Post-Secondary Education: Cornerstone of Our Knowledge Economy

Halifax is Canada’s smart city.  We have one of the largest concentrations of universities and colleges in North America and one of the best educated workforces in all of Canada.  This series explores and celebrates the numerous post-secondary assets in Halifax; the sector’s impact on our economy and community; research and commercialization; and partnerships between post-secondary and business.

Universities and colleges are economic drivers of communities where they are located.  This is well understood in the United States with its Ivy League schools, private universities, research institutes, and business incubators but less understood in Canada.  Colleagues of mine in the United States with a major university nearby consider themselves lucky because with a bit of work these institutions become growth engines. 

In Canada for example, some observers think of universities as cost centres, forgetting that the public contribution to universities has been falling for decades in real terms and that more and more, they are funding themselves through tuition and externally financed research.   Local governments may at times think of them as a nuisance because of the occasional exuberance of youth or parking or traffic issues, forgetting the residential and commercial tax base that post-secondary institutions shore up.


Drivers of Prosperity & Innovation

Fact is, these institutions grow economies in unique ways.  A 2011 economic impact analysis focused on Dalhousie University points this out in specific ways.   These institutions are big employers, in Dalhousie’s case 5,400 jobs on-campus support another 10,000 jobs off campus. Dal pays close to $300 million in direct wages driving big volumes of personal spending and investment in Halifax.  Add to this, capital spending, much of which flows to local companies and the impact is huge.

Students also spend money, in Dalhousie’s case; $88 million is spent every year by 17,000 students.  Universities also provide services to the community…in the case of Dalhousie…a whole range of medical services drawn from health practitioners in training. Dal’s dentistry school serves, 12,000 people. Medical residents and student nurses keep our hospitals running.

Universities in particular also draw vital research dollars into the community.  Dal alone drew in $132 million in research last year.  This has huge potential benefits for spin-off activity and new business start-up. Big Nova Scotia head-officed companies like Ocean Nutrition Canada and ImmunoVaccine Technologies had their start in university partnerships. 

Talent Magnets

Students on Hill Perhaps the most important role universities and the community college plays in Halifax is their role as talent magnets.  About 40,000 post-secondary students are currently in classrooms, labs, coop terms, and apprentice postings in Halifax.  These emerging professionals represent a vital competitive advantage for business in Halifax.  Because of these institutions, Halifax business have access to one of the best and deepest labour pools in the country. As the impact of demographic change washes over our economy this resource will become even more important.  However, this advantage doesn’t belong to us by right. As the competition for skilled people heats up companies from across the country and around the world will be trying to capture this talent. 

So post-secondary education is clearly a cornerstone of the Halifax economy, the driver of knowledge based industry and our biggest and best competitive advantage.  These places of higher learning have never been more important to us and their value is on the rise. What we do with it is up to us.

Universities Economic Impact: Fast Facts

Atlantic Canadian universities’ direct contribution to GDP was $2.6 billion in 2008 (a 31% increase since 2004). In Nova Scotia alone, our 11 universities (six of which are in Halifax) contribute:

  • $1.2 billion to GDP
  • Employ 8,079 people (over 6,000 jobs in Halifax)
  • Generate $220 million in tax revenues
  • Responsible for 50% of provincial R&D
  • Generate over $860 million in personal income
  • Attract more than $150 million in annual funding 

* Figures from The Association of Atlantic Universities, The Economic Impact of Universities in Atlantic Provinces: The Current View 2006 – 08,  May 2010



Fred Morley is the Executive Vice President and Chief Economist at the Greater Halifax Partnership.



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