Sunday, October 18, 2009

Innovation Requires Canadian Leadership

Innovation in Canada is being impacted and threatening Canada's future as we are sending far fewer of our young people to university than almost all of our international rivals.

The statistics are shocking:

1.) The latest OECD numbers for 2007 suggest that when it comes to "tertiary type A" graduation rates (most commonly universities), Canada ranked 20th of 24 countries, ahead of only Hungary, Austria, Germany and Greece. Countries such as Poland, Portugal and the Slovak Republic left Canada far in their wake.

The OECD numbers also suggest that Canada's relative position has slipped badly over time -- we ranked fourth in the number of 55-64-yearolds with a university education, but 12th in the 25-34-year-old age bracket.

2.) Perhaps most worryingly, in advanced research programs, Canada is being lapped by the competition -- Portugal has nearly four times as many PhD or equivalent students; Finland has three times as many; while the U.K. and Australia have double the number.

3.) Alex Himelfarb, who was clerk of the privy council during the Martin government and is now director of the School of Public and International Affairs at York University's Glendon College, acknowledges that governments of all shades have been "constitutionally timid" when it comes to leading dialogue on the future of higher education. "We can fully respect the primacy of provinces -- Ottawa wouldn't regulate education or pretend it knows how to deliver it. But that doesn't mean it couldn't facilitate a dialogue."

3.) Ottawa is already involved in higher education through Human Resources and Skills Development Canada's Learning Branch, which administers the Canada Student Loans program, and Industry Canada. In recent years, Ottawa has broadened its involvement in higher education -- under the Liberals, through the Canada Research Chairs program, which is designed to attract and retain research professors; more recently, under the Conservatives, in the form of the $50,000-a-year Vanier Scholarships, which seek to draw world-class doctoral students.

4.) Canada's performance in this area, when compared to English language competitors such as Australia and the U.K., has been in the words of one recent report "only slightly better than abject."

5.) While Canada has attracted 2,600 students from India, Australia and the U.K. have attracted 10 times that many. The British spent $50-million in the past two years on promoting its Education U.K. brand while Canada's effort -- the new Edu-Canada brand -- has stuttered out of the gate.

The Educational Policy Institute's examination of the likely effects of recession on post-secondary education said that Canada's universities have thrown away inherent advantages -- such as quality of life and proximity to the United States -- because they don't seem to understand the value of a national brand in education and have chosen not to co-operate with one another in recruitment efforts.

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