Are Canadian PhDs less valuable than internationals ones?
April 21st, 2011

Are Canadian PhDs less valuable than internationals ones? This question is a pretty hot topic right now. One researcher has convincingly argued that this is the case, at least right now. The trend, as Yves Gingras, Canada Research Chair at UQAM has shown, is decidedly against the hiring of home-grown earned doctorates. To be fair, Gingras only looked at the 10 largest Canadian universities, but his findings do underscore a controversial trend, to be sure.

The study points out that in the mid ‘90s those faculty who had earned their PhDs in Canada was about 70 percent. By 2005, the rate had dropped to 55 percent. Moreover, in the humanities the drop went from 70 percent in the mid-‘80s to less than 40 percent. The internationalization trend does have its dark side–that is, if you think of this decline in such terms.

When I was entering this august profession the trend was definitely in the other direction. I vividly recall national conference meetings at which people argued passionately about the need to hire our own, giving them/us precedence over non Canadian applicants. Deviating from such practice was heretical. This was the norm for almost 2 decades, commensurate with the relative health and growth of Canadian studies programs and of related scholarly associations. We even created legislations to safeguard such practices.

As an Honours English undergraduate, at McGill and at the University of Alberta, I had been taught largely by US- and British-trained academics who had been recruited by Canadian universities in the great hiring waves of the ‘60s, during the university expansion period. My ear became accustomed to hearing a wide range of English-speaking accents, many of which I ceaselessly imitated—that is, mocked– for cheap laughs with my pals.

The pendulum started to swing in the other direction by the ‘80s, in the wave of broad based discussions about Canadian nationalism. Margaret Atwood’s Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature and Surfacing, both published in 1972, marked the symbolic moment when we really took hold of the question of national identity, and pretty much teased ourselves to death over it for a good 20 years. By the time I got to graduate school at the University of Western Ontario about half my profs had been trained in Canada. Naturally, and like so many others at the time, I pursued a degree in a Canadian subject.

It’s fascinating to see the pendulum swinging again. Of course, that’s what pendulums do. But there are consequences now, after several decades of the growth of Canadian-based research in the social sciences and humanities, in particular. Are such subjects now considered too parochial for study–or for the global marketplace? Sure, scholars around the globe study Canadian subjects–but not so much.

Anyhow, there are a lot of meaty issues at play here, well worth thinking through, especially as we continue to encourage more internationalizing of our campuses. See the link to the full article by Gingras here:

Dr. Noreen Golfman is Professor of English and Dean of Graduate Studies. Her post secondary education included study at McGill, University of Alberta, and University of Western Ontario. She has been teaching and writing in the areas of Canadian literature and film studies for most of her career. She is the president of the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences, founding director of the annual St. John's International Women's Film Festival, and director of the MUN Cinema Series. Dr. Golfman's blog 'Postcards From the Edge' will be updated every Thursday.

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