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As is often said, demography is destiny—and it paints a bright future for Alberta.

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According to Statistics Canada, Alberta has the youngest population in Canada. Alberta Education enrollment data shows that the number of high school graduates will increase by over 20 per cent in the next five years. Among the many advantages enjoyed by Alberta, nothing is more important than its growing young population.

But only if we can keep them here.

Of great concern are the numbers of young Albertans choosing to leave the province to pursue post-secondary studies elsewhere in Canada, a net outflow of almost 6,000 students each year. This number is significantly higher than in any other province. Once gone, how many of these talented students will return to Alberta upon graduating?

Since I started in the role as president of the University of Alberta, my advocacy efforts with the province have focused on enrollment growth. To ensure that talented young Albertans make this province their top choice for their education, the U of A has set an ambitious target to grow our enrollment by more than 25 per cent over the next five years.

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Investing in educating a growing young population confers enormous economic advantages: a growing and highly skilled workforce, growing demand for goods and services and a growing tax base.

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Over the next decade, two-thirds of Canadian jobs will require post-secondary education. In Alberta, projections to 2028 reveal that there will be a labor shortage of between 1,700 and 3,750 university graduates every year.

To make the most of this opportunity, the Government of Alberta has made a significant new investment in Budget 2022 — $171 million over the next three years to increase post-secondary enrollment in high-demand programs. This week, the government announced specific investment details for enrollment growth at post-secondary institutions across the province.

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The largest post-secondary institution in Alberta, the U of A received $48 million for enrollment growth, targeted to our globally recognized business, engineering, science and nursing programs. This means thousands more students will have access to the university’s high-demand programs — and Alberta businesses, industries, community organizations and public institutions will have the highly skilled employees they need.

This new funding will help us toward the U of A’s goal of welcoming over 50,000 students by 2025, up from 42,000 today.

Upon graduation, these highly skilled people will enter the economy, boosting Alberta’s annual GDP by up to $800 million and building stronger communities. The vast majority of the U of A graduates — nearly 85 per cent — stay in the province and find employment in every sector, with one in five Albertans working for businesses and organizations founded by U of A alumni.

Demographics are one of Alberta’s greatest advantages. By continuing to invest in our young people, we can ensure that Alberta will provide the opportunities for thousands of talented young Albertans to stay in Alberta, building a thriving economy and society to the benefit of all Albertans.

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Bill Flanagan is president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta.

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