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Canada Gets an "A" in Education, But Needs to Fix Links Between Post-Secondary Schooling and Workforce

Canada’s system of education and skills remains one of the best in the world, but needs to do much better at matching what Canadians learn to evolving labour market needs.

Ottawa, March 27, 2013—Canada’s system of education and skills remains one of the best in the world, but needs to do much better at matching what Canadians learn to evolving labour market needs.

Canada ranks second only to Finland among 16 developed countries in The Conference Board of Canada’s Education and Skills report card. As part of its overall “A” grade, Canada earns “A”s on seven of 20 indicators – including the second-highest rate of high school completion, and the top rate of college completion. 

This is an image of Canada's Education report card. “Canada gives its students a first-rate education at the primary and secondary levels,” said Daniel Muzyka, President and CEO, The Conference Board of Canada. “Our priority must be to build on this strong foundation to make Canada more innovative, competitive, and dynamic.”

“A pressing need is to strengthen the links between high school and the post-secondary system. Within the post-secondary system, we must improve coordination among offerings, thereby creating better pathways to workplaces, jobs and careers. And Canadian employers need to step forward with increased resources for education and retraining of their workers.”

Canada’s university completion rate is a “B” grade. In the United States, which gets an “A” grade on this indicator, people may be more motivated to compete university because of the high returns on their university investments.

Canadian university graduates get a comparatively lower payback for their educational investment, according to two new indicators. Canada gets a “B” for return on investment in post-secondary education (women), and “C” for return on investment in post-secondary education (men). On another new indicator, Canada has relatively significant gender gap in tertiary education – for every 100 women who graduate from universities and colleges, only 83 men do so.

And Canada continues to get a “C” grade for percentage of university graduates in science, math, computer science and engineering, and a “D” in the number of PhD graduates. 

“Even though the number of PhD graduates has grown by three per cent annually over the past decade, we are still second-to-last among our peers on the PhD graduate rate, and our share of graduates in math, science, computer science and engineering is declining,” said Muzyka.

The Conference Board of Canada is launching a Centre on Skills and Post-Secondary Education to investigate how Canada can meet its rising skills needs through broad changes to its post-secondary system. 

Canada earns an “A” grade on two other new indicators to the report card:

  • the difference in reading test scores between 15-year old students in the most and least disadvantaged schools; and
  • equity in learning outcomes in reading between Canadian-born students (who speak the language of the test at home) and the children of immigrants (who do not speak the language of the test at home).

The final two new indicators are the foreign student index, where Canada gets a “B” grade; and adult participation in non-formal job-related education, where Canada gets a “C” grade and ranks 10th of 15 countries. 

This relatively low grade on non-formal job-related training illustrates how Canada lags in workplace skills training and lifelong education. Canadian employers’ investments in workplace training programs lag far behind European and U.S. competitors, and only a very small percentage of what they do invest—less than two per cent—goes to basic literacy skills.

Listen to an interview with Daniel Muzyka on the Education Report Card.

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