Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, will be available for media interviews on the university community’s response to the federal budget starting at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21, 2015.
To arrange an interview please contact:
AUCC Communications Officer
613-563-1236 ext. 306
by Andrew Parkin
Former director general, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada
This op-ed was originally published on the Academica Group’s Rethinking Higher Ed Forum on April 15, 2015
Are we pushing too many young people to go to university?
A new paper by Ken Coates argues that a preoccupation with universities and a tendency to overlook the more job-relevant training offered by colleges and polytechnic institutes is leading too many young Canadians astray. The paper, published at the end of March by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives as part of its “Jobs and Skills for the 21st Century” initiative, grabbed headlines because of its suggestion that we should cut university spaces by 25 to 30 percent and refocus our attention on producing more career-ready college graduates.
There is nothing wrong with shining the spotlight on Canada’s college sector and its success in aligning programs with job opportunities. There is a problem, however, with arguing that, if we want more college graduates in order to address anticipated skills shortages, we need fewer university ones. If the goal is to better align education with the needs of the labour market, we need to do better than engage in a zero-sum trade off between the college and university sectors.
As a first step, it is worth pointing out that Canada already stands out internationally because of its of its exceptionally strong college sector; by international standards, however, its university sector is comparatively small.
Canada ranks third in the OECD in terms of the proportion of its young adult population (age 25 to 34 years old) that has attained a tertiary education (whether college or university). This respectable position, however, is the result of the fact that the proportion of young Canadian adults with a college degree is very high, at 25 percent. This is good for second place in the OECD, behind only Korea.
By contrast, Canada ranks only 17th in the OECD in terms of the proportion of young adults with a university degree (32 percent). True, more young Canadian adults have a university degree than a college diploma. But is also true that in no other country is the difference between the relative size of the two groups of graduates as small.
This doesn’t mean that we could not benefit from even more college graduates. The point is simply that Canada does not look at all like a country that has over-emphasized university education to the detriment of colleges.
Fortunately, there is a more sensible way to boost college enrollment than by cutting university spaces. And that is to focus on the one in three young Canadians who are currently navigating the labour market without the benefit of any form of postsecondary education or training whatsoever.
If there is any group in Canadian society that is “too large” in the context of today’s knowledge intensive economy, it is the 32 percent of young Canadian adults who either never finish high school, or who end their formal education and training once their high school studies are complete. These are the young Canadians whose skills are least likely to meet the needs of employers, and who are most at risk of unemployment and under-employment.
Nothing made this clearer than the experience of the most recent recession. Unemployment spiked in the late 2000s, but the worsening job market affected those with and without a postsecondary education quite differently.
Jobs for those age 25 to 54 with no education beyond high school dropped by over 3 percent between 2008 and 2010; for those with a trades certificate or college degree, employment fell by less than one percent. But for those with a university degree, the number of jobs increased by 5 percent, representing a net gain of over 160,000 jobs. In fact, the economy added jobs for university graduates in this age group in every year during and after the recession period, including the years when the overall unemployment rate increased.
Similarly, the unemployment rate for those age 25 to 54 with neither a college diploma nor a university degree jumped three percentage points from a low of 5.3 percent to a high of 8.3 percent during the recession. By comparison, the rate for college graduates rose only 2.1 points, and only 1.8 points – from 3.5 to 5.3 percent – for university graduates.
The Canadian experience is typical of that of most industrialized countries. As the OECD pointed out in a recent study of youth in the aftermath of the economic crisis, the burden of economic adjustment has fallen disproportionately on youth with lower levels of education. And it is no stretch to anticipate that the same will be true in the case of the adjustments underway right now in the Canada’s oil-producing regions as the petroleum industry reacts to new market realities.
If we really want to focus on creating a better fit between education and the labour market and producing “career ready” graduates in an ever more demanding economy, the implication is clear. The problem is not an over-emphasis on universities but an under-emphasis on any and all forms of postsecondary education and training. This is the type of career information that students planning for their future need to hear.
This brings us to the most misdirected part of Coates’ argument, which is his claim we are doing a disservice to too many young Canadians by encouraging them to set their aspirations too high. This, he complains, only leads to universities having to cope with classrooms that include “marginally talented” students who are “ill-suited” to university studies.
Certainly, one way for universities to respond to the growing numbers and more diverse backgrounds of students is to pull their doors more tightly shut. Thankfully, most realize there is a much better way, which is to introduce new programs and services and re-emphasize teaching quality in order to meet the needs of these students – and of the employers who will eventually hire them.
In the 21st-century, all institutions and businesses have had to adapt and innovate to stay relevant and competitive. It is not clear why Coates—unlike so many of his peers—believes that the university professoriate should be an exception to this rule.
Today’s businesses must be nimble, responsive and visionary in the face of emerging challenges. Partnering with universities helps companies and communities gain this competitive advantage.
