Canadian Education Systems Perform Well in New International Report

TORONTO, June 25, 2013 – A new international report from OECD identifies Canada as one of the most well-educated countries in the world and offers compelling evidence for the value of postsecondary education in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty and increasing global competition for skilled labour.


Education at a Glance 2013, OECD's annual review of education systems around the world, offers a broad range of comparable national education indicators, including indicators on student demographics, the human and financial resources invested in education, the operation of education systems, and the social and economic outcomes of learning.


This year's report once again highlights Canada's top-tier performance in tertiary education attainment. Over 50 per cent of adult Canadians hold a college diploma or university degree — the highest rate among all OECD countries. By comparison, the OECD average for 2011 was only 32 per cent. Canada has the highest proportion of college graduates (25 per cent). Twenty-seven per cent of Canadians have university qualifications, compared to an OECD average of only 23 per cent.


While Canada continues to lead in overall tertiary education attainment, the rate of growth in the proportion of postsecondary graduates in many other countries is outpacing that in Canada. Canada falls to third place when considering only the younger cohort of adults (those between the ages of 25 and 34) with a postsecondary credential.


“As Canadians, we are justifiably proud of our educational accomplishments,” said the Honourable Ramona Jennex, Chair of CMEC and Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development for Nova Scotia. “But the world is not standing still. We must continue to work to ensure that an even greater number of our citizens benefit from advanced education and training.”



Over the past few years, data from Education at a Glance have shown just how valuable a tertiary-level qualification can be in difficult economic times. Not only does a college diploma or university degree offer greater lifetime earnings, it also provides a safety net against unemployment. In Canada, the unemployment rate for people with a college or university degree increased by only 0.9 per cent between 2008 and 2011, from an already low rate of 4.1 per cent to 5 per cent. For those without an upper-secondary or a postsecondary non-tertiary degree, unemployment went from 9.1 per cent to 11.7 per cent — a much higher initial rate and a much greater degree of job loss over the same period of time.


“A postsecondary education is an investment that clearly pays off, said Minister Jennex. “And it's not just the individual learner who reaps the benefits. Canada, like the rest of the world, is in need of a highly skilled workforce. As more and more Canadians take the challenge of higher learning, we become better equipped to respond to the demands of the 21st century knowledge economy.”


Tertiary education is also correlated to better health habits according to OECD's new indicator on the social outcomes of education: those with a college or university degree are significantly less likely to smoke compared to those with only a below upper-secondary education; they are also less likely to be obese. Only 16.5 per cent of Canadians with tertiary education smoke, 16.6 are obese; among Canadians with below upper-secondary education, 41 per cent smoke and 26.4 per cent are obese.


Some highlights for Canada from the 2013 edition of Education at a Glance:


  • The combined public and private expenditure on education in Canada in 2009 as percentage of GDP was 6.6 per cent. In 2010, the OECD average was 6.3 per cent, the European average was 5.9 per cent, and the United States spent 7.3 per cent of GDP on education.


  • In all OECD countries, adults with tertiary education earn more than adults with upper-secondary, who, in turn, earn more than adults with a below upper-secondary education. In Canada, tertiary-educated adults earn on average approximately 59 per cent more than those who have below upper-secondary credentials.


  • Students from China continue to represent by far the largest group of international students studying at Canadian institutions, accounting for 24.7 per cent of the country's total international student population, compared to 7.1 per cent from the United States, 6.8 per cent from France, and 5.5 per cent from India.


  • Primary students in Canada had an average of 919 hours per year of total instruction time in 2011, significantly higher than the OECD average of 791 hours per year. Canadian lower-secondary students had an average of 923 hours, just slightly above the OECD average of 907.


  • Canadian primary school teachers averaged 799 hours of net statutory contact time with students, compared to an average of 790 hours across OECD countries. Upper secondary school teachers in Canada have 747 hours of contact time with students, compared to an OECD average of 664 hours.


Additional highlights for Canada can be found at:


Selected OECD data for Canada will be broken down by province and territory in a companion report, Education Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective 2013 scheduled to be released in December 2013 by the Canadian Education Statistics Council (CESC), a partnership between CMEC and Statistics Canada.


Canadians will receive additional information on education in Canada tomorrow, June 26, when Statistics Canada releases education data from the National Household Survey (NHS) which replaced the census in 2011.


About CMEC

Founded in 1967, CMEC is the collective voice of Canada's ministers of education. It provides leadership in education at the pan-Canadian and international levels and contributes to the exercise of the exclusive jurisdiction of provinces and territories over education. For more information, visit us at

The Canadian Education Statistics Council (CESC) is a longstanding partnership between CMEC and Statistics Canada. Its goal is to improve the quality and comparability of Canadian education data and to provide information that can inform policy development in education.


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Colin Bailey
Director, Communications
Cell: 416-929-6970
Tel.: 416-962-8100, ext. 259