When viewed holistically, Canada lacks a clear and common understanding of the future directions and top priorities of its post-secondary education (PSE) sector. Perhaps as a result, Canada has not yet comprehensively addressed a fundamental question: How do we demonstrate quality in PSE? To answer this question requires clarification of many issues, including the roles that various institutions and sectors play. It also requires the development of a shared vision of PSE, of what can and should be achieved. Despite much discussion among leaders of various education sectors in Canada, an agreement on a plan of action has yet to be reached. Indeed, a national dialogue on this critical issue is needed.
As a starting point for a national dialogue, the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) has published three annual reports on the state of post-secondary education in Canada over the last four years. These reports provided an overview of the Canadian PSE landscape while highlighting various issues common among education jurisdictions and institutions. For instance, CCL’s 2006 report, Canadian Post-secondary Education: A Positive Record¯– An Uncertain Future, identified eight goals common among the post-secondary strategies of provinces and territories. One of these common goals was addressing the issue of quality in PSE.
CCL’s new monograph series, Challenges in Canadian Post-secondary Education, focuses on important considerations identified in our previous reports. Here, with the inaugural monograph, “Up to Par: The Challenge of Demonstrating Quality in Canadian Post-secondary Education,” CCL discusses the complex challenges associated with defining and demonstrating quality in PSE. As the monograph asserts, a necessary step toward understanding and demonstrating quality in PSE is clarification of the overarching purposes and objectives of Canada’s collective post-secondary efforts. The common goals identified by CCL suggest convergence among Canadian education jurisdictions upon which a pan-Canadian strategy for PSE could be built. Nevertheless, debate persists on how best to structure institutions and systems—debate which further confuses our understanding of quality in PSE. Acquiring PSE has been linked to a number of individual benefits, such as better health and quality of life, and a greater likelihood of increased lifetime earnings. In turn, countries with higher levels of PSE participation enjoy greater economic prosperity, employment stability, labour flexibility, productivity and civic participation.1 Increased PSE enrolment rates reflect a growing awareness of the economic benefits of a PSE qualification. Following a period of decline in the 1990s, university enrolment has increased markedly. Between 2001 and 2007, total university enrolment in Canada rose by 19.2%, from 886,700 to over 1 million. Over the same period, the level of graduate studies enrolment grew by 25.3% to over 150,000. This increase has not been limited to universities. In fact, the share of the working-age population in Canada with any type of post-