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tertiary ed around the world.
March 28, 2008 9:05 PM   Subscribe

Here's an interesting chart showing tertiary education attainment by age group, for OECD countries. Compare and contrast what Japan and Korea have been doing with education to the USA and Germany. (And my aren't those Canadians smart?) Here's the (.pdf) report it's drawn from (Kirkegaard 2007). C/- Clive Crook's blog.
posted by wilful (76 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
why yes, we Canadians are smart, thanks very much :D

Really cool Graph!
posted by Planet F at 9:10 PM on March 28, 2008


It's not terribly surprising that Canada can afford to send tons of kids to college. They have a population that's smaller than California's with area only slightly smaller than the entire United States. Russia is similarly blessed with less than half the US population but nearly twice the area.
posted by mullingitover at 9:17 PM on March 28, 2008


and education does require a lot of space, that's true.

Except for the Japanese. Dunno what that means.
posted by wilful at 9:18 PM on March 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


...and then there's Japan. They're just hardcore.
posted by mullingitover at 9:20 PM on March 28, 2008


"and education does require a lot of space, that's true."
It's less about space than about dividing wealth, often a product of natural resources, among people.
posted by mullingitover at 9:21 PM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


The GDP per capita of the US and Canada is about the same, actually; so, income-wise, that's pretty similar. (Wealth figures are probably different.)

Perhaps if the US spent those billions it spends invading other countries on education/ healthcare/ being nice, it could afford those nice things too! But whizz-bang explody toys are always more fun to buy than actual knowledge or thinking skills!
posted by WalterMitty at 9:31 PM on March 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


The obvious implication being that Japan benefits from a natural abundance of hentai.
posted by simra at 9:31 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, not blowing it all on your military.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:32 PM on March 28, 2008 [8 favorites]


Sorry, that was in reply to mullingitover.
posted by simra at 9:32 PM on March 28, 2008


But actually, I'd like to see how the immigration numbers factor in.

Cause if Canada can "boast" about one thing, it's a heck of a lot of cab drivers with doctorates.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:33 PM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not so much cab drivers with doctorates but call centres full of BAs.
posted by simra at 9:38 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Or limo drivers without doctorates.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:45 PM on March 28, 2008


I've actually had one doctor-cabbie and one engineer-cabbie in the past 3 months. But I don't doubt you about the call centres.

The thing that jumps out at me about this chart is how the US levels seem relatively equal across age groups.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:46 PM on March 28, 2008


Erm, Durn, that's entirely the point.
posted by wilful at 9:48 PM on March 28, 2008


Ah, so it is. Resized in my browser, I could barely make out that blurb.

That's a pretty pronounced effect.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:50 PM on March 28, 2008


Just to clarify that the google results are correct - it is mullingitover's conclusion that is slightly askew - Canada is larger than the U.S.A. And as for the high rates of tertiary education, it mostly comes from a more socialized education system (historically - recently tuition rates have been skyrocketing, though still much less than the U.S. on average) that made it much more affordable, rather than mullingitover's suggestion of dividing natural resource wealth - only Alberta (to my knowledge) distributes a bonus to its citizens from its revenues (oil mostly).
posted by birdsquared at 9:51 PM on March 28, 2008


This chart says nothing about the quality of education people are receiving. And given that half of Canadians have at least some difficulty with basic literacy... I'm skeptical as to how we actually rank in terms of our actual knowledge base. But then I'd question all the other nation's stats too. Education is a bitch to measure.
posted by orange swan at 10:05 PM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


So whats the deal with Germany? Their younger crowd have less education than their older citizens? How did that happen?
posted by Avenger at 10:06 PM on March 28, 2008


Argh. pdfs.

...approximately two-thirds of foreign S&E doctoral recipients plan to stay in the United States, with the share rising to 79 percent for Indians and 86 percent for Chinese recipients. On the other hand, only 36 percent of Korean and 48 percent of Taiwanese recipients intended to stay. As citizens from these four Asian countries accounted for almost 80 percent of all foreign recipients, their intentions mattered.

