In any discussion of Canadian post-secondary education, you know you’re about to approach an impasse when someone starts blaming some real or imagined ill on the lack of “national goals” or the absence of a federal ministry of higher education.
Honestly, who cares? The lack of a Department of Education until the Carter administration didn’t stop the U.S. from creating one of the world’s great PSE systems. Our lack of one hasn’t prevented us from having world-class research funding or one of the most accessible systems of higher education globally.
But that hasn’t stopped the Canadian Council on Learning from devoting its valedictory report to the subject of – yes, you guessed it – how terrible it is that Canada has no national goals in education.
Once it became clear that CCL, a federally-funded entity, was not going to have the support of co-operation of the provinces (due in no small measure to CEO Paul Cappon’s own behavior – he secretly worked with the feds to set up the Council while still working for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada) it was always going to struggle to find a role or a niche. The council decided early on that banging the drum for “national goals” (which is partially but not entirely code for “more federal involvement”) was going to be it.
From then on, virtually any problem one could name in higher education was henceforth a problem of national goals. CCL had a hammer, and every problem was a nail. Just read the CCL report and see. Immigrant skills not meeting labour market demand? That’s a result of not having national goals in PSE. StatsCan unable to make its data comparable with the OECD’s? National goals, again. The rather more sensible propositions that poor immigration policy or lack of imagination at StatsCan could be the issue doesn’t even enter the picture.
The report baselessly asserts that more national action could reduce the male-female attainment gap, or improve apprenticeship completion rates. It is even more baselessly asserted that Canada has no quality assurance agencies in PSE when in fact seven of ten provinces do have one with an eighth (Saskatchewan) about to bring one in.
It’s the same kind of magical thinking used by Quebec separatists. The nature of the actual problem barely matters: once we have achieved separatism/adopted national policy goals in PSE, those problems will disappear. From an organization that once aspired to thought leadership in the field, it’s a disappointingly simplistic and ahistorical approach.