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Canada’s grad students: overeducated, underemployed

Yasmin Jaswal
SHOTLIST: WASHINGTON, 22 AUGUST 2013, SOURCE: AFPTV SOUNDBITE 1 Eleanor Holmes Norton (woman), Congresswoman, DC delegate (English, 16 sec): "The seat of power, the nation's capital, was the only source of remedies and we thought that ten years of demonstrations and protests and boycotts of every kind had prepared for that." SOUNDBITE 2 Eleanor Holmes Norton (woman), Congresswoman, DC delegate (English, 21 sec): "Most important to remember is that no one could remember when there had been a mass march on Washington for anything. Therefore, we were creating this March under the only man I think who could have done it, Bayard Rustin, out of whole cloth -- no precedence to draw from, just do it." SOUNDBITE 3 Eleanor Holmes Norton (woman), Congresswoman, DC delegate (English, 20 sec): "As far as the eye could see, you could not see the end of the crowd, lined up on both sides of the reflecting pool, then going out and you got to the end of the reflecting pool, just going out and out, and where is the last man or woman? We did not know." - VAR of Eleanor Holmes Norton during the interview - VAR of Eleanor Holmes Norton at her desk - Eleanor Holmes Norton showing a black and white picture of herself hanging on the wall - VAR of an old photo of the March on Washington /// ------------------------------------------------ AFP TEXT STORY US-history-rights-Norton,INTERVIEW March on Washington veterans remember by Ivan COURONNE =(PICTURE+VIDEO)= WASHINGTON, District of Columbia, Aug 23, 2013 (AFP) - Fifty years ago in segregated America, Eleanor Holmes Norton could have never imagined she would one day represent the US capital as a black congresswoman. Norton was 26 years old and working with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when more than 250,000 people converged on Washington to march with Martin Luther King Jr for civil rights. "The last thing I imagined was anything connected with service in the government," Norton told AFP from her office in the US House of Representatives ahead of celebrations commemorating the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. "Government didn't stand for anything positive," she added, explaining the blatant racism present in Congress at the time. As a Yale University student, Norton was involved in a risky effort to register African Americans as voters in the state of Mississippi, a southern bastion of the Ku Klux Klan with a long history of racism. Ahead of the march, Norton helped organize the event, setting up transportation to Washington and mobilizing participants by telephone from a dilapidated building in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. "We had spent 10 years in demonstrations that had swept through every single Southern state," Norton said. "There were no remedies in the South. The seat of power, the nation's capital, was the only source of remedies and we thought that 10 years of demonstrations and protests and boycotts of every kind had prepared for that." But Norton recalled that even the civil rights movement's most ardent backers, including the John F. Kennedy administration, tried to dissuade the activists, citing fears of violence. "We thought that laughable. The movement had spent 10 years in passive non-violent resistance," she said. And then, on August 28, 1963, Norton stood with other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee behind the speakers at the foot of the Abraham Lincoln statue that overlooked the huge crowd. What was most memorable to me was not the speeches -- they were extraordinary," Norton said. "What was most memorable to me... at the memorial itself, looking out, was that I knew I was seeing a sight that had never been seen in the nation's capital, because as far as the eye could see, you could not see the end of the crowd." It was Bob Moses, 28 years old at the time, who had recruited Norton in Mississippi. He said the march was just a "picnic" compared to the South's rough and tumble politics. "We were coming out of sort of the battleground, with terror and violence and murder," Moses said, recalling how several of his colleagues were killed. "You learn how to live this guerrilla warfare, and you are living off of the people." In Mississippi, Moses had sought, in vain, to register black voters. But the real goal was to document local authorities' systematic exclusion of African Americans from voting. For all the euphoria surrounding the March on Washington, horror soon followed. On September 15, white supremacists bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black girls. Others later went on a spree burning churches across Mississippi, what Moses dubbed a "reign of terror." Department of Justice officials called in Moses and accused him of inflaming tensions with his voter registration campaign. "I reminded (the officials) that the uptick in the violence in Mississippi began after the March on Washington, and continued straight to the fall," said Moses, who now heads a mathematics literacy effort at public schools. "Mississippi was the collateral damage of the idea that we were going to have a national shift in policy on civil rights. And the people in Mississippi were exposed and unprotected." The violence convinced Moses to pursue his efforts. In 1964, he organized Freedom Summer, a high-profile attempt to register as many black voters as possible in Mississippi. That same year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, a landmark piece of legislation that forbade discrimination on the basis of race or sex. ico/oh/dw

After years of toiling in Canada's hallowed halls, the future looks bleak for the country's postgraduate students thanks to an anemic labour market with few job prospects for teachers, lawyers and surgeons.

