Higher Education statistics in Canada are notoriously bad. But if you think general stats on higher ed are hard to come by, try looking at our statistical systems with respect to doctoral education and its outcomes.
Time-to-completion statistics are a joke. Almost no one releases this data; when it is released, it often appears to be subject to significant “interpretation” (there’s a big difference between time-to-completion and “registered” time-to-completion. If you want to keep the latter down, just tell students getting into sixth year to de-register until they’re ready to submit a thesis). Employment statistics are even scarcer – and as for statistics on PhDs getting jobs in academia? Ha!
It’s that last piece of data that students really want published; it’s also the one viewed with the most trepidation by directors of graduate programs, who are a bit worried about what the stats might reveal. They would probably argue that this isn’t a fair measure of their program’s success since, after all, they don’t control the hiring market. This is a fair enough point, though a reasonable person might ask in return why, if this is the case, PhD intakes are staying high, or even increasing?
Personally, I think the idea that everyone in a PhD program should aspire to an academic career is demented, and professors who peddle that idea to their students (and there are thousands of them) should be ashamed of themselves. But sadly, a lot of students do buy into this myth, and when it doesn’t come true, they’re fairly upset.
There is, however, a simple way to address this problem. Every department in the country should be required to maintain a webpage with statistics both on graduation rates, times-to-completion (real ones, from time-of-enrolment, to degree), and on the last five years worth of graduates. How many are in tenure track positions? How many are in post-docs? How many are temping? Etc. No big survey, no nightmare of involving StatsCan and the provinces, and whatnot. Just every department, publishing its own stats. And no guff about response burdens. Between Academia.edu and LinkedIn, this shouldn’t take more than a day to do.
“Sure”, I hear you saying, “and which departments will volunteer for this, exactly?” But there’s actually a very simple way to get departments to fall into line. The granting councils – who, as much as anyone, should be concerned about these issues – should simply make publication of such information a pre-requisite to obtaining any funding for graduate students. Period.
Faced with this, I’m fairly certain that departmental objections would melt like butter. So how about it, SSHRC and NSERC? Want to land a blow for good data? Give this plan a try. You’ll be heroes to grad students from coast to coast.