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Stratification and Vocationalization in Canadian Higher Education

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Part of the Higher Education Dynamics book series (HEDY,volume 45)


This chapter explores recent developments in federal higher education policy in Canada. The national government’s research policy provides extensive funding primarily to a small number universities, prompting “mission creep” as some colleges seek to increase the likelihood of receiving research funding. This dynamic reinforces both the resource bases and the status of elite institutions, and so heightens stratification. At the same time, the federal government promotes “narrow” vocationalism and skills-based education in an effort to improve the employability of graduates. The resulting tension is described using Bourdieu’s (1993) metaphor of the “left-hand” and “right-hand” of the state, which pursue different and sometimes contradictory ends semi-independently of one another.


  • Stratification
  • Vocationalization
  • Research policy
  • National/federal government
  • Academic capitalism
  • Canada

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  1. 1.

    For example, in 2003, the government of British Columbia allocated many more full-time equivalent (FTE) spaces over 5 years to double the number of undergraduate degree holders in computer science, and electrical and computer engineering (see BC Ministry of Advanced Education 2003).

  2. 2.

    For example, the government of British Columbia created three new Centres of Training Excellence in the past 3 years, one in Mining, the other in Oil and Gas, and another to be created in Agriculture (BC Government 2014; BC Ministry of Advanced Education 2013). All three centres are associated with colleges or regional institutions, rather than the three more prestigious and research intensive universities in the province: University of British Columbia (UBC), Simon Fraser University (SFU), and University of Victoria (UVic)

  3. 3.

    Like most western countries, there are more women than men enrolled in higher education (Statistics Canada 2009b)

  4. 4.

    Unless specified as other currencies, all dollar amounts included in the writing on Canada can be understood to be CAD or Canadian dollars.

  5. 5.

    There are institutional outliers here in the very few private institutions; for example, Quest University (2014) charged $30,000 in tuition in 2013/2014.

  6. 6.

    The exception to this trend is Quest university (Quest University 2014), which can be viewed as a Canadian attempt to create a US-style private not-for-profit liberal arts college, founded by the former president of the University of British Columbia in 2009.

  7. 7.

    See, e.g.,

  8. 8.

    The Liberal party is the centre-left Federal party in Canada. Notwithstanding name changes of the Conservatives, it is one of two parties to lead the country over the past many decades. Canada is not as much as a two-party system as the US, however, as its social-democrat party (New Democratic Party or NDP) is also very strong and emerged for the first time as the country’s official opposition party in the 2011 election.

  9. 9.


  10. 10.

    NSERC is the Canadian equivalent of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). However, unlike the NSF, NSERC does not fund any health or social science research, for which funding is provided by CIHR and SSHRC respectively.

  11. 11.

    This has been the discourse associated with the creation of new “regional” universities in British Columbia, for example.


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Correspondence to Judith Walker .

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Walker, J. (2016). Stratification and Vocationalization in Canadian Higher Education. In: Slaughter, S., Taylor, B. (eds) Higher Education, Stratification, and Workforce Development. Higher Education Dynamics, vol 45. Springer, Cham.

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