That's certainly interesting, but what's the solution? Everybody profiles at least somewhat according to national origin, but I'm not aware of filtering by cultural preference for relocation. That'd be a can of worms and then some.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:10 PM on March 28, 2008


I don't know how smart Canada is for making a four year degree the norm for people who then enter the job market with a huge debt and not much more potential earning power unless they have a specialized degree.

And we have trade schools that are absolutely predatory with their tuition costs, figuring out the maximum amount of money people will be able to get for student loans, and charging exactly that to go to truck driving school, is pretty much the worst way I can think of to productively educate a population.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:29 PM on March 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


So whats the deal with Germany? Their younger crowd have less education than their older citizens? How did that happen?

I wonder if their apprenticeship track has anything to do with it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:30 PM on March 28, 2008


Germany suffers from a very overblown and crippling bureaucracy and doesn't react well to change, i think.
Also, kids these days..
Universities are pretty overcrowded though, and in several places tuition fees have become a serious point of consideration.
posted by morizky at 11:18 PM on March 28, 2008


This got me wondering how Cuba stacks up against the rest of us.
Especially in light of their dismal economic state, (i.e. the embargo and loss of Soviet support) small geographic area, very low disposable income and quite minimal commodity scale resources.

Cuba's GDP per capita 2006-2007 was approx.$4000.00 - $4500.00

Their secondary gross enrollment of males for every 100 males in the appropriate age group is around 83 (world ranking 31st) In the US the gross enrollment is 95 (ranked #19) and Canada's gross 102 (ranking 13th) according to this metric.
According to this chart, Australia is #1 for secondary gross enrollment of males.
(I just picked male enrollment as a general indicator - but you can look up the corresponding female gross enrollments if you'd like to see that side of it as well, just in case somebody accuses me being sexist by selecting only the male gross measurements. [heh.])

Lots of interesting measurements by country at Globalis

For the economic pickle Cuba is in, they don't seem to be doing too badly on the education front--- noting the caveat that the secondary education rank measurements aren't the exactly same as the Tertiary education measurements in the graph in this FPP. But its kind of like comparing fuji apples to granny smiths, but a little more interesting. It would even be more interesting to stack the numbers up against things like healthcare and military spending as was mentioned above in a couple of comments.
posted by isopraxis at 11:30 PM on March 28, 2008


Education doesn't always equal intelligence. Some of the most incompetent people I know have a "tertiary education."
posted by amyms at 11:35 PM on March 28, 2008


It's not terribly surprising that Canada can afford to send tons of kids to college. They have a population that's smaller than California's with area only slightly smaller than the entire United States. Russia is similarly blessed with less than half the US population but nearly twice the area.

I don't quite see how comparative population density has anything to do with post-secondary education.

Yours sincerely,

A Canadian
posted by KokuRyu at 11:40 PM on March 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


For the economic pickle Cuba is in, they don't seem to be doing too badly on the education front

Perhaps that's because education isn't inherently very expensive; you can still learn a lot with simple lectures, books, paper, pencils, and homework.
posted by pracowity at 11:44 PM on March 28, 2008


Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me KokoRyu: And tertiary educational rates correlated with comparative population density.
(flashbacks of research methods)
posted by isopraxis at 11:47 PM on March 28, 2008


Perhaps that's because education isn't inherently very expensive; you can still learn a lot with simple lectures, books, paper, pencils, and homework.

Its true, education doesn't have to be inherently expensive and I tend to side with those who say that education has its own essential intrinsic value. But my experience in the US paradigm is that expense and exclusivity (e.g. Ivy League) is perceived as more valuable than a less expensive, more inclusive (e.g. State School) education. And I think that this notion is a complete fallacy which reflects itself slightly in the numbers in these kinds of comparative rankings.

Maybe my intrigue with this topic stems from an unconscious conflict with my own US State School Education. But I know for a fact that university in Canada would have been quite a bit more competitive and rigorous.
posted by isopraxis at 12:19 AM on March 29, 2008


We didn't really start doing Bachelor-level but until some 5 years ago. Before it, university education aimed directly to Master's and people tended to get jobs, stay enrolled and never finish their thesis or take out Bachelor's papers. (I am example of that trend, though my MA thesis is finally coming out in next week.) These kind of differences affect the statistics, as those who often have 5 years of active higher education w. ~200 credits still count as 'never finished college' in international comparisons. I don't know for which countries this applies.
(I really shouldn't be here but finishing my thesis right now.)
posted by Free word order! at 1:53 AM on March 29, 2008


Avenger: So whats the deal with Germany? Their younger crowd have less education than their older citizens? How did that happen?

