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Coinciding with today's university council meeting, vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne announced that based on enrolments so far this year, student numbers are set to increase by about 300 equivalent full-time students (efts) this year.
Enrolments were tracking positively across the university, with growth in both domestic first-year and international first-year enrolments, undergraduate and postgraduate enrolment.
"Obviously this is a very positive picture overall for the university.
"Normally I do not make a statement on enrolments until early April, but the trends we are seeing this year are so consistent that I am able to comment now," Prof Hayne said.
The university was uncertain what impact Labour's tertiary education policy had on student numbers.
"While there has been much interest in the impact –or otherwise – of fees free on enrolments, that is not something the university is able to comment on definitively until the enrolment situation has further settled here, and a broader picture of enrolments across the sector has emerged.
"At this stage, our best reading of the situation is that additional Government funding support for students – which comprise not only fees-free but also increases to student allowances and student loans – has contributed to our growth, but that it has not been the major contributor.
"Other factors such as the availability additional places in our residential colleges and the general liveability and affordability of Dunedin for students have been more important contributors to the positive 2018 enrolment situation," Prof Hayne said.
The university currently has enrolments totalling 17,405 efts, which is 322 efts more than at the same time last year.
Numbers are expected to climb by a further 1100 by the end of this year.
First-year domestic enrolments were up by over 200 efts.
The growth was particularly strong in the sciences and humanities, with both divisions on track for an overall rise.
Health sciences had also secured both first-year and overall growth.
"I want to highlight some particularly exciting news: firstly, this is shaping up to be the first year since 2010 that we are going to see overall growth in the humanities; secondly, we have now achieved over a decade of uninterrupted year-on-year growth in both Māori and Pacific enrolments at Otago.
"At this rate it is likely that Māori enrolments will exceed 2,000 students at Otago for the first time this year, and we will have close to 1,000 Pacific students here as well.
"It is also worth noting that – despite having well over 100 additional beds available to first year students compared to 2017 - the university’s residential colleges have started this year absolutely full."
The growth was accompanied by a further increase in the academic calibre of the university’s commencing cohort, as measured by the performance of Otago’s first-year students at school.
Overall growth in Health Sciences (197 efts), Humanities (81) and Sciences (116) has been offset by a decline in Commerce (72).
First-year domestic enrolments are up 218 efts. This has been of particular benefit to the Sciences and Humanities, both of which have first year growth of over 10% on 2017.
As well as undergraduate enrolment growth, postgraduate enrolments are up 116 efts.
Maori enrolments are currently up by 189 students, and Pacific enrolments are up by 45 students.
International full-fee enrolments are up 81 efts, mainly due to undergraduate growth in Commerce and Health Sciences.