Join Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, as he looks at universities’ role in providing the skills, new knowledge and innovation Canada needs to compete, open up new markets and get fresh ideas to market faster.
Mr. Davidson will take you behind the scenes of today’s universities and illustrate how higher education is building prosperity through research, innovation and experiential learning. He’ll talk about the many ways universities provide young Canadians with the workforce experience, entrepreneurial skills and international and intercultural opportunities employers want and Canada needs. Learn how to harness the potential of universities to make Canada’s businesses, communities and regions stronger.
Monday, May 25, 2015
Registration: 11:45 AM
Buffet Lunch & Presentation: 12:00 Noon
1315 Regent Street, Fredericton NB, E3C 1A1
$30 for Chamber Members
$50 for Future Chamber Members
For more information on programming and tickets, please go to the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce website.
OTTAWA – The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada welcomes the federal government’s commitment of $243.5 million in new funding to the Thirty-Metre Telescope (TMT), the largest telescope ever to be built and a major international research collaboration.
Canada has been a founding partner in the international observatory, to be located in Hawaii, and played a critical role in its design. A consortium including twenty Canadian universities is now a full partner in building the telescope facility, along with organizations such as The California Institute of Technology (Caltech), The National Institutes of Natural Sciences (Japan), The National Astronomical Observatories of the Chinese Academy of Science (China) and The Regents of the University of California (UC).
The TMT’s observations will help answer questions about the early universe, the formation of stars, planets and galaxies, the relationship between black holes and galaxy formation, and the frequency and types of extrasolar planets. With the announcement at The University of British Columbia earlier today, Canada has secured access to this world-leading facility for our top researchers in the field.
“This timely investment gives certainty to Canada’s role in this globally important project,” says Paul Davidson, president of AUCC. “In each of its budgets the government has invested in university research and innovation and we look forward to seeing in greater detail how the research and innovation agenda will be advanced in Budget 2015.”
The voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, the association represents the interests of 97 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities and university degree-level colleges.
Assistant director of communications
613 563-3961 ext. 238 or cell: 613 608-8749
The following commentary was published in the Saint John Telegraph-Journal on March 6, 2015
By Peter Halpin, executive-director of the Association of Atlantic Universities
We are dismayed by the profoundly negative nature of recent editorial comments concerning the province’s university sector in the Telegraph-Journal and Moncton Times & Transcript. While the university sector is not above constructive criticism, the almost hostile tone of the newspapers’ opinions bring to mind a comment attributed to British author Oscar Wilde, who mused that “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”.
Written in response to recent enrolment trends data released by the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC), both editorials badly under-estimate the hard work undertaken by the province’s university leaders to tackle, in partnership with others, the significant challenges confronting New Brunswick. To suggest that universities have been oblivious to New Brunswick’s population challenge, particularly among the university-age cohort, is simply inaccurate.
Encouraging young people from all corners of the province (14,153), across the country (4,277) and from around the world (2,793) to pursue a university education in New Brunswick has been a longstanding, top priority. Despite a recent slippage in enrolments, New Brunswick’s university participation rate (29 percent) ranks fourth in Canada – three percent higher than the national average.
The notion that university leaders are somehow insensitive to the growing cost of post-secondary education and its growing burden on students and their families is simply wrong. New Brunswick’s universities expend considerable time and effort on attracting funding from sources outside government to provide millions of dollars in student scholarships and bursaries (80 percent of which is attracted from outside of the province) and on-campus employment. It is also noteworthy that 41 percent of all students who earn a bachelor’s degree do not have any debt at all, while one-third of those with debt owe less than $12,000.
New Brunswick’s universities are talent magnets that annually produce nearly 5,000 credentialed graduates who become the province’s future community, business, government and political leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs who reside and start families in communities across the province. More than half of New Brunswick’s recently elected MLAs are graduates of the province’s universities, including Premier Brian Gallant and many members of the Executive Council.
Universities are powerful economic engines, employing more than 4,000 New Brunswickers in high-quality jobs and purchasing millions of dollars in products and services from local businesses.
The province’s universities lead innovation in New Brunswick, performing more than half of the province’s R&D ($135 million annually), $84 million of which is funded from outside the province.
New Brunswick’s universities play a vital role in improving standards of living; creating the right environment for a thriving arts and culture sector as well as the recreation, fitness and athletic facilities vital to active and healthy lifestyles – essential to improving health and wellness outcomes. Not to mention the important role they play in providing highly supportive environments in which young people grow into adulthood.
Universities are publicly engaged, playing an important role in helping build civil society. Students, faculty and staff are active volunteers in their local communities, actively supporting many charitable and community service organizations.
In short, New Brunswick benefits from having four, strong, publicly engaged universities in the province.
PETER HALPIN is executive-director of the Association of Atlantic Universities