Maybe related to reunification?
posted by syzygy at 2:01 AM on March 29, 2008


it's a very cool researchable tool.
posted by yelloriversouth at 2:23 AM on March 29, 2008


I'm in the middle of prep for my comps, but I'm uneasy with Kierkegaard's analysis, not just because it is laced with exclamatory throwaway comments such as:

Americans aged 55–64 by and large were the most highly skilled “free-market generation” of beaten only by their Russian counterparts, who until 1991, from the perspective of competing workers, were “securely” imprisoned by the absurdities of communism and a centrally planned economy (11-13)

and

As baby boomers retire, the United States risks losing these skills altogether.

This is ridiculous.

"Tertiary education" is a category which can mean anything from vocational school to university. We can be confident that the OECD has put in thorough, careful work to compile these stats, but it is sometimes difficult to compare systems. Furthermore, quality is *very* variable. Anecdotally, I am told that Korea's rapid growth in education (indicated by the long vertical line) has overcome logistics challenges with solutions which tend favor rote over research.

Disclaimer: I have not spent serious time with the stats yet (my next project will involve a look at comparative methods for higher ed assessment), but I can say that one of the major growth areas in US education, aside from international students, is lifetime learning.

If American universities are providing subtantial higher education to young people and also to older people who didn't have the chance when they were 18, then we would expect the number of middle-aged and older Americans with degrees to be a larger percentage of their age-group than the number of young Americans with degrees. This is the case, as is seen in the chart.

Kierkegaard looks at that trend and seems to assume that the number of people getting college degrees after 30 is negligible. Thus, when he sees that there are fewer people from 25-30 with degrees than those from 30-35, he assumes that the population is growing faster than people are getting degrees. It may just be that the US is doing a good job of providing education to people from many age ranges.

Furthermore, while it is true that some countries have higher percentages of degree-holders, they have a much smaller population than the United States. For example, Canada, which has a very good higher education system, has a very high percentage of degree holders. But the population of the United States is nearly 100 times the population of Canada.

There's a lot of discussion of Canada in this thread. Japan's population is four times that of Canada, and just over a third of the population of the US. If we take "tertiary" education as an equal standard (which I belive to be highly suspect), that suggests that Japan has been doing yet better even than Canada over the last few decades.

On Preview:
KokuRyu: population size has *everything* to do with higher education in this analysis, which is about the percentage of population with tertiary degrees. This is a weakness of the analysis, as you point out, but Kierkegaard brings it up, so it is relevant.

Like I said, I haven't looked closely at the 2007 UNESCO report or the OECD Data yet. But I think that the information Kierkegaard cites can be seen either as an unhealthy US higher education system, or a mature one. You choose.
posted by honest knave at 2:40 AM on March 29, 2008


On further preview: Kokuyru: Ahh, you were talking about population density, not population size. My apologies. Please disregard my comment.
posted by honest knave at 2:41 AM on March 29, 2008


Germany suffers from a very overblown and crippling bureaucracy and doesn't react well to change, i think.

that seems to be the common train of thought in germany. it certainly was mine as well. only then did I move to the US and found out that it wasn't any less bereaucratic there. surprisingly the bureaucracy seems less in the united kingdom, where I currently reside. I hadn't expected that.
posted by krautland at 3:31 AM on March 29, 2008


Know what though? It's still not enough education.
posted by DenOfSizer at 4:11 AM on March 29, 2008


Know what though? It's still not enough education.

