This op-ed was published in a special insert in the Toronto Star September 20, 2013
President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
Today’s university students are preparing for the world of work in new and innovative ways. From hands-on research opportunities to internships and global study, Canada’s universities are preparing students for meaningful careers through non-traditional learning opportunities.
Universities and their students recognize the importance of connecting studies with the needs of the labour market, and that’s reflected in what’s happening on campus. Students prepare for rewarding careers through growing opportunities for experiential learning. Today, half of all undergraduate students in Canada will have a co-op or internship experience before they graduate.
Employment data confirms that a university degree remains the best protection against unemployment. In fact, just 3.7 percent of 25 to 64 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees earned in Canada were unemployed in 2010 to 2011.
It’s not just the ‘how’ of learning that has evolved; it’s also the ‘what’. New programs have been added to address the needs of our changing economy, emerging areas such as health science policy, non-profit leadership, community relations in extractive industries, palliative nursing, health industry management and design engineering.
“Regardless of subject area, a university degree gives students skills that are sought by today’s employers. And despite media criticism to the contrary, graduates in the social sciences and humanities also enjoy a significant income premium.”
Students are aware of which disciplines are in high demand and are gravitating to these areas in growing numbers. From 2005 to 2010, enrolment has grown fastest in high-demand disciplines such as business, law, various health professions and engineering.
As a recent CIBC report highlights, the most in-demand jobs in Canada today require a university degree. These include managers in health, education, social and community services; human resources and business service professionals; and supervisors in manufacturing and processing.
Awareness about the value of a university degree is reflected in growing enrolments. More than 1.2 million Canadians are currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Canada – a new record.
University students know there are income level differences related to field of study. They are also aware of the significant income premium of a university degree across disciplines. Regardless of subject area, a university degree gives students skills that are sought by today’s employers. And despite media criticism to the contrary, graduates in the social sciences and humanities also enjoy a significant income premium. For example, full-time workers with undergraduate degrees in history earn, on average, around $60,000 annually – the same as graduates with degrees in biological and biomedical sciences.
Employment data confirms that a university degree remains the best protection against unemployment. In fact, just 3.7 percent of 25 to 64 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees earned in Canada were unemployed in 2010 to 2011. This compares to 6.9 percent unemployment for all others in this age group and to 6.6 percent for high school graduates in this age range.
Awareness about the value of a university degree is reflected in growing enrolments. More than 1.2 million Canadians are currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Canada – a new record. In the last dozen years, Canadian universities have made space for a 50 percent increase in full-time enrolment.
Why such an increase? Because the labour market has demanded it. Because students and their families see university as the surest path to prosperity. And because, as a nation, we need the continued advantage of a well-educated population.
Paul Davidson, President
OTTAWA – Recent university graduates from across Canada are sharing their experiences in the transition from studies to work on a new website, UniversityWorks, launched today by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. The short videos on UniversityWorks highlight how a high-quality undergraduate experience leads to rewarding careers.
“These personal stories reinforce what the data has been telling us: even in a tough economy, a university education pays off,” says Paul Davidson, AUCC president. “Canada needs more postsecondary graduates, including those with university, college, polytechnic and trade credentials, to achieve its economic prosperity in the years ahead,” he added. “The testimonials on the UniversityWorks website show how beneficial university experiences such as hands-on-research, study-abroad opportunities, and co-op placements are preparing students for fulfilling careers.” With today’s launch, 10 videos (English and French) are being shared, with more testimonials to be added in the weeks ahead.
Canadians are also encouraged to share their own stories about their study-to-work transition by submitting videos to the UniversityWorks site.
AUCC is the national voice of Canada’s universities, representing 97 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities across the country.
Follow the discussion on Twitter #universityworks.
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Earlier this week, CIBC World Markets released a report that questions the economic pay-off for a university degree. The data in the report can easily be misinterpreted by commentators. We’d like to put the numbers into context.
CIBC says the unemployment rate for university graduates is only 1.7 percent lower than the rate for those with a high school education. In fact, just 3.7 percent of 25-64 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees and 3.8 percent with master’s degrees earned in Canada were unemployed in 2010-11. This compares to 6.9 percent unemployment for all others in this age group and to 6.6 percent for high school graduates in this age range. Unemployment rates fluctuate far less for university graduates than they do for those who have completed only secondary school, so in more difficult economic times, the gap is often much wider.
CIBC says students are not gravitating towards disciplines with high labour market demand. Students are aware of which disciplines are in high demand and are gravitating to these areas in growing numbers. From 2005 to 2010 (a more recent period than that used in the CIBC study), enrolment has grown fastest in high-demand disciplines such as business, law, various health professions and engineering. 
University students know there are income level differences related to field of study. There is also awareness that, regardless of discipline, a university degree gives students skills that are sought by today’s employers. The analytical and critical thinking skills graduates acquire through arts degrees are in demand and help grads adapt to changes in the labour market. Graduates in the social sciences and humanities also enjoy significant income premiums. For example, full-time workers with undergraduate degrees in history earn, on average, around $60,000 annually – the same as graduates with degrees in biological and biomedical sciences. 
CIBC suggests that many university students aren’t adequately considering labour market needs when choosing their course of study. Universities and their students recognize the importance of connecting studies with the needs of the labour market. In addition to the analytical and critical thinking skills acquired through a university education, students are prepared for rewarding careers through growing opportunities for experiential learning, such as internships and co-ops. Today half of all undergraduate students in Canada will have a co-op or internship experience before they graduate.
