Graduate level education

I was in a meeting this week where a university leader lamented that fact that many of the best and brightest minds leave the New Brunswick university system to pursue graduate degrees and research opportunities because there are just not enough opportunities here.

I am sympathetic to this argument because there is considerable data (direct and indirect) that shows a fairly strong correlation between levels of education and outmigration).  Also, this guy argued the cream of graduating classes leave the region because the quality of opportunities are greater in other areas (I guess this means the leftovers – like many of us – stay here).

The truth is that small provinces will always suffer from this braindrain.  Mount Allison attracts a cohort of Canada’s top undergraduate talent but they live in a hermetically sealed bubble for four years and then leave the province.

I haven’t spent too much time studying the data – I have paying gigs to attend to – but it is true that New Brunswick has the third lowest level of people in graduate degree programs in Canada (per 10,000 population).   The good news is – if you advocate this position – the growth rate is strong – in the 1999-2008 timeframe enrolments grew by 44% a faster growthr ate than all other provinces except Nova Scotia and PEI (which just got in the graduate education game in a big way in the past few years).

Enrolments in graduate degree programs (all programs, full and part time) – per 10,000 population



10 yr growth




Nova Scotia






Newfoundland and Labrador









British Columbia






New Brunswick






Prince Edward Island



Source: Uses Statistics Canada data adjusted for population size.

We know that graduate education is even more heavily subsidized by governments than undergaduate education.  The critics would say the money is better spent elsewhere and that without jobs for those folks they will get their education here and then leave anyway.

The supporters will vigorously argue that New Brunswick needs to be awash in graduate education – particularly research- intensive programs – and that will create a far more dynamic and innovative economy.

I think we need to have this conversation.  Intiuitively I like education spending – as one of the most important long term indicators of economic prosperity but I also realize there is truth to the viewpoints of the out-migration camp.

My easy and trite answer is that education needs to be aligned with workforce needs (and feed growth industries) but it’s not quite as simple as that.

7 thoughts on “Graduate level education

  1. I remember a prof at STU who for YEARS tried everything within his power to get a graduate program in Religious Studies-this at an essentially Catholic school. But to no avail. No graduate programs there STILL, and a couple of years ago they decided to start up a new undergrad program-in journalism, perhaps the occupation next likely to lead to economic success in NB to forestry. So again we see an example of Richards problem, Irving wants lots of cheap workers to choose from for its media. I know full well that CBC essentially is hiring NOBODY, so this program has, perhaps, the ability to create one or two jobs per year in the province.

    As for funding, not sure about that. In the arts I know from my own experience that tuition is FAR higher than undergrad, and there were really no more public scholarships available than for undergrads. There are more opportunities from private foundations, but thats not government.

    In the sciences the funding is done differently, and you have to remember that graduate students ‘produce’ things, unlike undergrads. The company my wife works for exists only because a STUDENT made a lipid discovery. That student work has led to a fairly substancial research company now in human clinical trials. So while taxpayers ‘paid’ for her salary-which by the way is so low that most recipients don’t pay taxes in an effort to keep graduate students and post docs in the country-there was a pretty clear ROE. It’s true that that may not be the norm, however, you really have to QUANTIFY all that research-much of which goes into the public sector, before claiming that they are funded more intensively.

    But its not just that. Just for fun I went looking for dental schools. There is a dental ASSISTANT program, but I could find no dental school. So no architecture school, no dental, no vet, and I suspect a lot of that increase was finally getting an english medical school.

    There is Moncton, and UNB as the only places to go to graduate school, and I went to UNB, its graduate programs are really nothing to get excited about. Its good to see the increase, but I wonder which faculties those graduates are IN. I notice all the maritimes have quite a high number, I wonder if this is partly due to the complete lack of jobs in their field.

  2. I don’t know why people go on and on about the quality of education in New Brunswick. It’s top notch and has produced thousands of real winners who have found no problem competing in difficult markets, in the industry they chose, around the country and abroad. However, if you were to ask those that hung around, or the “leftovers” as David so eloquently put it, to work in the fisheries (seasonally), construction, agriculture, the forest industry, you may not get the same answer from many of the people in those industries (notwithstanding some engineers and surveyors, etc.) who never really used education, and higher education, as a vehical to better themselves. And yes, the “leftovers” are having children. Hopefully, they’ll aspire to greater things and get out. 😉

  3. “I don’t know why people go on and on about the quality of education in New Brunswick”

    You have to distinguish between the different jobs done by unis. Yes, there is education – which is actually of pretty poor quality across the country, and not just in NB – but also research. Its the latter that produces the real benefits, and that is where NB falls down. Our unis are focussed on ‘education’ and not ‘research’. Several have tried to develop international reps via ‘high-quality’ education, but that has limited benefits to NB.

    In the coming decade, unis in NB will see budget cuts. Perhaps there should be some urgent discussion on what to cut, what to rationalize, and where to invest. I know where I would direct dollars and I know what I would be willing to sacrifice to get there. I would demand that UNB prioritize science and engineering R&D and cut where required from the soft sciences (which have lost their way), business schools (idiot training), and the humanities. Perhaps STU and MtA could pick up some of the dropped programs. If left to themselves, or our political masters, cuts will just be made across the board, and all will suffer. We will then end up with truly mediocre unis, rather than ones that might be smaller and less inclusive, but still have some quality pgms.

    There is no inherent reason why NB cannot prosper. We have the work ethic and the smarts. What we lack is the R&D innovation to develop new industries and the capital to advance them.

  4. “but if you don’t offer quality education, people will never in-migrate.”

    People will in-migrate if there are jobs to be had. Few of them will look twice at the quality of education being offered. Most immigrants will figure – we can fix that – and they are right.

  5. > Yes, there is education – which is actually of pretty poor quality across the country, and not just in NB…

    No it isn’t of pretty poor quality. According to international assessments, Canada’s education system is among the best in the world. In the most recent PISA evaluations (PISA 2009, if you look things up) Canada placed 6th, behind only Finland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and South Korea (it was actually Canada’s worst showing in the PISA evaluations, reflecting the recently increasing gap between rich and poor under the Martin and Harper governments).

    > People will in-migrate if there are jobs to be had. Few of them will look twice at the quality of education being offered.

    No they won’t. Especially if they have children. We’ve advertised for people -t he jobs are there – but people won’t move here if they can’t get school placement, daycare, doctors and dentists, and other such things. They imagine (correctly) that NB lags in these areas and has a political, corporate and economic regime generally opposed to making social investments. You have to realize – unless you’re a low-skill worker, there’s jobs everywhere, and people can (and do) pick and choose where they live.

Comments are closed.