You would perhaps think that the recently announced Statistics Canada cuts would be not a topic OUSA would chose to blog about. As a provincial, not federal, organization that does research on post-secondary education, this isn’t really our area of concern, right?

This morning, I received the annual report on salaries of teaching staff at Canadian universities from Statistics Canada, a release titled Salaries and Salary Scales of Full-time Teaching Staff at Canadian Universities: 2010-11. On the release page along with report, there is also a notification announcing that this will be the last Statistics Canada report on this subject as “the Full-time University and College Academic Staff System has been discontinued”. I thought the Statistics Canada budget cuts might eventually affect our work here at OUSA, but I didn’t realize the fall-out would start so quickly.

We depend on the report on teaching staff and salaries to get a sense of how many full-time faculty members are at our institutions, and what proportion of the institutional budget goes towards full-time faculty salaries. This enables us to produce comprehensive reports like Rising Costs: A Look at Spending at Ontario Universities, which provide the research base for much of our advocacy work.

In Ontario post-secondary education policy, we aren’t exactly spoiled for choice with respect to good longitudinal studies that examine post-secondary education. The Youth in Transition Survey (YITS), a fantastic study that followed students across Canada from secondary school, through their post-secondary and work transitions has been one of the few studies we’ve been able to use to examine access and post-secondary education, and was important in our creation of Breaking Barriers. YITS was put on hiatus in 2010, meaning that our knowledge of access and student choices in Canada will only get worse as the importance of post-secondary education increases.

OUSA has tried to fill some of these knowledge gaps by conducting our own survey, the Ontario Student Survey, which we first conducted in 2009, and plan to do on a biannual basis (stay tuned for the release of our 2011 Ontario Student Survey in the next month or so). The problem is that as a small organization, we lack the capacity to conduct surveys on the same scale as Statistics Canada. And to be quite frank, as much pride as I take in our organization, it would be hard for us ever attain the international reputation for impartiality that Statistics Canada has earned. As a group that advocates for students, we focus our research on areas pertinent to our priorities. A publically accountable research organization like Statistics Canada will ask broader questions, pertinent to a wide variety of interests and sectors. This accountability to the entire Canadian public is irreplaceable by smaller private actors, even ones such as ourselves.

As a researcher I may be a bit biased in this matter, but I would challenge anyone to create good policy without robust statistical data. The value of Statistics Canada’s work cannot be measured in dollars but rather in the ideas it produces and the research it makes possible for other individuals and organizations. The cuts at Statistics Canada will result in less innovative policy and less rigorous program evaluation. These costs will be borne not only by the students and families of the future, but also by the governments of the future unable to understand the problems they are confronted with.

-Laura Pin
Research Analyst, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance