With the recent report released by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL), prophesying a decline in Canada’s post-secondary education (PSE) system, negative rhetoric has developed around Canada’s universities.
But how do Canada’s PSE strengths and weaknesses stack up with the rest of the world?
That was the question Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada set-out to answer in his opening keynote at Thursday’s Re-Imagine Conference.
“Canada’s universities are regarded as excellent educational experiences,” said Davidson. “We’re seen as affordable and accessible and we’re seen as safe, welcoming environments to learn in.”
Davidson also acknowledged the recent negative rhetoric surrounding a university degree.
“There have been some shots taken in the media about whether or not a university degree is still worth it and let me tell you, the value of the university degree is still large,” he said. “On average, a university graduate can expect to earn over the length of a career, $1.3 million more than someone who has just high school and a million dollars more than someone with a college degree and that’s StatsCan data, we’re not making this stuff up …. Obviously, people who study theology may not make that much, but they don’t go into theology to be millionaires.”
Davidson chalked a large part of the current concerns about the value of university degrees to the uncertain economic times. He went on to compare the situation facing Canada’s universities to the one facing PSE institutions in the United States.
“The situation in California, where it was a 15 per cent cut and overall the university system in California is trying teach the same level of enrolment with nine per cent less resources,” he said. “So we talk about constraints here but they are squeezed in the States.”
Davidson then placed Canadian universities in a global context by discussing the situation in emerging economies such as India, China and Brazil. According to Davidson, in China university enrolment has increased by two million in the past two years; while in India 1,400 new universities have been constructed; in Brazil there are already twice as many PhDs produced as in Canada.
However, according to Davidson, Canada’s PSE institutions can use this emerging global context to their advantage.
“There are opportunities for us to bring more international students to Canada, to engage more collaboratively in research with emerging economies, and that we’re going to need to accelerate our embrace of the global environment,” he said. “Taken together, the international students in Canada represent a $6.5 billion contribution to Canada’s economy. Bigger than the export of coal, bigger than the export of lumber. It means real jobs and real prosperity for Canadians.”