Data Check: Canada falling behind in developing research talent

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A decade ago, Mike Lazaridis highlighted the role of university research in developing the talent needed for success in the wider world of R&D. This is no less true today. Unfortunately, Canada continues to lag in university attainment rates, particularly in advanced degrees.
Given the importance of producing research talent, it is no accident that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is now undertaking a major project to understand the role of knowledge in wealth creation, or that the Science, Technology and Innovation Council of Canada recently examined “talent development and deployment” as a key factor in Canada’s competiveness.
But is Canada keeping up? Amongst 25-64 year olds, Canada ranks tenth in university attainment rates, according to the OECD’s Education at a Glance. Canada’s place is buoyed by Ontario (which would rank seventh on its own). The OECD also shows that other countries are improving their attainment rates more quickly than the province. So, while Ontario actually would rank sixth for university attainment amongst 35-44 year-olds, it falls to eighth amongst 25-34 year-olds.
Meanwhile, the OECD’s Main Science and Technology Indicators show that Canada ranks well back in the pack – the bottom third – in the rate at which students graduate with advanced research degrees. The report also illustrates Canada’s relative decline when it comes to the number of researchers as a proportion of the workforce. That the decline is partly due to trends in business expenditures should not obscure the fact that the core activities of Canada’s universities – teaching and research – are seriously short of public funds. The education and research missions of our universities are intimately bound together and essential to future economic and social success. No one and no policy is served by continued provincial underfunding to universities.

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