HESA

Higher Education Strategy Associates

April 09

A *Tiny* Statscan Mistake on the National Graduates Survey (NGS)

OK, everyone. Gather ’round for a kind of mind-bending story, which totally invalidates much of what I was saying earlier this week about the NGS.

So, NGS is a two-year follow up of graduates, done every five years. So, the 2002 survey looked at the class of 2000, 2007 surveys looked at the class of 2005.  Now, as I noted yesterday, for reasons unknown, Statistics Canada chose to wait until 2013 to do its follow-up of 2010 graduates.  My strong suspicion is that it was because Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC) was yanking their chain on funding for so long that they missed their 2012 window, but I don’t know for sure (NGS, like many surveys, isn’t actually funded by Statscan – it’s paid for by an Ottawa line department.  Yes, it’s ridiculous, but that’s the way Ottawa works.)

Now, waiting a year creates a problem because it screws with the time-series.  If the 2010 class is interviewed  three years out, it’s basically useless because you can’t legitimately compare it with the 2005 or data.  But of course Statscan’s not stupid, I thought to myself: they’ll just ask the questions with respect to a period twelve months earlier and get comparable data that way.  Because who in their right mind would deliberately screw with a time-series that goes back 30 years?

And when I asked someone about this a few months ago, that was more or less the answer I got – the survey would be changed to adjust for the difference in timing.  So when the first NGS release tables appeared late last week from Statscan, and they were labelled “2012 labour force activity of 2010 graduates”, I naturally assumed – hey, Statscan’s done the right thing.  And so I published it.

Then, yesterday AM, we received an email from Statscan.  It contained a new set of tables, with a note saying that while the data they published April 4th was correct, some “mislabeling” had occurred, and that I should destroy the earlier data.

Turns out that what Statscan actually published was data from 2013 data – that is, three years after graduation, not two.  This made me review the 2013 NGS instrument and realize that their re-adjustment of the instrument to account for the gap in surveys was half-assed at best. With a little bit of fooling around with the data, it might be possible to get numbers on employment and income two years out – but since Statscan has declared that it’s not going to put out a Public Use Microdata File (PUMF) for NGS, that’s essentially impossible for anyone to do independently.  Meanwhile, the only data Statscan’s giving out for free is data that is completely non-comparable with any other data in the survey’s 30-year history.

Bra. Vo.

The upshot is: ignore anything you read about comparative-over-time graduate labour market outcomes from NGS from me or anyone else.  Thanks to Statscan (and possibly ESDC), it’s all worthless.

If there were ever a time to just cut funding to NGS and replace the whole thing with administrative data linkages, it’s now.  The argument for keeping it on the grounds of it being a great time-series just disappeared.

April 08

Early NGS Results: The Caveats

Yesterday, I showed you some charts on graduate outcomes indicating that the kids were – mostly – alright: employment steady, Full-time employment steady, graduate incomes steady, etc.  But there are three significant reasons to be cautious about over-interpreting these results.

The first is that this year’s NGS was conducted differently from previous iterations.  In previous years, the survey was conducted two years after graduation.  This year, the survey was done three years out, with graduates being interviewed in 2013 about what their situation was in 2012, to try to keep the 2-year time frame.  This creates an array of small biases in responses, though whether it creates over- or under-estimation of employment and income is hard to say.

The second caveat has to do with the survey response rate.  In 2000, the NGS response rate was 70%; this year’s response rate was 49%, which has to be one of the lowest ever seen in a Statscan survey.  Partly, this is probably an artefact of waiting an extra year to survey students, and partly it’s that students are getting harder to follow (when you survey on landlines, the caller eats the cost – on cell phones, part of the cost burden falls on the respondent, which can’t be good for response rates).

The third problem is the trickiest.  When Statscan reports income and employment figures, it does so only for those students who do not enrol in programs leading to further certification.  This eliminates some problematic data from people who are either still in school, or who have gained an additional credential (which is good), but at the same time it creates problems because the proportion excluded changes over the economic cycle.

Percentage of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Seeking Additional Certifications Within 2 Years of Graduation

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The suspicious might look at this and say: “holy moley! The NGS data on income and employment ignores half of all university graduates – surely that’s where all the underemployed  barista sociology graduates are!  Skills Mismatch Bingo!”

But slow down a minute.  First, the rates at which college and university grads attempt to acquire extra credentials mirror one another; this is not clear evidence in favour of a “college-grads-have-it-better-than-university-grads”, or a “skills mismatch” proposition.

