada where doctoral enrolments increased by 61 per cent and master’s enrolments by 38 per cent.

Part-time students

– The past decade has seen a slight increase in the actual number of part-time enrolments in Ontario, although the proportion of university students engaged in part-time studies has declined slightly at all three levels of university programming. The same trend is evident throughout Canada, where part-time enrolments as a percentage of total enrolments have declined.


– Over the last decade, there has been little change in the gender distribution at Ontario’s universities. In 2008-09, females made up nearly 55 per cent of enrolments at the master’s level but still have yet to reach 50 per cent at the doctoral level. Similarly at the national level, females account for 56 per cent of enrolments at the master’s level and 47 per cent at the doctoral level.


 – As of 2008-09, two-thirds of the recent growth in master’s enrolments has been at the 22-24 and 25-29 age groups, likely created by the demand of the double cohort in Ontario. Across the rest of Canada, master’s enrolments increased fairly evenly across all age groups.

International students

 – The number of international students in Ontario has doubled since 1999 at both the master’s and doctoral levels. Despite the considerable growth of international student enrolment, the dramatic increase in domestic enrolments has produced a decline in the percentage share of international students enrolled in Ontario’s graduate programs. In the rest of Canada, the proportion of international students compared to domestic students is slightly higher.

Expansion in universities and programs

 – Individual universities have seen considerable and varying increases in the number of graduate students enrolling in their programs. Enrolments across all institutions increased by just over 20,000, from approximately 34,326 students enrolled in 1999-00 to 54,537 in 2008-09.

Universities have also experienced a shift in field of study choice. Enrolments in health, parks, recreation and fitness; architecture, engineering and related technologies; and visual and performing arts and communications technologies more than doubled between 1999-00 to 2008-09. Enrolment in education programs experienced the smallest growth during that period.

Next Steps

Following on previous research and recent commentaries about the quality of graduate education, the paper suggests that more could be done to enhance the understanding of this topic in Ontario. Areas of interest include the institutional impact of increased enrolments; the student experience; student cost; graduation rates of graduate students; supply and demand of doctoral students; labour market outcomes of master’s, doctoral, and postdoctoral scholars; the role of postdoctoral scholars in the university setting; and the impact of graduate students on research capacity and productivity.

HEQCO will be conducting further research on the graduate student experience during 2011, including a research paper on the labour market outcomes for doctoral candidates, and utilizing the Canadian Graduate and Professional Student Survey, research will determine what influences graduate student satisfaction with respect to their academic experience, quality of faculty supervision and course instruction.

Four other HEQCO projects will look at enhancing the teaching skills of graduate students. For example, a project at the University of Toronto is exploring how graduate teaching assistants can be developed as members of a teaching team and a University of Western Ontario team is investigating how international graduate students can be better integrated into the Canadian classroom.

This @ Issue paper was written by Richard Wiggers, research director and Mary Catharine Lennon and Kristyn Frank, research analysts with the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. Special thanks are given to colleagues Sylvia Lin, Angelika Kerr and Louise Winberg for their assistance in the early development of this project.