Higher Education for Everybody? A Canadian Experiment.

From Doug Saunders’ column in The Globe and Mail, May 16

…For the past two decades, the population of Canada has been the subject of a vast and largely unnoticed experiment whose results have enormous relevance for the world.

The experiment used the entire adult population to test this question: Should higher education become nearly universal, with college and university degrees as widely held as high-school diplomas? Given that postsecondary credentials have traditionally provided a large benefit to some people, will they continue to produce those benefits if held by nearly all people?…

In 2000, Canada had 1.3 million people enrolled in colleges and universities. After a decade and a half that number has risen by more than 50 per cent, to 2 million annually. The proportion of adult Canadians holding university and college degrees rose from 40 to 51 per cent, making Canada the most educated country in the world, the only place where the majority of adults have a degree….

In 2007, 65 per cent of new jobs required a postsecondary education; by 2011, 70 per cent did, and forecasts predict that by 2031, almost 80 per cent of jobs will need a degree. In other words, we already have more degree-requiring jobs than we have degree holders; one analysis predicts that by next year, Canada will have 550,000 more university-requiring jobs than we have degree-holding workers….

You would think, given the dramatic results of this experiment, that Canada would be plunging into a project to make university universal. But, in fact, we’re retreating. Postsecondary education is a provincial responsibility, and most provinces are in fiscal trouble these days, focusing their dwindling resources on seniors rather than students; education spending is frozen. Ottawa’s contribution is a pittance. Universities are floundering. At the very moment when they’ve proved their worth, and just as we’re about to need them more than ever, we’re cutting them adrift. It’s time to get the whole country onto a campus.


12 responses to “Higher Education for Everybody? A Canadian Experiment.

  1. On the contrary, is it that education has been so successfully marketed that credentialism has replaced know-how, talent and initiative? Let’s not foreget the auto-didacts and independent learners. Also, apprenticeship has worked well for aeons. In real life, the diploma or degree is only one small aspect of anyone’s suitability for a job or for life. Let’s not get swept up in over-credentialization.

  2. Why do we continue to believe that the purpose of higher education is to prepare graduates for the job market?

  3. henrylotin@rogers.com

    The statistics in this article is a bit wonky. Many, especially mid-career degrees are for self-actualization. From a society quality of life point of view we may want more of that. However, many specialties mis-match demand of employers. Many employers don’t trust foreign degrees. Many degree holders have “stale” qualifications, not keeping up with exponential change in specialty (reflecting David Schatzky’s comments about know-how talent and initiative beyond credential)). Employers themselves have trouble identifying accurately future needs. From an economic demand driven perspective, what we will need more of is skill (including trades) specific college training designed and delivered within shorter time horizons. Many will argue that we need better, not necessary more, university places for the domestic work force. We need more spaces for self-actualization opportunities and for foreign students…..

  4. “Many employers don’t trust foreign degrees. Many degree holders have “stale” qualifications,…” and the recent stories about Axact remind us that many “degree holders” have fake “qualifications”. See http://nyti.ms/1Amrd5p

  5. elizabethecker

    Do you really need a degree for a job in telemarketing? Why are so many young people with degrees can not find a job? Something is not right here.

    • henrylotin@rogers.com

      Unemployment among university degree holders, while higher than mid 2000’s is still far lower than other categories of youth, and far lower than unemployment of university degree holders in the 1981-83 recession. Going forward, the shortage of qualified youth (who can present themselves well) will increasingly be the issue. Immigration and temporary entry will not be able to fill the gap of declining 18-44 population.

  6. To Horace’s point, universities should retrench and become small, safe oases for the intellectually curious and those who wish to immerse themselves in reflection, theory and inquiry. Not every citizen, sad to say, will want to read the classics or study hermeneutics, and not everyone has the capacity to appreciate higher thought.

    The education system, encouraged and supported by federal and provincial governments, should make practical learning and training available for those who need it to make a living.

    In the 21st Century learning will not happen primarily in large physical institutions on huge tracts of land, but on-line, digitally, with Skype check-ins with tutors, and remote lectures, on-screen, accessible at home, in Starbucks, or on a park bench, at times convenient to the student.

    • henrylotin@rogers.com

      You are correct about education going digital, and many/most Canadian universities are well placed. However, to survive financially universities must fill seats (real or virtual), and the pool of Canadian-born high school grads is shrinking and increasingly so in the future. Thus, we must come to terms, (and I am trying to stimulate debate here), about the role of Canadian education as a “service export” for international students, many/most with desire for permanent residence in our “safe haven”.

    • Curmudgeon

      I have enormous instinctive sympathy with this: “… universities should retrench and become small, safe oases for the intellectually curious and those who wish to immerse themselves in reflection, theory and inquiry.” There was a time, more my father’s generation than mine, when young men (yes, alas, mostly men) went to university to study history, or philosophy, or languages, or world literature,… and the resulting “useless” liberal arts education was seen as a solid foundation for a career in banking, or journalism, or whatever. Universities should be monasteries without the theology! Who was it who described the ideal university education as the student sitting on one end of a log with [your choice here] sitting on the other end?

  7. “The habit of apprehending a technology in its completeness: this is the essence of technological humanism, and this is what we should expect education in higher technology to achieve. I believe it could be achieved by making specialist studies the core around which are grouped liberal studies which are relevant to these specialist studies. But they must be relevant; the path to culture should be through a man’s specialism, not by-passing it…
    A student who can weave his technology into the fabric of society can claim to have a liberal education; a student who cannot weave his technology into the fabric of society cannot claim even to be a good technologist.”

    – Lord Eric Ashby, Technology and the Academics

    As for the comment
    “Do you really need a degree for a job in telemarketing?”
    My guess is that anyone with a degree who is working in telemarketing doesn’t WANT to be working in telemarketing.

    • henrylotin@rogers.com

      Where is the evidence that degrees in telemarketing (and the like) are behind growth in degrees? Business Marketing courses I know of weave in sociology, anthropology, business strategy, international economics, and history, and are as academically sound as those of decades ago, if not more so.

  8. elizabethecker

    There are no degrees in telemarketing, but since so many people have degrees and can’t get jobs, if you apply for a job in telemarketing or something like it, if you don’t have a degree nobody even looks at you. We are creating more people with degrees as we are having jobs that need a degree to perform.