How much is, then?
posted by grouse at 4:46 AM on March 29, 2008


Good point, grouse. One concern in countries like Chile and Libya is that the countries are putting too many people through the tertiary education system, although a recent World Bank report has suggested that even in countries where the economy can't support the kind of jobs for which tertiary education prepares them (i.e. cab drivers and day labourers with B.A.s), there still does seem to be a positive correlation between growth in tertiary enrolment and economic growth-- in other words, the downsides are primarily personal and emotional.
posted by honest knave at 5:11 AM on March 29, 2008


Avenger: So whats the deal with Germany? Their younger crowd have less education than their older citizens? How did that happen?

I think it has to do with the fact that students are on average 42 years old when they get their first college degree in Germany. I'm only half kidding here. Some relevant factors are mandatory military service for guys (add 1 year), 13 school years as opposed to 12 years in the rest of the world (add 1 year), many kids work for a couple of years before starting college (add 5 years), university tuition is free so there is no pressure to graduate (add another 3 or 4 years).

As for the total numbers, there's the apprenticeship system in Germany, in which kids will join a company and learn a trade, for example banking or hair dressing or nurse or whatnot, whereas in many other countries they'd first get a college degree in their field.
posted by sour cream at 5:12 AM on March 29, 2008


Wondering why know one has mentioned that the strong inverse correlation between economic growth and education levels. Not only are all the (non-natural resource) growth rock-stars low education, when you confine your review to emerging markets, the worse-off ones are generally those with the relatively higher education levels (Mexico vs. India, for example).
posted by MattD at 5:24 AM on March 29, 2008


orange swan writes "Education is a bitch to measure."

Indeed. No doubt that this has been noticed by some self proclaimed universities, sometimes managed by private interest, sometime by "pious" religious institutions. In my experience, they often offer a lot of hot air, but they thrive on its unexpensiveness and on the fact ignorant people can't, by definition, understand that they are being sold hot air.

This may seem not to be a problem : teachers are getting paid, people think they are learning and are indeed learning something, the economy "works." Horray ! A finacial success, but an economic problem imho, as it relies on a business scheme that requires perpetuation of ignorance to maximize profit.
posted by elpapacito at 5:56 AM on March 29, 2008


Perhaps that's because education isn't inherently very expensive

Except of course in the U.S., where you help pay for the new football stadium, the alumni center, the golf course, you name it.

Way back in the day, the ideal of people like Horace Mann was that free, public education was a vital support to a functioning democratic and merito-cratic society, with a level playing field for everyone. We've lost that in a system where a High School diploma is practically meaningless, and college tuition is inflated out of sight.
posted by gimonca at 7:00 AM on March 29, 2008


Way back in the day, the ideal of people like Horace Mann was that free, public education was a vital support to a functioning democratic and merito-cratic society, with a level playing field for everyone.

The problem isn't that people have forgotten this. It is that they remember this and that the last thing they want is a level playing field. They want their kid to have an advantage.
posted by srboisvert at 7:05 AM on March 29, 2008 [2 favorites]


This chart says nothing about the quality of education people are receiving.

Exactly. My experience many years ago (exchange student) was that German students were light-years ahead of comparable U.S. students.
posted by gimonca at 7:08 AM on March 29, 2008


It's not terribly surprising that Canada can afford to send tons of kids to college.

This graph does not serve as evidence that Canada sends more kids to college than the U.S. does.
posted by oaf at 8:21 AM on March 29, 2008


This chart says nothing about the quality of education people are receiving.

Exactly. My experience many years ago (exchange student) was that German students were light-years ahead of comparable U.S. students.


Ditto. Having had experience of both UK and US systems, in both learning and teaching, I'd say that US students are about 2 years behind the UK. Which is not to say that US students are not smarter, but that the systems in each country bring out potential in different ways. So:

US freshman/sophomore = UK A levels (11/12 grade)
US MA = UK BA Honors
US PhD coursework = US MA

Then of course you have to go and do the diss, at which point US students often grind to a halt, not because they don't have ideas, but because they haven't been taught to think and write.
posted by carter at 9:15 AM on March 29, 2008


Oops. US PhD coursework = UK MA coursework.
posted by carter at 9:16 AM on March 29, 2008


Way back in the day, the ideal of people like Horace Mann was that free, public education was a vital support to a functioning democratic and merito-cratic society, with a level playing field for everyone.

