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Trends in the Age of Education Infrastructure in Canada

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Valérie Gaudreault, Donald Overton and John Trstenjak
Statistics Canada

Overall trends in the average age of education infrastructure in Canada
The components of education infrastructure
Provincial trends in average age of education infrastructure
Conclusion

“On the whole, the average age of Canada's education infrastructure (its elementary and secondary schools, universities and colleges) has fallen slightly since the early 2000s after nearly doubling during the previous three decades.”

“In 2008, the nation's education infrastructure was an estimated 20.1 years old on average, slightly below the peak of 21.3 years in 2000.”

“Education buildings were at their youngest in 1969 when the average age hit 11.0 years, following huge investments in new facilities to accommodate a large inflow of baby boomers.”

These are a few of the conclusions reported by a recently-published Statistics Canada study that analyzed trends in the age of education infrastructure in Canada over the period between 1961 and 2008.1 This article highlights a few of the key findings of that report and explains how changes in the age of education infrastructure are measured.

Box 1:
Measuring change in the age of education infrastructure

In general, new investments in education capital stock take the form of new construction, renovations or additions to existing facilities. At the same time, investments that have passed their useful life are being discarded from the value of the gross capital stock. These two factors together largely determine the average age of education infrastructure. In practice, there can be several different age distributions for a given average age. For example, there can be structures whose ages are clustered around the average age or a combination of young structures with much older structures.

Investments in capital stock in the education sector are driven largely by the demand for educational services. When demand grows due to increases in the size of school-age population or because participation in postsecondary education rises, for example, new investments must be made to expand physical capacity. When added to the stock of existing facilities, these new investments tend to lower the average age of the gross stock.

Data from the Capital and Repair Expenditures Survey for the 1961 to 2008 period are used to calculate useful service life and average age of assets. Based on these data, it is estimated that an institutional building has a mean useful service life of about 40 years.2

Over time, ageing infrastructure must be replaced or renewed. Demographic trends may dictate a need for expanding or reducing capacity in some areas. Some provinces may experience faster population growth and have a younger population than other parts of the country, prompting a need for more investment in education infrastructure in these jurisdictions.

Overall trends in the average age of education infrastructure in Canada

At the national level, education buildings were at their youngest in 1969 when the average age was 11.0 years following large investments in new facilities to accommodate the influx of baby boomers into the school system (Chart 1). The average age increased rapidly until the mid-1980s as the need for new construction or major renovations was less pressing due to the fact that many buildings were relatively new. Also, fertility rates were declining (the baby bust) and baby boomers were moving into the labour force.

Chart 1
Large capital investments in universities since 2000 have lowered the average age of education infrastructure

Description for Chart 1

Chart 1: Large capital investments in universities since 2000 have lowered the average age of education infrastructure

Source: Statistics Canada, special tabulation, Investment and Capital Stock Division.

From the mid-1980s to the turn of the millennium, the average age of education infrastructure continued to increase, but at a slower pace. New investments were required to accommodate the children of the baby boomers (echo boom) who were entering elementary and secondary schools, but these investments were not sufficient to maintain or reduce the average age.

By the turn of the millennium, the average age of education infrastructure in Canada had risen to 21.3 years. On average, the service life of education buildings is estimated at about 40 years. This means that, in 2008, investments in education physical infrastructure had passed 51% of their useful service life. This is lower than in the cases of other major infrastructure types such as bridges and overpasses (57%), highways and roads (53%) and wastewater systems (63%), but significantly higher than water supply systems (40%).3

The components of education infrastructure

In 2008, elementary and secondary schools were the major determinant of the average age of education buildings, representing the largest proportion of the total gross stock of all education infrastructure, at $70.7 billion or 61% of all education infrastructure.

The average age of elementary and secondary schools has been fairly stable at the national level since 1996. In 2008, the average age of elementary and secondary school infrastructure in Canada stood at 21.0 years or at 53% of its estimated useful life. Between 2000 and 2008, renovations and new investments in school building roughly offset the value of discarded assets, with the value of gross stock increasing from $65.3 billion in 2000 to $70.7 billion in 2008. As a result, the average age of elementary and secondary education infrastructure stayed more or less constant over the period.

At 24%, universities accounted for the second largest component of gross education infrastructure stock in 2008. Starting in 2000, investments in university infrastructure stocks experienced a marked increase, reaching a value of $27.4 billion in 2008. From 2000 to 2008, the value of stock in elementary and secondary schools increased 1.0% per year on average compared with 2.1% for colleges and 3.9% for universities. As a result, the share of infrastructure stock accounted for by elementary and secondary schools decreased from 65% to 61% over the period. These trends reflect the fact that, at the national level, only small changes have taken place in the number of students enrolled at the elementary and secondary level since 1981. In contrast, enrolment in postsecondary institutions has increased over time, with especially strong increases occurring in the first half of the 2000s.

Chart 2
Postsecondary enrolment is a major investment driver

Description for Chart 2

Chart 2: Postsecondary enrolment is a major investment driver

Source: Statistics Canada, special tabulation, Economic Analysis Group, Business and Trade Statistics Field.

In general, investments in colleges and universities are relatively more recent compared to those made in elementary and secondary schools. New investments in postsecondary education infrastructure were 2.7 times the amount of discarded investments over the 2000 to 2008 period, reducing its average age. Gross capital stock invested in university infrastructure amounted to $27.4 billion in 2008, of which $10.8 billion was new investment that occurred since 2001.

Colleges represent the third largest component of education infrastructure, accounting for 10% of gross stock in 2008. This proportion has risen almost uninterrupted since the early 1960s when the community college system was introduced widely in the country. The average age of college infrastructure was 19.7 years in 2005 and 19.3 years in 2008.

Provincial trends in average age of education infrastructure

In 2008, British Columbia and Alberta had the youngest education infrastructure in the country, whereas the average age of education infrastructure exceeded the national average in seven provinces: New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan. The average age of education infrastructure in Ontario was equal to the national average.

The average age of education buildings varies by province for several reasons, such as demographic trends, economic conditions and provincial education policies. A relatively younger or older education infrastructure for a given province might reflect differences in a population’s age structure and growth, in addition to differences due to other factors. It does not mean, however, that the infrastructure is of better or lesser quality.

Another factor affecting the distribution and evolution of the average age of education buildings across provinces is the relative importance of the various categories of education institutions. Nationally, the gross value of stock was highest for elementary and secondary schools, followed by universities, then colleges in 2008. This was not always the case at the provincial level.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s education buildings are second oldest among the provinces. In 2008, their average age had reached 22.5 years or 57% of the estimated useful service life. The province’s college infrastructure has aged due to lower investment since 1975; in 2008, it had the highest average age among colleges in Canada at 28.8 years.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s investment in its university infrastructure experienced a brief rejuvenating trend in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s thanks to strong investments. This province was the only one in which the gross stock of university infrastructure has aged in the most recent period. Even so, the average age of the university infrastructure in Newfoundland and Labrador was 18.9 years in 2008, just above the national average of 18.0.

In 2008, Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest percentage of all provinces of its population in the age group 5 to 17 years. The province has experienced negative rates of growth in this age group for at least three decades. Despite this, average yearly investment since 2000 in elementary and secondary schools as a percentage of gross stock was 3.3%, just above the national average of 3.0%. As a result, the average age of elementary and secondary schools remained below the national average, at 20.0 years in 2008.

At 20.3 years or 51% of its estimated useful life, Prince Edward Island was fifth youngest among the provinces in terms of the average age of its education infrastructure in 2008. This occurred as a result of recent substantial investments in its university infrastructure.

Nova Scotia, which had the oldest education infrastructure in 2000, reached an average age of 21.3 years or 54% of its estimated useful life in 2008. Investments in elementary and secondary schools, which were the strongest across all provinces over the period, were primarily responsible for the reduction in age.

In 2008, New Brunswick’s education infrastructure had reached 59% of its estimated useful life. With an average age of 23.2 years, it was the oldest in the country, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec. The rate of investment in New Brunswick has been less than needed to prevent education infrastructure from continuous ageing since 1970, when the average age was 8.7 years. Growth of stock at the elementary and secondary levels slowed over the last five decades. Average annual growth in the 1960s was almost 14%, but was only about 1% in the 1990s and has been almost stagnant since 2000. This may reflect the fact that the proportion of the province’s population aged 5 to 17 years has been below the national average since 1996, whereas it had been consistently above the national average between 1971 and 1995.

Quebec’s education infrastructure was third oldest among the provinces in 2008, at an average age was 21.7 years, or 55%, of its estimated useful life. During the 1990s, the average age of elementary and secondary school infrastructure in Quebec continued to increase. Although increases in investment in education infrastructure in Quebec were not as high as the national average, universities benefited from an increase in their share of overall investment and a decrease in the average age of university infrastructure.

