BLAIR FRASER February 5 1966


BLAIR FRASER February 5 1966



Backstage at Ottawa

DESPITE ALL the publicity given to the Economic Council’s devastating appraisal of Canadian education, in its annual review published last month, the most startling of the council’s criticisms has gone almost unnoticed. This is the charge that Canadian management, not Canadian labor, is the most seriously under-educated group in the labor force.

The council makes this statement in language of studied moderation: “The educational attainment of the owner and management group is very significantly lower in Canada than in the United States. The average differences between the two countries in this regard appear to be wider than in almost all other major categories of the labor force . . . No strong or clear-cut evidence is available to indicate whether or not there are general and significant differences between Canada and the United States in attitudes to work, risk-taking, innovation, expansion and the pursuit of efficiency. Yet there does exist some uneasiness in Canada that such differences may be a factor contributing to relatively lower productivity in this country.”

The contrast between the educational standards of Canadian and American management is not spelled out in detail in the Economic Council s report. It is based on a study that won’t be ready for publication for some months yet. The study was made by Bruce Wilkinson, University of Saskatchewan economist, and is an exhaustive examination of the schooling of various occupational groups in each country, as reported in the U. S. census of 1960 and the Canadian of 1961. Wilkinson shows that in the middle levels of the labor force — clerical workers and the like — the differences between American and Canadian standards are much smaller. It’s at the management level that Canada’s side really falls behind.

Even the Economic Council’s own figures indicate this by fairly strong inference. They show that while the American labor force has had more schooling than the Canadian, the gap is by far the widest at the top.

Both countries have the problem of

the functional illiterate, the worker with less than five years’ schooling who can’t read and write well enough to hold any job that requires literacy. In the U. S. these illiterates make up 5.8 percent of the labor force, in Canada 7.5 percent — that is, the Canadian proportion is about 30 percent higher than the American. But this is for the labor force as a whole. In the younger age group, 25 to 34, the difference is much smaller — 3.9 percent in Canada to 3.2 percent in the United States. Evidently the two countries have been grappling w'ith the problem recently with approximately equal success.

The gap widens between the two countries when we look at the people who dropped out at or before Grade eight —45.9 percent in Canada, 34.2 percent in U. S., so the Canadian figure is 34 percent higher. But the really sharp contrast is at university level. Exactly twice as high a percentage of Americans finish university. Also, the Canadian record is getting relatively worse instead of better. In the youngest age group, 25 to 34, the American percentage is not merely twice but 2Vi times as big as the Canadian.

Bruce Wilkinson’s study will show that professional men in the U. S. — doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc. — have more education than in Canada, a higher incidence of post-graduate degrees and special training. However, all professional men by definition have some kind of university degree in both countries, and the number of professionals per thousand population is not far different. Therefore if professionals are subtracted from the total of university graduates, and the comparison is based on the executives who own and manage our business firms, it’s obvious that the Canadian percentage will be an even smaller fraction of the American.

The Economic Council’s report also destroyed the myth that our university graduates leave home to get betterpaying jobs in the U. S. In the aggregate this isn’t so. University graduates earn more money in Canada, on the average, than they do in the U. S. — the median income is 57,956 here.

57,693 there. (The average income of a Canadian university graduate, as distinct from the median income, is 59,188 compared to only 55,493 for the high-school graduate and 53.526 for the man who never went past elementary school.)

Averages and medians are both misleading. anyway. The big advantage of the university graduate is that his income rises steeply in his first 10 years of work, continues to rise less steeply in his middle years, and then remains at a high plateau until he retires — a plateau that averages just under $11,000. The curves for the lower educational levels arc almost horizontal.

I hose tacts led the Economic Council to make a calculation of the economic value of education, in terms of return on investment. By measuring the extra income which, on the average. is earned by higher education, and comparing it to the entire cost of acquiring this extra education (including the income foregone while in university). the council concludes: “Returns on the human investment in highschool and university education in Canada are in the range of 15 to 20 percent per year, with slightly higher rates for investment in a university than in a high-school education.”

That return of 15 to 20 percent comes back to the individual in higher earnings throughout his working life. The return to the economy, no doubt equally high, is in the quantity and quality of national production.

Members of the council would not w-ant to leave the impression, though, that Canada’s gravest educational shortages are at the university level. They exist at all levels hut are probably worst at the point of entry into high school. In a horrifying number of cases and places, high-school education simply doesn't exist.

Dr. John Deutsch, chairman of the Economic Council, made a study a few' years ago of the school system in


New Brunswick, commissioned by the provincial government. He found large areas in northeastern New Brunswick where up to 40 percent of adults were illiterate — half had never been to school at all, the rest not long enough to remember what little they’d learned. No high schools existed and none could exist, for all secondary education was in English whereas these people had taken their primary schooling in French, and of course could not pass high-school entrance examinations, so there was no need to waste money building high schools for them.

Some fraction of this scandalous situation exists in most of the English-speaking provinces. So long as that remains true, we can hardly say that university expansion is our gravest need. BLAIR FRASER