Second, it’s not at all clear that, among university grads, the phenomenon is disproportionately due to Arts grads.  Even in the best of economic times, 40% of university grads continue on to extra credentials, and they come from all across the university.  The proportions by field of study for 2005 (2010 numbers not yet available) actually showed that Science students (62%) were more likely to do so than humanities (56%) and social science (45%) grads (Fine arts was at 38%, engineering, math, and computer science grads were at 30%).

All of which is to say: while the employment and income data from NGS are technically apples-to-apples comparisons, the fact is that the basis of these comparisons varies slightly from survey to survey.  Some of the good news on graduate income and employment rates is probably due more to students choosing to take extra education rather than brave the job market.  It thus probably isn’t entirely fair to say that the 2012 data implies things are getting better for grads.

That said, you can’t twist this evidence to support the idea that there has been a radical change in the labour market for graduates.  It’s mostly as it’s always been, with a slight up-tick in people taking more than one credential.

So can we please ditch the “everything is different” narratives and get back to real issues now?

 

April 07

Early Results from the National Graduates Survey: The Good News

Some very early National Graduates Survey (NGS) results are out, and they’re mostly good news.  The NGS – for the uninitiated – surveys university and college graduates two years after graduation.  It’s closely watched for its numbers on graduate employment, income, and debt.  Statscan has been doing this now for a little over thirty years (the first one was on the class of 1982), and since 1990 it has been conducted every five years.

Usually, when Statscan does a major survey, it “launches” with an analytical report and the release of a public-use microdata file (PUMF).  This time, however, they chose to do neither, which is more than a bit weird.  It’s welcome in the sense that it gets data into the public domain more quickly, but unwelcome in the sense that the only data available is what you get via a set of highly truncated standard tables (no debt data this year, for a start) and what people can order via custom tables for hundreds – possibly thousands – of dollars.  I’ve ordered quite a bit of data, which I can hopefully share with all of you relatively soon, but for today we’re only going with what’s in the standard tables.

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I’ll begin.

The picture on employment and immigration looks pretty good.  To be clear about what’s being shown here, NGS only releases data on graduates who finished a level of study but who did not take any further education.  In theory, this is a way of making comparisons more apples-to-apples: it avoids methodological problems of adding incomes of BA students who went on to do a 1-year Master’s degree in with students who just did a Bachelor’s degree.  It’s less than totally satisfactory, but it has the benefit of simplicity.  Anyways, here’s what the employment data looks like for college and Bachelor’s grads:

Full- and Part-time Employment Rates for College and Bachelor’s Graduates Two Years After Graduation, NGS 2005 (in 2007) and 2010 (in 2012)

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Got that?  From the height of the boom to the middle of the current “recession”, there’s essentially no difference either in terms of overall employment or in terms of full-time employment.  To the extent that there are people struggling and having a hard time finding a job, it’s business as usual: the proportion has not changed since the height of the boom (for both college and university grads, unemployment rates in both periods were 5%, with another 5% not in the labour force).

Ok, you say, but what about income?  Surely the recession has done a real number on graduates’ salaries?  Well, no.  Adjusted for inflation, there’s been a rise in median salaries of 7% for Bachelor’s graduates and 8% for college graduates.

Median Salaries of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Two Years After Graduation, NGS 2005 (in 2007) and 2010 (in 2012), in $2012

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My favourite crazy pieces of data from NGS, though, are the province-by-province figures.  Check out Newfoundland, which according to NGS now pumps out the country’s best-off college and university graduates:

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These are all good stories, worth keeping in your armoury next time someone whines about skills gaps or spouts some nonsense about a lost generation.  But there are a few caveats to this story.  I’ll deal with them tomorrow.

March 28

A Reminder Why Education, Skills, and Training are Provincial Responsibilities

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years talking about skills, skilled trades, skilled personnel, BAs vs. welders, jobs without people/people without jobs, and all kinds of other nonsense about education, training, and the labour market.  And to a large extent, when we argue about this stuff (and I’m including myself here), we’re arguing based on national-level data.

But the labor market isn’t national.

A recent paper by Kelly Foley and David Green made this point quite strongly.  This paper – delivered at an IRPP conference a few weeks ago – makes a number of important observations about education and the labour market, which I’ll have to save for another day.  But one of the most important points it makes is about returns to education in different parts of Canada.

The full paper isn’t available online, but I’d direct everyone’s attention the powerpoint, which is available here.   Slide 4 reminds us of the following:

1)      Among 25-34 year olds, return-on-investment for graduate degrees is much lower for men than for women.

