Muskens: Placing a value on acquiring knowledge

Every so often reports come out about the state of post-secondary education in Canada.

Every so often reports come out about the state of post-secondary education in Canada.

Often these reports look at the system from a national perspective and evaluate how we fair on a global level.

One recent report by the Canadian Council of Learning compared positive and not so positive developments.

On the positive side Canada is a country that supports its colleges and universities compared to other first-world countries.

From 1997 to 2005 public and private spending to support our post-secondary institutions increased by 39 per cent.

Today Canada places second among 30 western countries when it comes to dedicating a share of our GDP (gross domestic product) towards post-secondary education.

Another bonus for Canada is that our participation rates are high.

This means that many young adults transition into post-secondary education and actually graduate with some kind of credential whether it is a certificate, Red Seal certification, diploma or degree.

This too has increased over the years with a participation rate of 25 per cent in 1990 to 37 per cent in 2009.

In 2005, 58.1 per cent of young Canadian adults aged 20 to 24 had completed some college or university, or were still attending, ranking Canada as second for this age group who had completed a post-secondary credential and 10h for this group that were actively engaged in higher education.

The third positive development was the quality of Canadian instructors and professors.

In peer-review publications Canadian educators are regularly recognized internationally.

What was interesting about this report was that internationally, our community colleges are considered to be a vital and responsive component of the Canadian post-secondary system.

So what are the not so positive trends affecting post-secondary in Canada? The first is research and development. Although the Canadian government invests in university and most recently college research, it is the Canadian private sector that fails to provide further funding.

In most western countries, funding for research and development from the private sector sits at about 64 per cent—in Canada the rate is roughly 48 per cent.

In 2010, based on GDP, Canada spent 1.8 per cent on research and development where most other countries spent 2.3 per cent.

The other issue is the development of male human capital.

To put it in a nutshell, more young men drop out of high school than females, leading to fewer post-secondary opportunities for this group.

In 2008, 62 per cent of Canadian university graduates were women. At community colleges 59 per cent of the grads were female.

If this trend continues, to what extent will the gender gap impact workers, families and society in general?

How will this play out if more women than men opt out of employment to meet childcare obligations?

What will happen if women struggle with the issues associated with being the major bread-winner?

Other issues with the Canadian post-secondary system include immigrant skills not meeting labour-market needs, no national post-secondary strategy, and no national system of quality assurance, where institutions have to meet some kind of national standard.

For example, in Australia, colleges and universities are required to complete major reviews every five years; the federal government has put in place system-wide goals and objectives, funding is aligned with national priorities, a national quality assurance agency exists and there is a federal ministry of education.

In Canada, post-secondary education falls under the mandate of the provincial governments so each province decides how to run its colleges and universities.

Although our system isn’t perfect, we are a country that values our colleges and universities and it is this value system that will allow us to improve what we have.

Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College.



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