CIBC points out that Canada has the highest postsecondary attainment rate of any OECD country. While true, it is sometimes incorrectly stated in media reports that Canada ranks first among OECD countries in university attainment. In fact, Canada ranks first in college attainment, but drops to 15th in university attainment. As a previous CIBC report shows, the most in-demand jobs in Canada today require a university degree (in fields such as health management, social services, human resources and business services). Even in the face of economic uncertainty, the demand for university-educated employees is growing. Between July 2008 and July 2013, 810,000 net new jobs were created for university graduates, while 540,000 jobs were lost for those with no postsecondary education.
Not all countries report their employment and income data to the OECD in exactly the same manner, so the comparison of the share of graduates with relatively low income is somewhat misleading. In its reports to the OECD, Statistics Canada included people whose main activity for the year was not work – i.e. students; people taking time away from full-time work to care for their children, parents or other relatives; or choosing to work part-time for other reasons. Including those who are choosing alternatives mostly outside of work inflates the share of grads with low income to 17 percent. When only university graduates who reported working for an employer as their primary activity are considered, only five percent were in the lower earnings category used by the OECD.
In fact, the income advantage between university graduates and high school graduates continues to widen. The weekly average incomes for bachelor’s graduates increased by $203 between 2002 and 2012 while the income for high school graduates increased by $164. Given the lower base salaries for high school graduates, this translates into faster income growth for high school grads, but not an actual closing of the gap.
As a trading nation in a knowledge economy, it is increasingly important that Canada has highly educated people with skills needed to compete globally, such as language and cultural knowledge. Canada needs more university graduates – in all disciplines – to build prosperity and thrive in the coming decades. When data is misinterpreted, it affects the decisions Canadians will make about their futures.
 Statistics Canada National Household Survey, 2011
 Adapted from Statistics Canada, Postsecondary Student Information System, 2012. This does not constitute an endorsement by Statistics Canada of this product.
 Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census of Population
 Canadian University Survey Consortium, 2012 CUSC Survey of Graduating Students
 OECD, Education at a Glance 2012
 CIBC World Markets, The Haves and Have Nots of Canada’s Labour Market, December 3, 2012
OTTAWA – Half of Canada’s undergraduate students participate in an internship or co-op learning experience before they graduate. That’s one of the facts about innovation in teaching and learning being highlighted in a new web resource and fact sheet on undergraduate education launched today by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
“Today’s university experience is different from that of 10 or 20 years ago in many ways,” says Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. “Excellence in teaching and research remains the foundation of undergraduate education, but the way it is delivered is much more innovative and experiential than it has been in the past. Today’s undergraduates have unprecedented opportunities to work with employers through internships, co-ops and community service learning, and benefit from practical hands-on research experiences. Students are bringing what they learn in the classroom to the community and industry, gaining experience and building networks that help them transition to rewarding careers.”
AUCC’s enhanced web resource on innovation in undergraduate teaching and research features case studies, videos, quick facts and related articles and publications. It is designed to share promising practices and new ideas within the higher education community, for the benefit of all Canadians.
“We invite students, parents and others to learn how universities are changing,” says Mr. Davidson. “Canada’s universities are committed to providing all students with a research-enriched and globally engaged experience within a vibrant campus community. It’s a well-rounded experience that prepares students to succeed in the global knowledge economy.”
University presidents are gathered in Calgary this week for AUCC’s semi-annual membership meeting. The meeting agenda includes a dialogue on undergraduate education, where presidents will continue to share innovative practices and strategies around the undergraduate experience.
For more information or interview opportunities:
AUCC Assistant Director, Communications
613-563-1236 ext. 238
OTTAWA – Today Canada’s universities launched a new online tool to provide Aboriginal students with better access to information on programs and services on campuses across Canada. The comprehensive, searchable database of resources designed to meet the needs of Aboriginal students was developed by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
Prospective students and their families can use the tool to find information on the 286 different academic programs designed for Aboriginal students and other helpful resources available at Canadian universities, such as financial assistance, housing, cultural activities, counselling, availability of Elders, gathering spaces and mentoring.
Aboriginal youth are one of the fastest growing segments of the Canadian population. There are more than 560,000 Aboriginals under the age of 25 across Canada, yet the university completion rate for the Aboriginal population overall is eight percent — a third of the national average.
“The education gap in this country is large and growing. This needs to change,” said AUCC President Paul Davidson. “Canada’s universities recognize this and have significantly boosted the culturally relevant curricula, support programs and financial aid available to Aboriginal students. With this database, it’s easier than ever to locate and access these services.”
This new online resource is part of universities’ ongoing efforts to improve access to university for Aboriginal students and help them achieve success in higher education. Fifty-five institutions now have gathering spaces for Aboriginal students, and more than 60 organize social and cultural activities. In addition to supports on campus, many universities have successful outreach programs in Aboriginal communities, providing educational support and mentoring opportunities to students starting as early as the elementary level.
“I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the AUCC for creating an online directory to assist students in finding and accessing the programs and services that are reflective of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit languages and cultures, as well as those resources that will assist them in the achievement of their university goals,” said Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations in Canada.
The web-based directory is an enhanced update of a print version that AUCC produced in 2006 and 2010. It will be regularly updated to reflect new and enhanced services for Aboriginal students at Canada’s universities. The database complements information in the Directory of Canadian Universities, published every year by AUCC.
Aboriginal education is an ongoing priority for Canada’s universities. AUCC’s 2013 pre-budget submission to the federal government calls for increased postsecondary scholarships for Aboriginal students, with funding to be matched by the private sector. AUCC has also undertaken significant steps in recent years to help universities identify, develop and share ideas on best practices for services aimed at Aboriginal youth.
The new directory of programs and services for Aboriginal students can be found here: www.aucc.ca/Aboriginal-directory.
AUCC is the national voice of Canada’s universities, representing 95 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities.
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
613-563-1236 ext. 238
AUCC Communications Officer
613-563-3961 ext. 306