Reality check on Canada’s doctoral graduates

First, we graduate too few of them. Secondly, they are snubbed by Canada’s private sector and thirdly, they end up south of the border longing to come back. (Thanks Eddy!)

We summarize here a few findings described in various reports relayed by Statistics Canada. See this and this.

Are we graduating enough?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reports that Canada lags behind other developed countries in the production of doctoral degrees.

In 2007, the rate of graduation from doctoral programs was 1.1% in Canada, compared to an OECD average of 1.4%. ( The graduation rate is calculated by the ratio of the number of graduates in a given year divided by the population at the typical age at graduation.  Some caution may be needed here as the reporting on the latter in some countries may not be perfect ).

Among OECD countries, the number of doctorate graduates has increased dramatically in recent years: 200,000 doctoral degrees were awarded in 2006 across OECD countries compared to 140,000 in 1998, representing a 40% increase in 8 years.

In comparison (sort of),  Canada saw 4,200 doctorate degrees awarded in 2005 and 4,500 in 2006, compared to 4,000 in 1998, an increase of just 13%.

However, numbers have increased more steeply in recent years. In 2008, for example, 5,400 doctorates degrees were awarded for an increase of 40% from 5 years earlier.

Where do they end up?

Over one fifth of doctoral graduates plan to live outside of Canada upon completion of their degree. Most students planned to move to the United States, often in order to complete postdoctoral studies.

  • By 2007, 12% of doctoral recipients who had graduated from a Canadian university in 2005 were living in the United States.
  • Graduate in life sciences and computer, mathematics and physical sciences accounted for the highest proportions of those who left Canada for a job that is waiting for them in the United States.
  • The factor most commonly cited for attracting doctoral graduates to the United States was the quality of the research facilities or the commitment to research in that country.”

While this represents a significant loss in human capital from the Canadian economy, the problem may be overstated since the majority of leaving graduates (55%) also indicated that they planned to return to Canada to live and work in the future.

Two years following graduation, 24% of leavers had returned to Canada after spending some time in the United States, while the majority still in the United States continued to have intentions of returning.

How doctorate holders are employed in the economy?

The Canadian Counsel of Academies notes that Canada’s level of human capital is among the highest in the world (whatever this means), but fewer doctorates in Canada are employed by the private sector than in many other countries. They attribute this difference to lower business demand for advanced research skills and lower private investment in advanced research compared to the United States.

Fewer Canadian doctoral graduates in 2005/2006 were expecting to be employed by industry than were American graduates, by about 5 percentage points. Instead, Canadian graduates were more likely to be employed by governments. Most graduates are employed in a small number of industries, the largest being educational services.

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3 Responses to Reality check on Canada’s doctoral graduates

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Reality check on Canada’s doctoral graduates | Piece of Mind --

  2. Anthea says:

    Clearly enough graduates are graduating with PhDs but they’re just not staying in Canada.. The question always exists…why stay if you know that you can be paid more for having a PhD in another country? Why not go elsewhere when you know that you’d be appreciated for having accumulated all that knowledge by the members of your professional community? Totally valid points…since its hard to justify staying if you have accummulated huge debts in getting that knowledge and you have to pay it back…and its difficult to find a job where you are.

  3. Nilima says:

    The economist would say: people with PhDs cannot simultaneously

    (a) be in demand,
    (b) be unable to command a competitive wage.

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