by Barbara Woolsey
The Conference Board of Canada has given Canada a D grade in producing PhD students.
Out of 17 nations; Canada ranked lowest. For every 100, 000 people between the ages of 25 and 29, only 209 complete PhDs, compared to the United States at 289 and France at 259.
“Canada’s education system simply does not stimulate enough students to complete post-graduate degrees, especially in the science and technical disciplines that underpin innovation, because funding is too widely dispersed among an expanding number of universities,” the report concluded.
For Peter Nell, a graduate student at the University of Regina, lack of research dollars is indeed the biggest problem. He is required to work as a teacher’s assistant three days a week to be eligible for funding. Nell added he is paid “not nearly enough” for his time and effort.
“I know a lot people who can’t (pursue higher level education) because they’ve already worked up thousands of dollars of undergrad debt,” said Nell, currently pursuing his master’s of electronic engineering.
“Either that, or people have to get a side job because they need to have enough to live. So then they take their degree part time and it takes longer (to finish).”
Co-president of the U of R Graduate Students’ Association, Bhabani Panigrahy, hears this complaint regularly from PhD students.
“When they have no research funding, they need to get a job,” he said. “When you are not financially sound, you’re always first thinking, ‘How can I survive?’”
Garth Pickard is a professor and faculty advisor for the masters of education program. The majority of graduates he works with are pursuing their PhDs part time as opposed to full time, he said.
“When I did my master’s degree in 1973, I could quit my job and go to school,” Pickard remarked. “Nowadays, you’ve got to work, you’ve got kids and it tends to be a different world.”
While the nation’s rate of high school, college, and university completion is above average, the number of students pursuing higher level education is on the decline.
According to Pickard, this can have dangerous implications for the nation’s post-secondary system.
“Universities are in big trouble because there aren’t enough people getting PhDs to take over positions like the one I’m holding,” he said. “It’s a huge problem.”
Panigrahy agrees. “Students are the future of this country. We are the future leaders and the system must change.”