2)      Among men, but not women in the same age group, the gap between the rate of return on bachelor’s degrees and college diplomas has narrowed sharply over the past decade or so.

3)      In fact, rates of return on all types of education are just a heck of a lot better for young women than men.  Startlingly so.

What’s all this gender stuff that got to do with regionalism in the labour market?  Well, take a look at slide 5, which breaks down male earnings by region.  In Ontario and Quebec, returns to education are what you’d expect: higher for graduate degrees than for Bachelors, which in turn are higher than for college diplomas.  But it turns out that both in the Atlantic and in the West, the returns to college education are actually higher than the returns to university.  Indeed, in western Canada they are even higher than they are for graduate studies.

I think it’s safe to assume this isn’t because universities outside Quebec and Ontario are uniquely bad or their colleges uniquely good.  Rather, it’s because labour markets in these regions are looking for fundamentally different sets of skills.  And as far as entry level workers are concerned, it’s pretty clear that they’re asking for more of the type produced by colleges, and less from universities.

And this brings us back to the national debate.  A lot of the rhetoric around skilled trades and the uselessness of Bachelor’s degrees (e.g. Ken Coates, much of the Conservative party) is coming from western Canada, where this actually fits the available data.  Equally, the firing back on the same issues (e.g. me, among others) is coming from central Canada, where this also fits the available data.  To a large extent we’re just talking past each other; both correct locally, but less so nationally (I’ll try to be more careful about this in the future).

But here’s the takeaway point: the fact that the labour market rewards different types of education differently in different parts of the country is exactly the reason the Feds’ involvement in education and training should be as minimal as possible.  We are simply too diverse a country for one-size fits-all policy tools.  Kudos to Foley and Green for reminding us of that.

March 27

Coursera Continues to Confuse

The big news Monday was that Coursera, MOOC provider extraordinaire, had a bit of a re-shuffle at the top.  Founders Daphne Koller and Andre Ng, and erstwhile President Laila Ibrahim, were joined by former Yale President Rick Levin, who is now the company’s CEO.  This, needless to say, got everyone quite excited.  A Big Name Has Joined Coursera!  It must mean… well, what does it mean, exactly?

Coursera is a company which – from a growth point-of-view – has two huge positives and two huge negatives.  The positives are an attractive portal that makes it easy to find and register in classes, and a set of partnership deals with many of the world’s top universities.  The latter is particularly important because quality in online education is often seen as pretty sketchy, and so having a ton of brand name schools as content providers is all to the good.

The first negative is Coursera’s partner universities don’t want to devalue their own brands by making their degrees, or even credits, widely available over the internet.  They don’t mind giving away content – MIT has had its entire curriculum up on the web for about a decade now – but they aren’t going to give away certification.  This leads to the second problem: it’s not clear how willing people are to pay for MOOCs without that kind of credit/certification.

Coursera’s whole business plan to date rests on testing the limits of that second negative.  Their bet is that lots of people are willing to pay $40 a pop for “certificates of completion” for individual courses. But it’s not clear how much money Coursera’s making from this.  In the first 9 months after certifications were issued, they earned a million dollars from them.  At about the same time, they completed a second round of venture capital funding, which in total has netted them about $65 million.  Since then, they’ve been very quiet about how much they are bringing in, and ed-tech journalists for some reason don’t ask tough questions about this.  I tend to view this as likely indicative of bad news for the company – Silicon Valley start-ups usually aren’t shy when it comes to talking about big revenue milestones.

And this is what makes this Levin deal so puzzling.  At this stage of the game, Coursera needs to be demonstrating it can actually earn its own income.  Why bring in a University President rather than someone with a background in business and technology (significantly, EdX also announced a new President on Monday: Wendy Cebula of Vistaprint )?  What does Levin bring Coursera other than closer relations with a group of partners who aren’t going to give you what you want in terms of granting credit anyway?

And what’s the logic behind the rest of the moves? Why demote the previous President – Ibrahim, who was hand-picked by Coursera investor Kleiner Perkins – to Chief Business Officer, when she was the only one in the place who has actual business experience?  Why give Andrew Ng a total grab-bag of titles and responsibilities (he’s now Board Chair, “Chief Evangelist”, and “in charge of pedagogy”, which could easily challenge for the biggest governance nightmare trifecta in history)?

Puzzling.

