Data Check: Canada gets low grades for PhD production

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A Conference Board of Canada report is raising red flags about Canada’s production of PhD graduates. While Ontario does better than most provinces (ranking second overall in Canada), the study is still cause for concern.

The Conference Board gives Canada and Ontario a “D” overall in terms of the number of PhD graduates. Quebec is the only province to get a “C”. This puts every province behind almost all other OECD countries, except for Japan. One of the reasons for the relatively poor performance is the lack of incentives for advanced study. As the study notes, “Canadian firms in most industries hire fewer PhD graduates and pay them less.” Although not addressed by the study, Canada’s low rate of full-time faculty hiring may also be pushing young people away from advanced study. Faced with extended period of precarious contract work, many prospective PhD students may opt for other, more secure pathways. Since 2000, student enrolment at Ontario’s universities has increased by 64 per cent, while the number of full-time faculty has only increased by 30 per cent.

PhD graduates – whether in academic, the public sector, the private sector, or working in non-profits – are important to innovation, economic growth, and wise public policy. Ontario therefore has a two-fold problem: increasing the number of PhD graduates, while ensuring that they have adequate opportunities in the workforce. Committing to hiring more full-time professors would create a powerful incentive for advanced study, while helping to ensure that PhD graduates have ample opportunities for meaningful, full-time work.

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