- Strategic Plan
- The President
- About Joy
- Statement on academic freedom
- Welcome back faculty and staff
- Welcome back students
- Statement on scholar strike
- Reflections on my first 30 days
- Taking care of ourselves, taking care of each other
- Equity, diversity and inclusion commitments
- Statement on SFU's Athletics Team Name Change
- Finding connection in times of adversity
- Wishing you a safe and restful holiday break
- Op-ed: SFU helping drive social, economic innovation in time of crisis
- Welcome new SFU students
- UPDATED Jan. 6: My response to Dec. 11 event in SFU dining hall
- Celebrating Black History Month
- The University’s Role and Contributions to a Just Recovery Over the Next Decade
- Inspired by meetings with SFU Faculty and Staff
- Looking forward to Summer and Fall
- Opinion: This is why SFU is backing the Burnaby Mountain gondola
- External Review of December 11, 2020 Event
- Facing the future with hope
- President's statement on TransMountain Expansion Project and support for a fire hall on Burnaby mountain
- The road ahead
- Stronger Together: SFU, the pandemic and lessons for a better future
- SFU to observe moment of silence at 2:15 PM today
- Taking action: Reconciliation at SFU
- Join SFU President Joy Johnson for a tour of Burnaby campus
- Message from the President: Residential school findings
- Dr. June Francis appointed Special Advisor to the President on Anti-Racism
- My response to the open letter from SFU faculty and staff
- Resources and ways to support scholars in Afghanistan
- BC Vaccine Card
- Masks required on all SFU campuses, vaccine card required for residence, athletics, dining, events and others
- Vaccine declaration and follow-up screening at SFU
- Return to campus planning updates
- Welcome Back
- Work to review contract vs. in-house cleaning and food services
- National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
- SFU and SFSS united in commitment to climate action
- Inclusion benefits us all
- Moving forward with kindness
- Executive Searches
Education: How Much Is Enough?
Canada needs more, not less, of all post-secondary training
Op-Ed written for The Globe and Mail
Edited version available online
President and Vice-Chancellor
There is a fallacy afoot that Canadians are, in some unhelpful way, too smart for our own good. Some commentators have recently suggested that we are overly educated but not necessarily well-educated. They imply that jobs go vacant because too many baristas and gym rats wasted their time in university, when they should have been concentrating on trades training, or perhaps just started earlier up the minimum wage ladder.
The evidence suggests otherwise. Canada’s population certainly enjoys a high level of education by international standards. As the Globe and Mail reported last week, 57 per cent of people 25 to 34 have a post-secondary credential. Other estimates, such as a Canadian Council on Learning’s 2009 study, put the level at 60 per cent among people 25 to 64.
It almost seems like we have an embarrassment of riches. Except for this: every Canadian labour market survey from the past five years forecasts that, by 2020, a much higher percentage of new jobs will require that level of education. In British Columbia, the Labour Market Outlook pegs the level at 78 per cent.
More than 42 per cent of those jobs will require a college or trade certificate, confirming the need to increase investment in these areas. Another 35 per cent will require an undergraduate or graduate level university degree. That points to a need for more, not fewer university spaces – just to supply workers needed to fill anticipated job vacancies. And that’s without accounting for the academic brilliance, technological creativity, managerial excellence and entrepreneurial ingenuity that Canada requires to spur innovation and to stay economically competitive in an increasingly well-educated world.
That raises the related question of what constitutes a great university education, and whether Canadian institutions are hitting the mark. It’s inevitable in a slow economy that some university graduates will take time to achieve their potential in the job market. (Ask your most successful colleagues or mentors whether they left university knowing precisely where their career path would lead.) But, again, the evidence suggests that today’s employers need people who are trained to learn and adapt – not simply to know specific facts or functions or to perform a particular task.
In a world where jobs are evolving at the same pace as iPhone upgrades, effective, employable workers need to be able to conduct research, to think critically, to write effectively, to analyze problems and develop solutions, and to have a propensity to learn. In addition, they require civic literacy, global awareness, an understanding of social behaviour and human diversity; and an appreciation of the natural world. These competencies and capabilities are transferable. Many promote flexibility and agility in the workplace and job market. And most contribute to enhanced citizenship.
The traditional foundation for such skills was a “liberal arts” education – one in which students were offered a broad range of courses in the hope that they would pull the components together into a well-rounded understanding.
Today’s best universities still offer these opportunities, but they don’t leave as much to chance. For example, Simon Fraser University is a leader in experiential learning programs: more than one third of all SFU undergraduate and graduate courses include a significant component in which students learn through doing, and reflect upon their hands-on experience in a way that empowers them to apply theoretical knowledge to practical endeavours, inside and outside the classroom.
The wide array of innovations and options – reflecting the diverse needs of our students – include co-op work placements and field courses that allow students to study in other institutions, and in other countries. We have a Venture Connection program that helps undergraduate students develop business aptitudes and opportunities. The SFU Semester in Dialogue is a cohort-based program that connects students with community leaders, creating teams that explore pressing social, economic and environmental issues. And our undergraduate research awards fund students to spend a semester working on high-end university research of the kind that can expand the scope of human knowledge.
Given the number and extent of such innovations, at SFU and elsewhere, it seems that critics who suggest that Canadian universities are behind the times are, themselves, harbouring an outdated view. SFU’s new vision specifically challenges the university community to “equip students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences that prepare them for life in an ever-changing and challenging world.” We take this challenge seriously.
Canadian society and the Canadian economy are in desperate need of educational development at every post-secondary level – from community colleges to research universities. It would be a tragic mistake to disparage those efforts or to be complacent – to think we are already doing enough, let alone too much.
Our competitors are not standing still. Neither must we.