Excitement builds as students return to campus

Strong enrolment, expanded student services mark 106th year of classes at UAlberta.


(Edmonton) The University of Alberta rolled out the welcome mat for more than 39,000 students on the first day of what is shaping up to be a 106th year of classes to remember.

“I am delighted to welcome new and returning students to the University of Alberta,” said Indira Samarasekera, who is in her final year as U of A president. “It is a little bittersweet for me, but it is exciting and exhilarating to be on campus right now as we begin the school year.

“I challenge all of our students to take advantage of their university experience—fully engage in your studies, and explore all the amazing extracurricular opportunities available. You will meet amazing new people and have wonderful experiences that will make your time on campus unforgettable.”

Although about 70 per cent of students call Alberta home, the U of A population includes more than 4,100 students from every province and all three territories in Canada, and an international contingent from 150 countries.

Of all the statistics, however, the most encouraging are the surging numbers of those applying to get into the university. This year the U of A received 40,000 applicants, the most ever.

“It shows that there is growing demand for a University of Alberta education provincially, nationally and around the world,” said Lisa Collins, the university’s registrar and vice-provost.

She said the steady enrolment, paired with the increasing applications, defies conventional wisdom that says young Albertans are increasingly passing up a university education to enter the workforce.

“What we are seeing is a strengthening interest in post-secondary education in the province, and the University of Alberta is the hot ticket,” said Collins.

Collins adds the numbers are showing enrolment and applications to the U of A are strong across the province, “making it truly the University of Alberta.” This includes Aboriginal students whose numbers are set to surpass 1,000 for the first time. “We’ve made Métis, Inuit and First Nations enrolment a priority, and while the number of students is below where we’d like it to be, we’re encouraged by the increase.”

The age range of students this year is also one of the widest ever, including both a 15-year-old and 74-year-old undergraduate. “This shows the university is really about lifelong learning.”

Ask Student Connect, get answers faster

Collins says beyond the good news of the student-body front, Student Connect, the Registrar’s student service model launched last September, has added Ask Student Connect, a new automated response to students’ questions that is accessible to students 24/7.

“What we endeavour to do with Ask Student Connect is to get quick answers to questions back to the students as soon as possible so they don’t need to phone us or turn up in the administration building to get answers,” said Collins. “It will reduce handle time per inquiry and reduce the wait time for response. It also provides the ability to track questions that students ask, which allows us to continually improve Office of the Registrar student service.”

A host of health and wellness services are set to roll out with the opening of the much-anticipated $54-million Physical Activity and Wellness Centre in November. A portion of the project—the social street—opened Sept. 2, with the fitness centre and climbing wall to follow.

“We promote healthy, active lifestyles, and the new facility will encourage greater use of active areas along with spaces for social interaction,” said Cheryl Harwardt, director of operations in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. “We are looking forward to working with students to enhance their experience at the U of A through active participation in sport and leisure.”

Meanwhile, the $13.4M renovation to the Students’ Union Building is expected to be completed in March of 2015.

Finally, from the brand new to things that have stood the test of time, the U of A will be celebrating some important birthdays in the coming months. The Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences will both celebrate centenaries during the 2014–15 academic year. Also celebrating its 100th year is the Alumni Association, which began in 1914.