Ken Coates, a professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan and the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation, argues in a recently published report commissioned by the Canadian Council for Chief Executives that universities across the country should seriously consider cutting enrollment numbers.
Coates argues in the report that universities, as well as the federal and provincial governments, are failing to address the massive imbalance between the number of students graduating university and their ability to secure jobs.
“When you flood the market with thousands upon thousands of degree-holding individuals, whose background looks pretty much the same, you have a serious problem,” Coates said.
“We’ve oversold the value of a university degree as a market entry, as opposed to an education. We’re finding from employers that the credential doesn’t carry the same weight and substance as it used to,” Coates told CBC.
While a background in English, political science or philosophy will provide you with an excellent set of skills — conducting research, formulating arguments, writing and communication, inductive and deductive thinking — the sad truth is that there is simply not enough jobs to handle the number of students graduating with these degrees.
In Career Ready: Towards a National Strategy for the Mobilization of Canadian Potential, the report authored by Ken Coates, he argues that enrollment numbers should be scaled back by at least 25-30 per cent.“ “Canada needs to shift away from this open-access approach — based on the idea that everyone ‘deserves’ a degree, or at least the chance to try to earn one — to one that is based on achievement, motivation and compatibility with national needs,” Coates said.
While Coates makes a convincing case in his report, universities, in my opinion, would not go along with his recommendations. Unless they were forced to make such cuts by the government, there is no way universities would make shave off 30 per cent of their revenues.
Schools would lose out on tens of millions of dollars per year. They would be forced to substantially scale back on course offerings, programs and other services that students consider essential. Not only would universities resist such a move but surrounding businesses as well who rely on university students to survive. We could name dozens of businesses in St. Catharines, Thorold and elsewhere who more or less survive on the student population.
Despite the fact that universities would resist such a policy, nonetheless, we have to deal with this problem. Thousands of students leave university every year in Canada only to discover that they cannot find work. Jobless and straddled with debt, many students are forced to reconsider their career options.
Some take a job that they are overly qualified for while others return to school in the hope of finding a different line of work.
However difficult this problem is, we need to keep in mind that it is not solely the fault of our politicians and school administrators. While I think they deserve the majority of the blame for failing to address it, we need to remind ourselves that the university is first and foremost a business. So long as the money keeps coming, it doesn’t matter if graduates are struggling to find work.
It is here that part of the blame must fall to parents and students. If you know that once you graduate you are going to struggle to find work — on top of having an enormous amount of debt — why would you want to attend university in the first place? Would it not be better to attend college or a technical school when there is an actual demand for skilled trades people?
As Coates points out, “parents, it seems, do not particularly want their children to be plumbers or radiation therapists, and continue to be optimistic — overly so — about the economic prospects for university graduates in general.”
For some reason, many parents and young people have this idea that working in the skilled trades is for people who are not very bright or intelligent. As a former trades person myself, I’ve heard this more times than I care to count. I don’t know where this attitude came from but it’s one we need to get over, especially when the demand for trades people is so high and the demand for university grads is so low.
While it would be difficult to convince young people that college or trades school is more valuable than university today, it just might help to solve this imbalance that so many university students are struggling with. The skilled trades is honorable, high-paying and demanding work. And best of all, you don’t need a mortgage to learn it.