March 26

Some Final Thoughts on German Apprenticeships

If you’ve been following our Minister of Employment and Social Development, Jason Kenney, lately, you’ll know that he’s taken a keen interest in German apprenticeships.  So much so that his office recently organized a study trip to Germany, to which various provincial education ministers and Ottawa association types were also invited.

There are, basically, eight major differences between our system of apprenticeships and theirs. To wit:

1)      Our apprenticeship system is post-secondary, and caters to people in their 20s.  Theirs is essentially part of the secondary system, and caters to 17-19 year-olds.

2)      As a corollary, German apprentices spend a higher proportion of in-class training on basic employability skills (reading and math) than on technical skills.  They also spend a greater proportion of their time in class, as opposed to in the workplace.

3)      German apprenticeships take 2-3 years, ours take 4-5 (I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer as to why this is the case).

4)      German apprentices mostly do day-release training, not block release, resulting in a better fit between training and work.

5)      The range of apprenticeable occupations is much wider in Germany. Ours are effectively restricted to skilled trades; theirs include banking, retail sales, international trade, etc.

6)      Germany has well-articulated paths from apprenticeships to degrees. In Canada, this only exists at a couple of polytechs (eg. NAIT/SAIT), though the situation is improving.

7)      Germany distinguishes between “journeypersons” and “journeypersons who are qualified to supervise apprentices”.  This professionalizes the learning that takes place on the worksite, which is to the good.

8)      The obvious one: you don’t have to beat German employers over the head with a shoe to get them to invest in training on their own.

Take what you want from numbers 2-8; in the Canadian context, number 1 is the one that matters for federal policy-making: if you want to ape the German model, the feds need to get out of the system.

There are lots of interesting things about this model, of course.  But as long-time readers will know, I’m pretty skeptical about the rhetorical uses to which the legendary German apprenticeships are put in the Canadian context.  They are almost always deployed as an argument for increasing investment in skilled trades (which is wrong – less than 30% of German apprenticeships are in the skilled trades), and/or as a solution to youth unemployment, which seems to me to be a serious case of confusing correlation with causation.  Over the past few months, Kenney has been guilty of both of these sins.

So it was interesting the week before last when Minister Kenney decided to take me to task for some of my skeptical tweeting on the subject.  After a brief and interesting exchange, he offered this insight into his thinking:

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This is kind of a big deal.  If all of Kenney’s drum-banging about apprenticeships is actually about experiential learning, then that changes the debate enormously.  There are loads of people who could get on board with that.  When I pointed this out to him, he replied:

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Here’s hoping.  It would mark an important improvement in our policy debate if he does.

March 25

The Cost of Expanding Access in Poor Countries

I’ve been dealing a lot with issues of access in Africa (specifically, Senegal and Uganda) over the past couple of months.  And I think I’m coming to the conclusion that there are some situations where it flat-out doesn’t make any sense to expand access.

If you’re a producer of good and services, the main advantage of poor countries is that labour is cheap.  This is why manufacturing has, over the years, drifted to lower-wage countries – first Mexico, then China, and so on.  But universities don’t work that way.  Academics are significantly more mobile than other workers; If university pay falls behind in Ghana they’ll move to Nigeria or South Africa; if it falls behind in South Africa, they’ll move to the UK or Australia.  So to keep them, salaries have to be well above local norms.  Scientific equipment is sold at a global price, as are journals and periodicals (price reduction schemes do exist for Africa, but universities in places like the Balkans or the ‘Stans are pretty much out of luck on that), which is a huge burden for poorer countries.

As a result, the price differential between rich countries and poor countries for producing university graduates is substantially less than it is for producing widgets.  You can see this most easily if you express countries’ expenditures per student on higher education as a fraction of GDP/capita.  In advanced OECD countries, that number is usually in the region of 30%; in Africa, it is frequently over 100% (and even with that disparity, it’s not even close to buying a similar end-product).  It’s quite simply enormously expensive for governments in this situation to expand higher education.

The natural instinct of higher education policy wonks in this situation is always the same: pile on more resources.  If government can’t afford it, let fee-paying students (either in public or private universities) make up the difference.  And that works, up to a point.  But you still run up against the same problem: the cost structures of those institutions aren’t that different from those of public universities, and the troubles the government has in raising money for public services is mirrored by the troubles individuals have in finding well-paying jobs to pay for that education.

Student loans are sometimes mooted as a solution to the problem, but the repayment problems are enormous.  In Africa, for instance, it’s fairly typical that the cost of a year of study is equal to about 40-50% of an entry-level salary.  That means that even if a graduate does find a job right away, their outstanding debt will be on the order of 150%-200% of their income.  Not sustainable.

This isn’t a question of public vs. private.  It is simply a question of return on investment.  At certain levels of development, there are points beyond which you either have to radically reduce the cost of higher education (perhaps via intensive use of MOOCs, as the Kepler project in Rwanda is doing), or you have to say “enough is enough”, because the return isn’t there.  It’s politically difficult to do, but as with any good, one needs to acknowledge when marginal costs start exceeding marginal benefits.  This may be one of those cases.

March 24

March Madness

It’s March Madness in the US – the annual NCAA basketball tournament.  And so it’s time to ask the question: what the hell is it with Americans and intercollegiate sport, anyway?

To most of the rest of the world, the American college sports industry – by which we mostly mean Men’s Basketball and Football – is flat-out ridiculous.  There are 420,000 student athletes.  Attendance at college football games is 48 million/year.  Total income for college sports is just under $11 billion per year.

Eyewatering statistics.  And yet, according to most observers, the vast majority of institutions who participate in the big-money sports actually lose money on Athletics.  According to this 2011 USA Today survey, only 22 of 227 Division I schools break-even on their athletics programs.  In total, subsidies from state governments, student fees, and the like, equalled more than $2 billion.

Obviously, there’s some room for interpretation in those figures (notably, how much of the sports infrastructure you choose to assign to intercollegiate athletics, as opposed to facilities for the general student body) – but clearly there’s a heck of a lot of spending going on.  The question is: why? What’s in it for the schools?  Are all these schools just stupid, or is there something we’re not seeing here?

There is no shortage of theories about those “other” benefits sports brings: one theory says that sports teams create school spirit and hence higher levels of engagement; another is that successful sports teams increase prestige, and hence applications.  The former is pretty clearly not true at all; the latter does happen occasionally, but only when a relatively unknown school hits the jackpot with a exceptional player or a deep run in the NCAA playoffs (Butler, for instance, saw applications rise 41% after their basketball team’s wholly-unexpected 2010 playoff run).  That said, if you don’t have a sports team, you run the risk of not being in the public eye.  Among major universities, only Chicago chooses not to compete in football (and even there, the decision to ditch the sport only took place after something like fifteen consecutive losing seasons).

The missing link here is government relations.  College sports is a way of attracting political backing for an institution among people who never have, and never will, attend higher education.  Indeed, particularly in the Southern and Western states where the development of higher education was heavily driven by the populists in the 1890s and early 1900s, providing entertainment to the masses wasn’t exactly a quid pro quo for providing state-funded elite education for the few, but it was pretty close.

And quite apart from its uses as a means of shoring up voter support, big games also serve as a great way for Presidents to meet-and-greet with important legislators, something Charles Clotfelter documented amply in Big-Time Sports in American Universities.  Given the way American politics works, with its dispersal of power and multiple points of influence, presidential schmoozing is an even bigger deal down there than it is up here.  And if you can get some of the governor’s top aides in your luxury box for a full three hours, that’s probably worth some serious dough.  Maybe not the $10 million per institution it’s actually costing, but close enough to it that sensible people are loath to risk it.

In other words, it may be madness, but there’s a method to it.

March 21

Capital!

If you’re ever bored and playing around with CAUBO data (what do you mean, “no else does that”?) you may have noticed that in 2011 there was a significant (roughly 3%) decrease in university expenditures – which is weird, because no province significantly reduced funding to universities that year, and universities never voluntarily reduce their spending.  So what the heck is going on?

The quick answer is: the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP) ended, and so institutions lost a nice little source of income that they could devote to making newer, nicer, and more energy-efficient buildings.  But a deeper look at some of the numbers on capital spending makes for interesting reading.

Here’s the overall story on capital expenditure at Canadian universities:

Figure 1: Capital Expenditures at Canadian Universities, 1992-2011, in $2011

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Obviously, this graph shows the enormous effect of KIP – an enormous two-year spike in spending in 2009 and 2010.  But to me, the more interesting thing is the long-term increase in capital spending.  Back in the 1990s, we basically kept capital spending at around a billion dollars/year.  Come the millennium, we changed tack.  Over the next three years, capital spending jumped by 150%, nation-wide, and stayed there.  Part of that was of course the result of Ontario going on a double-cohort-related construction spree.  But it wasn’t just Ontario – remember that enrolments went up by about half between 1997 and 2009.  And of course, from 1999 onwards, Canada Foundation for Innovation money started flowing into institutions across the country to upgrade institutions’ research infrastructure.