The average age of Ontario’s education infrastructure was equal to the national average, at 20.1 years or 51% of its estimated useful life in 2008. This occurred only recently, whereas it was higher than the national average between 1974 and 2004. Between 2000 and 2008, the decrease in average age of education infrastructure in Ontario was driven by changes at both the university and elementary/secondary levels. The largest decrease in average age occurred at the university level, due to strong investments which resulted in a decrease in the average age of university infrastructure from 24.4 years in 1999 to 19.2 years in 2008. These investments reflected, in part, the expansion of facilities to accommodate the “double cohort” of high school students resulting from the elimination of the Ontario Academic Credit year in 2003. The average age of elementary and secondary schools in Ontario decreased 1.4 years between 2000 and 2008, reflecting an average annual increase in the value of stock of 1.3% during that period.

The average age of education infrastructure in Manitoba stood at 21.5 years or 54% of its estimated useful service life in 2008. Elementary and secondary school infrastructure has been the oldest among the provinces since 1996, reaching a peak of 25.2 years in 2008. Investment in university infrastructure remained strong from the mid-1990s to 2008, reducing its average age from 22.3 to 17.6 years.

At an average age of 20.2 years or 51% of its estimated useful life, the age of Saskatchewan’s education infrastructure was similar to the national average in 2008. Although this was an improvement from 2000, the province slipped from third to fourth youngest as a result of stronger investments in Ontario. Between 2000 and 2008, the stock of education infrastructure in Saskatchewan grew by an average annual rate of 1.8%, led by gains at the university and college levels. University stock was up 4.5% annually, while college infrastructure rose 2.5% a year. Conversely, the stock of elementary and secondary school infrastructure decreased an average 0.1% each year.

Alberta had the second youngest education infrastructure in Canada in 2008. High average annual investment during the 2000s lowered the average to 18.8 years or 48% of its estimated useful life in 2008. Higher investments at all three levels of education contributed to the downward trend. Demand for investment in education infrastructure was driven largely by population growth between 2000 and 2008, which has been the fastest among the provinces and with much of that gain being due to inter-provincial migration.

British Columbia had the youngest education infrastructure in Canada in 2008, with an average age of 17.3 years or 44% of its useful service life. The average age of education infrastructure in British Columbia peaked in 1990, much earlier than in the other provinces; the average age then declined until 1996 and fluctuated between 16.8 years and 17.7 during the following 10 years. British Columbia renewed investments in education infrastructure sooner than other provinces, most likely to accommodate large cohorts of international immigrants and migrants from other provinces. From 1991 to 1996, British Columbia saw the largest increase in the number of children under age 17–between 1988 and 1998, the average growth rate in the age group 5 to 17 years was 2.4% compared to a national average of 1.0%. Investments in education infrastructure were such that the average of education infrastructure remained relatively constant in the following years. This was due in part to large investments at the postsecondary level aimed at increasing access to university. A new university was created in the northern part of the province in 1994 and several colleges received degree-granting status in the late 1980s and the 1990s, with associated increased operating and capital funding.

Conclusion

Canada invests billions of dollars a year to repair, upgrade and expand its public infrastructure. The key factor in determining the age of public infrastructure is the amount of investment over time–without sufficient new investment, the stock of infrastructure declines and its age increases.

Many factors affect the amount of investment in education infrastructure. These include the age of existing stock and the need for investment to renew that stock. Demographic factors play a role with the relative size of the elementary-secondary and postsecondary populations influencing the allocation of investment in education infrastructure at the different levels of the education system. Fertility rates, in combination with flows of migrants, affect investment needs differently both across and within provinces. At the local level, changes in the distribution of families with school-aged children play a key role in determining where new schools are needed, while at the same time, leading to the need to consolidate or discard older facilities. Finally, changes in the demand for education at the postsecondary level also affect the need for investment in new capacity.

That being said, education infrastructure comprises only one component of total infrastructure in Canada. Competing demands for investment in other sectors arise from similar sets of factors. It can be expected, for example, that the trend toward an aging population and the need to invest in renewal of other types of public infrastructure will pose challenges in the allocation of public investment in infrastructure in the years ahead.

Notes

  1. Gaudreault, Valérie, Donald Overton and John Trstenjak. 2009. Age of Education Infrastructure: Recent Trends. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-621-M. Ottawa, Ontario. Analysis in Brief, no. 81.
    www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-621-m/11-621-m2009081-eng.htm (accessed October 27, 2009).

  2. For more information on how Statistics Canada computes the useful service life and average age of assets, please see Statistics Canada, Investment Flows and Capital Stocks – Methodology 2001.

  3. See Gagnon Mychèle, Valérie Gaudreault and Donald Overton. 2008. Age of Public Infrastructure: A Provincial Perspective. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-621-M. Ottawa, Ontario. Analysis in Brief, no. 67
    www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-621-m/11-621-m2008067-eng.htm (accessed October 27, 2009).