CANADA: Government axes more data collection

The Canadian government is again under fire, as it appears to be further weakening the ability of policy-makers and lobby groups to assess the country's performance in the higher education sector. Three more key data-collection tools have been cancelled or are being re-examined for their relevance and cost-effectiveness.

The Canadian Federation of Students says the studies - the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), the National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth (NLSCY), and the National Apprenticeship Survey - are the primary sources of information on who is attending and who is excluded from post-secondary education.

It says the studies provide vital information on students, their first post-graduation interaction with the employment market, and the relationship between education and employment.

It says the YITS is required to fulfil international commitments to the data services of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The government's move follows some other key higher education research tools being cut off or threatened with loss of their funding.

In January, University World News reported that the Canadian Council on Learning, an independent national think-tank, would not have its five-year C$85 million (US$81 million) grant renewed in the spring.

This was not long after the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which conducted research on student finance, was also mothballed, with none of its research money being redirected into similar studies.

A third body was also cut off from government funding, the Canadian Policy Research Networks, which among other activities looked at the university sector through the job market. And the National Graduates Survey, a key statistics-gathering mechanism that follows post-secondary graduates as they enter the job market, was recently renewed for only a single year.

"This all begs the question: if they're not going to make policy decisions on empirical data what the hell are they going to be making them on?" asked Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) National Chairperson David Molenhuis.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC), the department responsible for the surveys, responded in an email that it would continue providing "high quality, relevant and timely information to Canadians".

It said the findings for the YITS and NLSCY still needed to be analysed and that the government was acting responsibly by waiting for these surveys to be completed and evaluating them to make sure they were effective and relevant before committing taxpayer funding to another set of longitudinal surveys in future years.

That statement contradicts a government document obtained by University World News, titled "Update on the HRSDC Learning Data Portfolio". In it, those two surveys were listed as "winding down - funding not renewed".

In its email statement, HRSDC added that the National Apprenticeship Survey was a one-time survey conducted in 2007 and that relevant data on apprenticeships would continue to be collected.

It rebutted one of the student claims, saying that none of the three surveys affected HRSDC's ability to fulfil OECD data requirements. It said it had committed funding for the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies and the Programme for International Student Assessment, which it said were two key OECD initiatives in the area of learning.

However, according to David Molenhuis, Canada has already been given notice that it is missing 57 of 96 indicators needed for OECD 2006 comparative data on higher education. "We are now in a measurably worse situation."

He also took issue with the one-year status of the apprenticeship study. He questioned why the government made it into a one-year study when that kind of programme would normally have multi-year follow-ups.

These events come in light of a summer-long backlash against the Conservative government's decision to scrap the mandatory long-form federal census that would have gone to one-fifth of Canadians, exchanging it for a larger distribution of voluntary forms.

The decision led the head of Statistics Canada to step down after the government pressured the agency to claim it as their own decision. More than 200 prominent groups that depend on the data have voiced their opposition to the move.