Here’s what happened to spending in the four big provinces which make up 90% of the country’s post-secondary expenditures:

Figure 2: Capital Expenditures at Universities in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, 1992-2011, in $2011

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Figure 2 shows that although the big increases were in Ontario and Alberta; Quebec stands out for having a policy of very steady investment in capital.  It had a one-off increase in 2000 (one assumes this is mostly due to CFI), but other than that the expenditures were quite stable.  That means Quebec wasn’t a stand-out performer in 2010, but it also means that for most of the 90s, Quebec was outspending Ontario 2:1 (and thus it probably didn’t have the same kind of infrastructure deficit going into the 2000s).

But maybe the mind-blowing thing here is what happened in Alberta post-2000, which is best seen by isolating the later years in the previous graph and indexing provincial spending:

Figure 3: Capital Expenditures at Universities in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, 1999-2011, indexed to 1999

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Figure 3 illustrates two extraordinary spikes in spending: BC, where capital spending quintupled between 1999 and 2005, and Alberta, where capital spending triples in just three years after 2006.

The long and the short of it is that in the 2000s, for a variety of short-term reasons (double-cohort in Ontario, having more money than God in Alberta), capital expenditures settled at a level about 2.5 times where it was in the 90s.  Can we stay at this level, or are we doomed to give in to short-termism and start diverting this money to shorter-term priorities?  Certainly, a number of faculty unions (particularly in the Atlantic) have been making the case that capital expenditures should be re-directed to higher faculty salaries.

One can’t predict the future, of course.  But these figures really do remind you that the mid/late 00s were the Golden Years for Canadian higher education financing.  Makes you wonder how many people now feel silly for not having seen it at the time.

March 20

A Dreadful Book About Higher Education

If, for some reason, you feel a need to read the literary equivalent of sticking knitting needles in your eyes, have I got a book for you:  Henry Giroux’s, Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education.  The whole book is a mixture of baseless assertions, generalizations from anecdotes, and non-existent fact-checking, an unmitigated disaster from start to finish.

If you’re going to have an entire book about neoliberalism, it helps to actually define the term.  What is this thing that’s at war with higher ed, exactly?  But the task of defining terms is apparently beneath Giroux.  As near as I can tell, his definition of neo-liberalism includes a hefty dose of militarism, so when he says “neo-liberal” he really means something close to: “the Dick Cheney wing of Republican Party”,  but it’s impossible to know for sure.

The book does not, in fact, have a continuous narrative; rather, it’s a hastily slapped-together mix of a half-dozen articles or speeches, some of which are pretty tangential to higher education.  In the first two chapters, the “war” on higher education consists of governments (particularly the US government) spending money on the military and not on higher ed.  In two others, the enemy is academics themselves, refusing to be “public intellectuals”.  As with “neo-liberalism”,  Giroux chooses to leave “public intellectuals” undefined, but it appears to be synonymous with “agreeing with, and acting like, Henry Giroux”.

There are really only two chapters which deal directly with higher education.  One is about the 2012 “Maple Spring” in Quebec.  It’s utterly uncritical of the students and their aims, and makes some utterly fantastical claims about government and its motives.  In it, one learns that the Quebec tuition fee hike was caused by funds being diverted towards Canada’s “burgeoning military budget”, despite the fact that: a) Canada’s military budget has been going down since 2010; and, b) military expenditures are a federal, not a provincial responsibility.  Giroux, originally from the US, is clearly deeply confused about Canadian federalism, claiming at one point that Jean Charest had no trouble “contributing” $4.7 billion towards the cost of the new F-35s – which is a unique interpretation of the federal taxing power, to be sure.

The only other article that focusses specifically on events in higher education takes the Penn State child sexual assault scandal and – I wish I were making this up – uses it as a metaphor for what’s happening to young people and higher education in general.  Seriously.  But then again, offensive metaphors and comparisons seem to be something of a Giroux speciality: at one point early in the book he declares that the situation of adjuncts in US universities is “no better” than the condition of Cold War political prisoners and dissidents in communist countries (Move aside Solzhenitsyn, we’ve got some under-employed post-docs here!).

It’s not all dreary: I quite enjoyed the bit where he managed to shoehorn his wife’s name into a listing of great intellectuals writing on neo-liberalism (Friere! Bourdieu! Searls Giroux!).  But overall, this is just cartoon Chomskyism.  If that kind of thing turns you on, you’ll like it.  If not, save your money.

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