The problem with free tertiary education is that even where it's free, most students don't get it. Typically a third or less of students end up with a BA or equivalent. And that third is hugely, dramatically, overwhelmingly skewed towards children of well-off parents.

I don't think it makes sense for everyone to chip in through their taxes to send well-off kids to college. Why should poor families, who predominantly don't send their kids to college, pay the tuition for a kid whose well-off parents can afford all or part of that tuition? It makes more sense to leave tuition (relatively) high and pair that with more generous financial aid. At the extreme, places like Harvard have it right -- if your parents make $60K or less, you pay nothing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:43 AM on March 29, 2008


hy should poor families, who predominantly don't send their kids to college, pay the tuition for a kid whose well-off parents can afford all or part of that tuition?

poor people mostly pay payroll, sales, and (indirectly) property taxes.
posted by tachikaze at 10:10 AM on March 29, 2008


Perhaps that's because education isn't inherently very expensive

Hmm, doing the math I get a different realization.

A 200 person undergrad lecture + 20 person TA section has an overhead of, what:

Lecturer salary: $100K/yr / 200 = $500/yr per student
TA salary $20K/yr / 20 = $1000/yr per student

Standard 4 course load = $6000/yr in instructional labor overhead. Geez I didn't realize that my $432/quarter public education back in the 80s was such a steal.
posted by tachikaze at 10:19 AM on March 29, 2008


> Lecturer salary: $100K/yr / 200 = $500/yr per student
TA salary $20K/yr / 20 = $1000/yr per student


200 students per class means 400 students per year on a semester calendar, 600 per year on a trimester, 800 students per year on a quarterly calendar. Plus between one to three sessions of summer courses, and third-party research funding.

And I'm betting that few faculty teaching the lecture-hall seminar classes are the ones pulling the six-digit salaries. Especially if they're in the liberal arts departments.
posted by ardgedee at 10:56 AM on March 29, 2008


So whats the deal with Germany?

Possibly the same thing there as in America? That is, starting about the time of Bill Gates' dropping out of Harvard, a bunch of IT folk have forgone the whole college thing in favor of going straight into the industry which, as far as I can see, is meritocratic. Not really my area, but I know many who followed his route, some of whom are doing quite nicely thanks very much (though their decision may preclude management in their futures- not that they care.)

Or are the IT folk alone not numerous enough to account for this oddity? (And if not, what are the other youthfuls doing for employment? Anyone?)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:11 PM on March 29, 2008


Hmm, doing the math I get a different realization.

I was remarking on education in Cuba, where I believe the costs of lecturers and tuition are slightly lower than the bloated American figures you throw about.

And education isn't inherently very expensive anywhere. Costs are artificially raised in some places when, for example, people compete to buy a limited number of name brand educations they can use to impress the sort of people who are impressed by name brands.
posted by pracowity at 12:20 PM on March 29, 2008


In adding up the cost of education, you are forgetting about cost of maintenance and utilities on university properties, libraries (librarians and books cost money), IT infrastructure, adminstration, research funding...

I've heard it estimated that c1995 in Ontario, Canada, state universities (there were no private) cost about $20,000 CND per student, of which the student contributed about $5000.

But as for the "Canada has lots of land and few people, so of course more can go to university", that's just hogwash. Last time I checked, you can't pay tuition in granite (which is what a lot of that land consists of). I wish Americans would stop saying, "well, we can't do X thing, because we just have too many people." You have a higher GDP per capita (which is actually what matters), and historically have had MORE people in university than Canada.

Generally, a larger population means you can do things more efficiently, and you have a better economy of scale. So the higher American population should be an asset.

Interestingly, the US also have many, many more universities per person than Canada - I ran the numbers on this once, and I think it was something like 5-10 times more universities per person. But many of them are really small -- we would never run so many small universities, they just aren't as cost efficient. Libraries, adminstration, everything for universities smaller than many high schools? It's crazy.
posted by jb at 1:07 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


You mean 'provincial universities', jb. Canada doesn't have states.
posted by dipping_sauce at 1:41 PM on March 29, 2008


The one thing I love about the US is that you could be ninety years old and be accepted as a student by some Universities. Colleges here are expensive compared to the universities of some other countries, but do not seem to be biased against age, sex, or religion, or intelligence.
posted by francesca too at 1:56 PM on March 29, 2008


89% of Canada is uninhabitable.

