30 August 2012

On education

Today's Globe and Mail has an interesting article on graduate employment that links well to relevant discussions on education. Why are we training our arts grads to be baristas? asks why arts and humanities students are struggling to find meaningful places in the economy. This represents a key failure of the imagination, but also points to a systemic failure of the post secondary education (PSE) system to function as a system. Regrettably, this is par for the course in a country that does not view PSE as a system but rather as two solitudes. Where we lead the OECD in tertiary attainment when we take a combinant approach (college+university combined), we do not acknowledge key variables here:

  • people go to both college and university for a variety of designations (apprenticeship, diplomas, degrees, graduate certificates, graduate degrees);
  • all of these are useful and usable for the economy;
  • there are compounding variables of credential laddering and pathways across all kinds of PSE institutions;
  • university education is not focused on outcomes, which disadvantages learners.
The lack of  articulated outcomes means it is left to the imagination of students to figure out the utility of their education. Regarding the Globe article, it is somewhat ironic that we leave outcomes (and so potential employment areas) to the imagination of arts graduates, who then in turn do not have the imagination to figure this out. This compounds our collective failure to view education as a system, which in turn puts us at a disadvantage internationally. It also relates strongly to our performance in research, and reminds me anew of  the very excellent overview in the HESA blog on the false dichotomy of the bifurcation of basic and applied  research. Our general allergy to thinking about utility (in education and research) is a key reason why our innovation and productivity continue to be below par.

And speaking of below par, I read recently the AUCC Pre-Budget 2013 submission. Regrettably, the AUCC have chosen a rather retrograde path to advocating for greater research funding and more focus on graduate education. While these are certainly worthy goals in and of themselves, the AUCC's refusal to see education as a system is not in keeping with the need to work together across the variety of PSE available. It is sad that they have chosen this tack.

The Pre-Budget 2013 submissions from Polytechnics Canada and the ACCC focus on the entire system. There is certainly commonality among the Polytechnics Canada, the ACCC, the AUCC, and CAGS submissions - notably in supporting immigrant integration and education and research. Polytechnics are advocating for more focus on apprenticeships, and the ACC and AUCC on Aboriginal education. But the latter two stick out for maintaining a siloed view of the world on both of these last two points. Perhaps this is inevitable, but the real value in any national attempts to promote greater innovation and productivity, as related to the key inputs and outputs of education and research, is found in the networked coopetition model. Call me naive, but with this thing called the Internet making in-roads in all aspects of life, things are changing. For the better. And with greater international mobility of people, and this in turn linked to the international struggles for greater economic and social productivity and outcomes, it strikes me that we would be far better off working together.

Which brings me back to education. I certainly support the need to adequately fund graduate education, and arts and humanities and social sciences included as these are complementary to STEM skills. And while CAGS focuses on graduate education (it is their mandate, after all), I am left wondering why we do not recognize the kinds of graduate certificate credentials offered by colleges and polytechnics as part of the continuum of education available to our population. The latest issue of the Queen's University Alumni newsletter has a very good piece on college post-graduate credentials being excellent pathways for university graduates who seek employment credentials. This is a viable option for many people across the country. The market has clearly decided that these kinds of pathways are relevant and valued. Perhaps it is time our education system listens.

No comments: