For decades, Canadians interested in post-secondary education (PSE) have decried the lack of easily available, easily digestible data on the post-secondary sector. In part, this lacuna results from some very large gaps in our PSE data system, especially with respect to colleges, staff, and student assistance (in contrast, statistics on institutional finances are among the best in the world). There are also some types of statistics which take an inordinately long time to appear (data on international students, for instance, routinely take three to four times as long to appear in Canada as they do in the US, the UK, or Australia). Our decentralized, federal system is partly to blame, but mainly, Canadian governments and statistical agencies just seem not to care about good education data the way some other countries do.
That said, there actually is a considerable amount of data on Canadian post-secondary education available, but it is just not usually put in a narrative form which is easily accessible. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), for instance, puts out an invaluable annual “almanac”, but the data has a profound university skew and tends to be presented in tabular form rather than through more intuitive graphics. Universities Canada occasionally puts together some good publications on the state of the system, but these have become rarer as of late and in any case largely miss the colleges. The Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) has an irregularly published system of “Education Indicators” but these are more focused on education as a whole rather than on post-secondary and fall prey to the same preference for tables over graphs. Statistics Canada produces a great deal of data (if not always very promptly), but does very little to help people interpret it.
As a result of all this, Higher Education Strategy Associates has decided to produce an annual publication called “The State of Post-Secondary Education in Canada”. We took as our model a similar set of publications produced by Andrew Norton and his colleagues at the Grattan Institute in Melbourne entitled “Mapping Australian Higher Education”. Like the Australian exercise, we expect we will take on slightly different issues in each future edition, depending on what new data come available. For the inaugural year, we chose to stick to the basics: describing the Canadian system (trickier than it sounds), detailing trends in student and staff numbers, and looking at how the system is financed, both from an institutional and a student perspective. We hope that by putting all of this information in a handy and convenient format, and providing some accompanying narrative, that we can help improve the quality of public dialogue on post-secondary education policy issues. Any and all comments or suggestions about how to improve the publication for future years will be gratefully received.