Just sayin'.
posted by tehloki at 2:27 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Actually, I was using "state" in the sense of government (state-formation, etc). I've lived in three different countries recently, with provinces, states and counties/countries respectively and two different meanings of "public school" - state is the simplest word to use when discussing education.
posted by jb at 2:27 PM on March 29, 2008


Also, I do currently live in the US and find it easier to translate the Canadian "university" to "state university" when down here, because not all Americans are aware that we have few to no private universities. (Do we have any? I remember Ontario passing legislation to have private degree granting institutions, but didn't know if any were actually founded.)
posted by jb at 2:30 PM on March 29, 2008


You mean 'provincial universities', jb. Canada doesn't have states.

Massachusetts clearly doesn't have any, either, then, because it's not a state.
posted by oaf at 4:41 PM on March 29, 2008


carter - US PhD coursework = UK MA coursework

You'll probably want to state that applies more towards to humanities than the hard sciences. In the experimental sciences (physics, chemistry, biology), a US or Canadian PhD is worth a bit more than one from the UK, all things being equal.
posted by porpoise at 5:10 PM on March 29, 2008


In the experimental sciences (physics, chemistry, biology), a US or Canadian PhD is worth a bit more than one from the UK, all things being equal.

Is that true, or is that just the opinion (prejudice) of North American academics?

I encounter this attitude in my field every so often (that the UK Phd isn't as good), but since I'm very engaged with both communities (I do British history, and apparently so do a lot of Brits; I also spent two years in Britain attending seminars with British graduate students and academics), I find little to no difference. They specialise earlier, so they might know less about other subfields or related disciplines, but they are also extremely wellread within their specialty. I was very impressed by the work PhD students were doing in Britain; a lot of it was more meticulous, more well-thought out than a lot of what we do in North America. The only main difference I could see in the two programs was that American PhDs might have more teaching experience.

Also, I believe that the original commentator was specifically referring to the first two years of US PhD coursework. Within History, this is definitely equivalent to the course work in a UK MA. Or, indeed, in a Canadian or American MA.
posted by jb at 5:24 PM on March 29, 2008


89% of Canada is uninhabitable.

It's not actually uninhabitable. It might be unfarmable. And marsh/mountains/tundra. Sometimes with Blackflies.

But you could live there. If you wanted to.
posted by jb at 5:27 PM on March 29, 2008


Sorry -- reread the original comment.

A US MA is not the less than a UK MA/Mphil -- it's just that some UK programs offer a BA Honours that is the same as a UK MA/Mphil. You either do an MA/Mphil or B.A. Honours.

Truth is, it's even more complicated. At my current American university, it's mandatory to do a senior thesis, which is a research project equivalent to a UK Masters Thesis. At other universities, you can do this voluntarily; my husband's Canadian undergraduate thesis was significantly longer (and included more research) than his UK Mphil. But while a UK university would accept the MA/MPhil/B.A. Honours student directly into a PhD, they would not accept the American/Canadian BA (with four years of education and master's length thesis), but make them do an MA/Mphil.

I've been heavily exposed to both systems recently. And the basic difference is that while Brits might know more about one topic (or a small group of topics) by A-Level or by the end of a BA, North Americans know just as much about a wider range of topics. Americans, especially, continue most topics (including maths) all the way to the end of high school and even mandatorily into university at many American universities. So, yes, a UK A-Level pupil specialising in History might have a bit more history knowledge than an American Grade 12 student, but they are also likely to have dropped maths and science at age 16. So who is "ahead"? Neither.

Sure, one could argue that specialisation might be better if you are aiming at graduate work, but I'm not sure even then - I did 10 out of 20 credits in undergraduate in History, and (in graduate work) have mostly regretted not doing more economics, sociology, languages and stats. Sometimes variety is good.
posted by jb at 5:45 PM on March 29, 2008


It's probably a lot more complex than my personal, limited, highly longitudinal (and yes humanities-biased) survey suggests. I think for me that one key is indeed specialisation. For instance, I did a human geography BA, which included departmental affiliation, an advisor, support for in-depth research, honors thesis, and so on; and I think that a result I acquired a lot of skills useful higher up the academic ladder, that I see a lot of BA/MA students at US liberal arts colleges as not acquiring.

