Canada’s Local Post-Secondary Education (PSE) Strategies

Ottawa’s Algonquin College encourages its students to leverage their education: “Transfer your course credits with ease to several universities that have articulation agreements with Algonquin College: Athabasca, Cape Breton, Carleton, Lakehead, Nipissing, Ryerson, Ottawa, and more. In addition, there is an in-depth articulation agreement with Thompson Rivers University for several programs.” (For more details visit Algonquin’s articulation page here).

Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa, looking north...

Elgin Street in downtown Ottawa, looking northwards towards the Parliament Buildings from Queen Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the absence of a national framework to regulate this type of arrangements, individual post-secondary institutions strike agreements with other higher education organizations in a largely ad-hoc fashion. Calls for a national post-secondary education (PSE) strategy are not new, although they seem to have intensified in the past few years.

A recent analysis in the Globe and Mail supports the point that Canada’s postsecondary “solitudes” – colleges, universities, polytechnics across sub-federal jurisdictions – and the lack of any integration mechanism hinder the country’s well-being. “Our failure to knit these systems together, and to link education and research to social and economic outcomes, will affect our long-term prosperity and capacity to innovate,” says Robert Luke.

There is talk of an “educational passport” that would allow credit transfers between all these different types of institutions and programs, across Canada. While such a mechanism is unlikely to be implemented at a continental level any time soon (there’s simply no political appetite for bold integration moves in North America), it would be highly beneficial for Canada. It would constitute that first but very concrete step towards a harmonized, truly national education system in this country.

Yet Canada’s educational jurisdictions are locked in standby mode: “we are the only [developed] country that does not have a national strategy for PSE – no established goals, no benchmarks, and no public reporting of results based on established measures,” Senator Art Eggleton points out. Erin Anderssen also notes that “the trend to joint programs between colleges and universities […] is still stymied by institutional snobbery and bureaucratic restrictions around credit transfers.” Agreements such as the ones between Algonquin College and various universities demonstrate however that the cause is not lost. These are definitely steps in the right direction.

Given the traditionally challenging relations between Canada’s levels of government, as well as the provinces and territories themselves (which are formally responsible for education), a national PSE strategy may yet be years, if not decades, away. At a local level, however, the type of dynamic interconnections between Algonquin, Carleton and Ottawa – to use the National Capital Region as a case study – gives one reason to hope.

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