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Margin Notes

What Canadian higher-ed data are you missing?

A panel at next week's Congress will discuss a new compendium of Canadian postsecondary education data sources.


I recently came across a link on the University of Alberta website, under the title “Convocation Statistics,” that has times to completion rates for graduate students. Here, for example, is the data on times to completion of graduate degrees by gender for 2014. You’ll see, for instance, that the 33 students who received their PhD that year in agricultural, life and environmental sciences took an average of 5.61 years to complete their degree.

It’s great to see this kind of data publicly available, and I assume there are other universities doing this if you know where to look. We at University Affairs had some difficulty getting publicly available data on time to completion and completion rates for Canada’s universities for a story back in 2013. Indeed, the lack of comprehensive and comparable national postsecondary education data has been a near-constant refrain from many within Canada’s higher-education sector. Data collection can be time-consuming and costly, but lack of good data can hinder good policy development and analysis.

I recently opined on this very issue, as did fellow University Affairs blogger Melonie Fullick, just the latest in a long line of posts on the topic. Glen Jones at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at University of Toronto went further in an opinion piece for Academica a couple weeks later. “There are entire sectors of our higher education system where data are either missing or weak,” he wrote.

The posts caught the eye of the Canadian Society for Studies in Higher Education, which cite them as the impetus for a symposium they’re holding next week at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at University of Ottawa. (The symposium is on Tuesday, June 2, 9:00 to 10:15 a.m.; see pg. 30 of the CSSHE conference agenda, PDF).

The symposium, entitled “The Current and Future State of Higher Education Data: Where do we go from here?”, will specifically “interrogate the assertion that was raised early this year in the media (Academica, University Affairs) … that data availability is a barrier to understanding Canadian postsecondary education.” Also during the session, the panelists will present a recently constructed document called the “Compendium of Canadian Postsecondary Data Sources.” It sounds like a great idea.

The panelists are Alexandre Beaupré-Lavallée at Université de Montréal, Ross Finnie at University of Ottawa, the above-mentioned Glen Jones, and Michelle Nilson at Simon Fraser University. I will be the moderator for the panel.

To be fair, there are lots of PSE data out there. For instance, the Council of Ontario Universities compiles multi-year data in a variety of areas and also hosts Common University Data Ontario, which offers data, in a common format, on things like number of degrees awarded, student enrolment and entering averages by program; number of teaching faculty, and graduation rates and employment rates by program. Other provinces may have similar programs, but it’s difficult to find all this data in one place, which is why a compendium of Canadian PSE data sources would be so useful.

As preparation for the panel, I’d like to hear which Canadian PSE data you would most like to see collected and made publicly available? Faculty hiring data? Student completion data and pathways? Post-PSE labour outcomes? And who should be collecting this data? Universities? Statistics Canada? The provinces? I’d also like to hear of some good examples of best practices in data collection. I’ll bring this information with me to help feed the panel discussion.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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  1. Rod Skinkle / May 26, 2015 at 18:19

    Hi Leo, that is a good question on an important matter. I am glad to hear too that that this has been taken up by the CCSHE in the upcoming conference. While it wouldn’t be difficult to create a pretty long list of missing data, I will contribute one that is top of mind at this time. That is, data concerning part-time and contract faculty. HEQCO will be releasing a report soon based on a survey of nearly 2000 PSE non-full-time faculty here in Ontario. We (Academica Group) conducted the study for them but we had to contact faculty participants through social media and public advertising because we found that PSE institutions had little interest, and in many cases real difficulty, with encouraging participation in this study.

  2. Justin / June 2, 2015 at 11:26

    I will permit myself to point to a big EdTech resource: the
    This Higher Ed wiki that I help curate, is a great Canadian resource of edtech systems used in higher ed.

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