Broad and shallow vs. deep and narrow is a good way to characterise it. I worry that as tertiary education becomes increasingly a commodity being sold to consumers, that where there is a broad approach, this risks becoming increasingly shallow and superficial.
posted by carter at 6:01 PM on March 29, 2008


honest knave: But the population of the United States is nearly 100 times the population of Canada....Japan's population is four times that of Canada, and just over a third of the population of the US.

Comments like this are the result of insufficient tertiary education in the US. (Just ribbing hk, you make some good points, but the US has only 1/3 * 4 = 10 times the population of Canada)
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:51 PM on March 29, 2008


er, 3 * 4 = 12, but close to 10... rounded...
(I didn't deserve my degree)
posted by Popular Ethics at 6:52 PM on March 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Broad can mean shallow, or it can just mean well-rounded.

I actually think that well-rounded is more important for secondary education than specialised. You should leave in just enough specialisation so that people can express their own interests and prepare for tertiary education (especially if their interests lead them to graduate work), but secondary education should be more about having an educated populace than about training someone in one (or two or three) subjects. Math is so important for the numerical literacy of the population (though it's not taught that way -- if it was, we could get some statistics instead of just more algebra).

For tertiary education, I like the Canadian system -- you could choose your level of specialisation. Most people will leave after a BA; a specialised degree may be less use to them. Also, sometimes specialisation needs to cross disciplinary boundaries, which is harder to do in many UK programs. It sounds like your program was itself somewhat interdisciplinary, and also more research intensive than most UK programs. Not all UK programs are like that; most seem to provide similar levels of research preparation to North America (with great variety in both places between universities and between programs).
posted by jb at 7:21 PM on March 29, 2008


This chart says nothing about the quality of education people are receiving.

Precisely. I taught for two years at a Korean university, and I've been teaching in the country for almost a decade in total. A university degree in Korea is just not the same as one from, say, Canada, at least judging by the quality of the education I was offered in Canada a couple of decades ago, when I was a student. Korean parents will do anything including destroy the childhoods of their children to get those kids into the top universities in Korea, sell their souls, but last time I checked, the Big 5 schools in Korea aren't even in the top 20 schools in Asia, let alone globally.

The Korean educational system looks good on paper, and wins on quantity, but I believe it's an abject failure, enforcing rote learning over creativity, test-taking over critical thinking, time served over instructional quality, and turns a consistent and institutionalized blind eye to endemic bribery, cheating, plagiarization, and falsification of academic credentials.

Every country has problems with their systems of education, of course, but it is foolish indeed to hold Korea's up as any kind of model to be emulated, based merely on the numbers and the charts.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:20 AM on March 30, 2008


Broad can mean shallow, or it can just mean well-rounded.

That's true - there's advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Sometimes I think that there's just too much broad - that may be my cultural preference. However, in my experience, at the start of a class in a subject that they may only study for one semester, US students often already want to know what's going to be on the final exam. In their minds they have already 'done' the course, apart from the reading. I think that these students miss a lot.

I didn't go to an elite university, btw; I started off at a college of higher education. I did have lecturers who cared about what they taught and about their students, and who showed me how to read, think, analyse, write, and express myself clearly.
posted by carter at 6:59 AM on March 30, 2008


But while a UK university would accept the MA/MPhil/B.A. Honours student directly into a PhD, they would not accept the American/Canadian BA (with four years of education and master's length thesis), but make them do an MA/Mphil.

I personally know many, many Americans doing a PhD at Cambridge without an intervening master's degree. So that statement certainly isn't true for all UK universities; I'm unclear on whether you meant to imply that.
posted by grouse at 7:28 AM on March 30, 2008


popular: whoops! Thanks for checking. Extra 0.
posted by honest knave at 8:52 AM on March 30, 2008


I personally know many, many Americans doing a PhD at Cambridge without an intervening master's degree. So that statement certainly isn't true for all UK universities; I'm unclear on whether you meant to imply that.
posted by grouse at 10:28 AM on March 30 [+] [!]


