Reports & Data
Post-secondary education generally refers to academic, technical and vocational courses and programs beyond secondary school, including apprenticeships.
In our 2006 report, Canadian Post-secondary Education: A Positive Record – An Uncertain Future, CCL soberly articulated the various reasons for which uncertainty clouds the future contributions that the post-secondary education sector may make to Canada’s economic and social goals. Despite the myriad strengths that PSE educators and institutions have demonstrated over many years, the absence of clear pan-Canadian goals, measures of achievement of goals and cohesion among the various facets of PSE led us to express deep reservations.
The mission of the Canadian Council on Learning is, in part, to describe our learning realities. If we have a remit to identify issues, equally we have a responsibility to report potential strategies for success. In last year’s account, we found that what we do not know can hurt us; that we must develop pan-Canadian information about PSE that can provide decision-makers the best tools available to determine policies. We also found that almost all other developed countries have built not only the national information systems required to optimize policy, but have also—in both unitary and federal states—provided themselves with some of the necessary national tools and mechanisms to adjust, to act and to succeed. Canada has not.
What are the strategies for success in Canadian PSE? This report, CCL’s second annual on the state of post-secondary education, only begins to provide answers about:
We know that CCL is not alone in asking these questions. We are also aware that many others have valuable contributions to make to the answers. Working together, we must be able to establish conditions for the success in post-secondary education to which Canadians aspire.
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In 2006, the Canadian Council on Learning produced the first national overview of post-secondary education in Canada. Our 2006 report, Canadian Post-secondary Education: A Positive Record – An Uncertain Future, identified eight goals and objectives derived from the strategic plans for PSE that had been developed by provinces and territories—and presented a series of indicators for each of the eight goals. It cautioned that serious challenges exist and must be resolved with urgency to keep Canada at the forefront educationally and economically. The report underlined that, in order for Canada to advance as a country, it is essential to:
“The lifeblood of good policy is good information. Good information, in turn, requires accurate data carefully analysed. The collection of accurate and meaningful data, analysed to yield information useful for policy development, must be an important function of the proposed commission.”
—From the Advantage New Brunswick report, by the Commission on Post-Secondary Education in New Brunswick, September 2007.
Strategies for Success, the second annual report from the Canadian Council on Learning on the post-secondary education sector in Canada, builds on the priorities identified last year.
Like the 2006 report, Part I of Strategies for Success examines the sector from a countrywide perspective, drawing on domestic and international statistics and indicators for the eight identified goals and objectives for PSE. While some modest gains have been made, Canadians can take little comfort from this year’s findings. For the most part, the available data indicate that Canada continues to lag other jurisdictions, many of which have undertaken concerted post-secondary agendas to improve their prosperity and international competitiveness.
Our country has fundamental data gaps. For example, Canada:
To remedy the incomplete picture of our PSE landscape, Part II of Strategies for Success proposes a comprehensive, pan-Canadian data strategy to provide the information needed to strengthen the country’s PSE sector. Countrywide collection of such information is the first step toward understanding how effectively PSE in Canada is meeting the needs of our learners and our society.
Better information will help:
Data are of no value unless put to use. Part III of Strategies for Success outlines how some of Canada’s major trading partners are monitoring and reporting on the state of PSE in their countries. Many have established benchmarks and, in some cases, targets for tertiary education—to guide their investments in education and training, and to measure the impacts of these expenditures.
Any complacency about Canada’s positive record in PSE is misplaced, given that many countries have developed:
That Canada’s global competitors have developed such systematic approaches to optimize the benefits of PSE only heightens the urgency for practical steps to be taken within our borders.
It is in this context that Part IV of Strategies for Success proposes, as the section title suggests, working Toward a Pan-Canadian Framework for PSE. It examines how a more cohesive and systematic approach could assist in addressing specific challenges, including: quality assurance and accreditation; student mobility and credit transfer; and prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR).
Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial governments invested $36 billion in post-secondary education in 2006–2007. Despite this significant expenditure, there are no pan-Canadian goals or objectives for the sector, or ways to assess how effectively this money is invested.
CCL recognizes that any pan-Canadian approach to post-secondary issues would always be complementary to the existing provincially delivered model and would respect institutional autonomy. Strategies for Success recommends building on and enhancing what already works.
“[The Government of British Columbia] should initiate discussions with other governments with a view to obtaining agreement on the collection and reporting of nationally and internationally comparable standards and metrics for data collection and reporting.”
—Recommendation from Campus 2020, British Columbia, April 2007
Achieving agreement between federal, provincial and territorial governments on a pan-Canadian framework is not inconceivable. The federal government already collaborates with the provinces and territories in the provision of student financial assistance. It contributes a considerable amount to university R&D. It transfers significant amounts to the provinces and territories through the Canada Social Transfer. And, it supports learners and their families through tax measures so they can meet educational costs.
Bolstering PSE in the manner put forth by Strategies for Success will strongly position Canada and its citizens to achieve prosperity in the future. Realizing this vision in aid of our collective and individual well-being demands the will and energy to overcome impediments in creative ways. Failure to make progress is not an option.
Post-secondary Education in Canada: Strategies for Success is the second annual report on PSE published by the Canadian Council on Learning. Subsequent reports will update key data and analysis on participation, attainment, access, quality, results and benefits to build a baseline of information and track changes over time.
CCL’s third report, to be released in autumn 2008, will explore in greater detail key PSE priorities to enrich further the national dialogue on strategies for success.
CCL’s first annual report on PSE examined the sector from a countrywide perspective, something previously not attempted in Canada. It was necessarily descriptive, depicting current reality based on statistics and indicators gathered both domestically and internationally. The report concluded that—despite the multiple strengths that PSE educators and institutions have demonstrated over many years—the absence of explicit and clearly articulated pan-Canadian goals, measures to assess achievement of those goals and greater cohesion among the many facets of PSE, leave Canada’s future uncertain.
This second annual report on PSE describes the conditions required to move from challenges to solutions and proposes strategies for success. The two most significant conditions are captured in the parts relating to a PSE data strategy and working “Toward a Pan-Canadian Framework for PSE.” The terms may appear subdued and technical, but their meanings are profound. Without a full set of relevant, pan-Canadian information, it will not be possible to build a PSE sector that is successful over the long term—despite the fact that all levels of government, individual Canadians and post-secondary institutions fully understand the imperative of excellence in tertiary education. All of these groups need reliable information and analysis in order to make enlightened decisions. The second condition involves taking the practical and measured steps required to establish a pan-Canadian approach to PSE. Canada’s future depends on it.
Almost all other developed countries have built the national information systems required to optimize policy and have provided themselves with the necessary tools and mechanisms to adjust, to act and to succeed. Canada has not, but must.
The time has come for all partners in PSE to work collectively toward building coherent strategies, goals and information structures that will enable Canada’s PSE sector and its learners to realize their full potential.
Strategies for Success makes it difficult to cast our collective gaze downward—away from the national PSE initiatives of other countries—and simply hope that our good, but fragmented, intentions will see us through. We need to chart our course, together, with solid evidence in hand. It is easier to lead if you can clearly see the landscape, know where you stand and know where you are headed.