11 September 2012

Canada leads world in tertiary, college education

The OECD released its annual Education at a Glance report today, and once again, Canada is at the top of the OECD in terms of tertiary education attainment. As in past years, this is only when you combine college and university education.  Significantly, Canada leads the OECD for college (Tertiary Type b - vocational) education as well, and moves up to 8th place for university (Tertiary Type A) education.  It is worth quoting in full the following:
The international tertiary-type 5A classification refers to largely theory-based programmes lasting at least three years, and typically covers university undergraduate and master’s degrees as well as high-skills professions (e.g. medicine, dentistry, law). Tertiary-type 5B programmes are shorter in duration and focus on practical, technical or occupational skills for direct entry into the labour force. In Canada, community colleges and polytechnics are included in this category. For the purposes of this note, the term “college” refers to both community colleges and polytechnics. It is also important to note that many community colleges and polytechnics in Canada offer both tertiary-type 5B and non-tertiary post-secondary type 4 programmes, including occupational preparation and adult education programmes. Statistics Canada data on tertiary education do not allow for distinguishing between some adult education and occupational preparation programmes, so international comparisons of tertiary education systems should be considered with some caution.
This is very good news for Canada. A strong education system ensures a productive and innovative society - at least in theory. While Canada still lags in innovation and productivity, we can take heart in these latest results as they point to the potential our population has for increasing both of these key socio-economic indicators.

But the news is not all good: "many countries surpass Canada in the rate at which their tertiary education attainment levels have grown in recent years." And, "During the global economic crisis, the number of young Canadians who were neither employed nor in education and training increased." This last factor is somewhat worrying.

As I noted earlier, it is time for Canada to align the "two solitudes of education", and to link our world leading R&D and training capacity to explicit outcomes. This will help students understand the relationship of education to employment outcomes, while also help to orient our R&D to industrial outcomes. I see these as very important and intertwined necessities.

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