About Parallel49Ed

Educational Consulting / University Tutoring / Higher Education

Coming Back Soon

After a long intermission, the activity on this blog will resume soon – within the next couple of weeks. The focus will remain on Canadian post-secondary education, with a focus on social sciences, humanities, university teaching, and online tutoring. In the meantime, you can follow posts on Twitter @parallel49ed
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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Regional Needs for Engineers: Matching Labour Supply to Demand

A growing number of studies and opinions expressed publicly in recent years point to the necessity of matching Canadian post-secondary education programs with labour market needs. While some coordination efforts may already happen at a local or regional level, no national mechanisms are in place to ensure that the type and number of university specializations are correlated with labour demand.

Recent data on labour shortages and surpluses suggest there continues to be a significant mismatch between the structure and needs of the job market, on the one hand, and the available work force, on the other. CIBC World Markets Inc. deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal suggested in an analysis of Canada’s labour market that “at least three in 10 businesses say they face a skilled labour shortage […] That number is double the rate of early 2010. [In the meantime] a quarter of a million Canadians have been unemployed for more than six months.”

Besides bringing in new immigrants to fill positions in sectors where there are job vacancies, educational programs could also help rebalance the existing labour market mismatch. To do so however, a national education strategy is required – this would help not just Canada’s federal and provincial governments, but also employers and individuals seeking employment. It would require a radical re-thinking of post-secondary education in this country and a new governance approach for this key sector of the Canadian society.

Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, made an important point in an analysis of the country’s post-secondary education:  “Our system is based on the deification of individual choice. People get to go where they want. We aren’t shaping the process.” A national post-secondary education strategy would not limit students’ choices, but would help guide them towards sectors and specializations that are in demand.

“We need to deliver the right people with the right credentials to the right economy at the right time,” added James Knight, President of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, in a Globe and Mail article. Definitely not an easy feat. Yet universities and colleges along with the federal and provincial governments should initiate steps towards coordinating educational programs and matching labour supply to demand.

An example where this approach would be highly beneficial relates to regional needs for engineers. An assessment provided by Engineers Canada and Randstad Engineering indicates that all Canadian provinces will face job shortages in this area at some point in the 2012-2018 period. (Source: The Engineering & Technology Path: Choose Early, Choose Well, in Maclean’s magazine, Nov. 19, 2012)

Four Provinces are Home to Canada’s Top Research Universities

According to a study by Re$earch Infosource Inc., the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo (both in Ontario) and the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) were designated Research Universities of the Year in their respective categories (“medical/doctoral,” “comprehensive” and “undergraduate”).

English: Marine Drive Residence, University of...

English: Marine Drive Residence, University of British Columbia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The other top university in each of the three categories were: “medical/doctoral”: McGill University (QC) and the University of British Columbia (BC); “comprehensive”: the University of Guelph (ON) and the University of Victoria (BC); “undergraduate”: Ryerson University (ON) and Universite du Quebec a Rimouski (QC).

(“Medical/doctoral” is a category of post-secondary institutions offering a broad range of research and doctoral programs, including medical schools. “Comprehensive” universities have both significant research programs and a wide range of undergraduate programs, while “undergraduate” universities are largely focusing on undergraduate education).

Re$earch Infosource also provides data on the universities that attracted over $100 million  of research income in fiscal year 2011 (18 institutions, up from 16 in 2010). Top research dollars were attracted by the University of Toronto ($916,000), followed at significant distance by the University of British Columbia ($575,000), the University of Alberta ($536,000), Universite de Montreal ($525,000) and McGill University ($522,000). The other 13 universities attracted between $103,000 and $326,000 each.

The total research income for Canada’s first 50 research universities reached $6.63 billion annually. Ontario captured 38% of this amount, followed by Quebec (27%), Alberta (13%) and British Columbia (12%). The other 10% was divided between Canada’s remaining nine provinces and territories.

Re$earch Infosource analysts point out that “research income growth has […] been slowing in recent years from the heady days of double-digit increases in the early years of the 2000s. [Yet] in the context of declining federal government spending and with public sector job layoffs accelerating, the research community has, for now, dodged a fiscal bullet. […] In a best case scenario the ‘new normal’ will be research income growth that keeps pace with inflation.”

The ranking for Research Universities of the Year was based on a combination of indicators relating to “a balanced set of input, output and impact measures for FY2011 [demonstrating] superior achievement both in earning research income and in publishing research in leading scientific journals.”

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.