Perhaps it differs by program. Cambridge will not allow people to go directly to a PhD without a masters in History, whether UK or from elsewhere (there are rare special exemptions, but few faculty willing to argue for them). I think a friend in Engineering/Materials Science did go directly from an Australian BA to PhD. Sciences may be different. But Maths is not - you require a "Part 3" (aka a Masters) to move to a Phd in maths.

There are people in the Masters requiring programs who do what they call a 1+2, that is, they do a 1 year masters, and then they continue that same project for another 2 years (instead of the normal 3) and get a PhD. A lot of people on this program will describe themselves as going straight to a PhD, because it is the same project, but they do have to write a Masters length thesis at the end of the first year (and risk not being allowed in the PhD based on their performance). This is commonly done by international students, including Americans, because it saves them tuition money.
posted by jb at 9:13 AM on March 30, 2008


My original point is that while some UK programs where they have a BA Hons. will recognise the difference between a BA Hons and a BA, many other programs don't recognise the fact that some NorthAm BAs include the same research preparation as a UK BA Hons, maybe because their own BAs don't have that preparation.

So really, it's just that


UK BA Hons = US Masters
UK Masters = US Masters
UK BA Hons = US BA with thesis (esp in more research oriented programs)

and so on - basically lots of eqiuivalency. Individual differences in preparation will make more difference than country.
posted by jb at 9:18 AM on March 30, 2008


Ah, JB - There are people in the Masters requiring programs who do what they call a 1+2, that is, they do a 1 year masters, and then they continue that same project for another 2 years (instead of the normal 3) and get a PhD.

Big big differences between history and experimental sciences. iirc, a typical UK science PhD is 3 years - and you're out, regardless of how many papers you've published. I've heard academics equate (and pay) newby UK PhDs the same as a N.Am. MSc.

A North American science PhD is typically a minimum of 4 years, and can approach 6 - all dependent on the quality and quantity of publication (ie., research that ends up panning out). However, I know that many European schools send their MSc and PhD students abroad to do practical research projects as part of the degree requirements which is not typical in N.Am.

Not saying one is "better" qualitatively over another, but I think that a N.Am. PhD is better preparation when it comes to doing competitive research.

---

FWIW, I did my undergrad BA (majoring in philosophy, general biol., and cell&molecular biol) at a small private $$ college in the US and I came out of it with a lot more research science skills and general science "chops" than a lot of people who got their BSc from a Canadian Uni who majored in only a single biolocial science field.
posted by porpoise at 1:44 PM on March 30, 2008


a typical UK science PhD is 3 years - and you're out, regardless of how many papers you've published.

I can't think of a single person who got their science PhD in three years. It is a big lie (the system's lie, not yours). In some departments it is accepted now that it will be four years from the start. Then, of course, not everyone finishes in four, but you get the idea. Also, you are still supposed to make a significant contribution to the field. If you don't have anything that would be worthy of publication, you shouldn't be getting a PhD. The difference is that the way things work here mean that people frequently write up the last bits of their PhD as the thesis first and publish later.

I've heard academics equate (and pay) newby UK PhDs the same as a N.Am. MSc.

I don't think this is true at all, sorry. And I've had interviews for six different American postdoctoral positions in the last week. It's true that a U.S. PhD will have more training than a UK one, by dint of years if nothing else. But I think you overstate how much this matters in terms of getting the next job, at least in academia. The papers and recommendations matter a lot more. If you have no papers, you'll have a hard time finding that job no matter where you got your PhD.
posted by grouse at 4:31 PM on March 30, 2008


As grouse, I should have added that the jobs in question were not tenure-track, PI, or even associate level positions but more assistant and tech - and that the applicants did not have N.Am. post-docs (some had post-docs in N. or E.Europe).

Incidentally, PhDs from China/Korea without N.Am. postdocs applying for the same kind of positions are/were offered the same salaries.
posted by porpoise at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2008


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