As of January 2013, the youth (ages 15 to 24) unemployment rate sits at 13.6 per cent – almost double the national average of 7 per cent.

Adding an extra layer of stress, young Canadians now owe more than $15 billion in student debt, according to the Canadian Federation of Students and 58 per cent of students plan to graduate with $20,000 or more in loans, says a recent BMO poll.

In Canada, law school can cost anywhere from $7,000 to $25,000 per year while education programs start at a minimum of $6,000. Yearly med school fees can range anywhere from $6,000 all the way to $20,000.

High levels of student debt and a lack of employment opportunities have created a perfect storm of delayed adulthood or boomerang kids - adult children forced to move home with Mom and Dad. More than 25 per cent of young adults -- ranging in age from 25 to 29 -- now live with their parents, according to the latest census data; more than double figures from 1981.

All that said, universities aren’t scaling back on the number of students admitted to graduate programs. In contrast, some universities are increasing their acceptance rates or lowering their admission requirements, leading to more overeducated and underemployed Canadians.

The University of Ottawa’s Law faculty has steadily increased the number of applicants it accepts over the past decade. In 2002, 220 first-year law students were registered at the university. In 2012, the number was 377. Law firms and government positions have not increased at the same rate. Fifteen per cent of law school graduates were unable to secure an articling position last year, according to the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Articling Task Force.

Katherine Melnychuk, a second-year law student at the University of Saskatchewan, says the lack of jobs is forcing graduates to relocate for employment.

“In our college, 70 per cent of the students are from outside Saskatchewan,” she says. “At my firm, I’m the only student from Saskatchewan. I definitely think that’s a trend of students coming from elsewhere to Saskatchewan and ending up staying here.”

Even though an articling shortage is evident, that message is not communicated to future grads.

“The upper years tended to say 'don’t worry,'” says Parneet Kahlon, a third-year law student at the University of Toronto. “So I can’t say that I felt there was a huge scarcity by just talking to my peers.”

Future litigators aren’t the only ones who will have to deal with unemployment and interest-accumulating debt.

Graduates of the five-year orthopaedic surgery residency program know Canada is in need of their services. According to the Fraser Institute’s national waiting list survey, orthopaedic surgery wait times are the highest in Canada. On average, it takes five months to see a specialist, and an additional five-month wait time before surgery is performed.

And yet, graduates have little chance of finding a full-time position, according to a release from the Canadian Medical Association. Orthopaedic surgery residency positions increased 129 per cent from 2002 to 2010, says the CMA, yet the overall number of orthopaedic surgeons increased by only 18 per cent in Canada for the same time period.

“It would be useful if the ministries of health and the colleges of medicine and the national specialist societies worked in closer conjunction to fine-tune the funding system so that we don’t continue to exasperate the situation,” says Dr. Geoff Johnston, president of the Canadian Orthopaedic Association.

Orthopaedic grads who can’t find work have three options:

  • Work locums for surgeons on holiday or who are unable or unwilling to work anti-social shifts
  • Continue their education by applying for fellowships
  • Move to a country with better employment options like the United States, where, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the need for orthopaedic surgeons matches the job opportunities available.

“I would only suggest a fellowship if there was a true sense that it would enhance a [graduate's] ability to deliver the care that they want,” says Dr. Johnston. “I’m the last one to suggest that they go to the States, but if the problems are here, there are places elsewhere which still need orthopaedic surgeons.”

Job prospects in education are just as bleak. In 2012, B.C.’s Education Minister George Abbott warned for every teaching position in the province, there were three applicants vying for the position, according to a Vancouver Sun article.

A study by the Ontario College of Teachers showed the unemployment rate in 2010 was at 24 per cent, eight times higher than in 2006.

“I was told that it is difficult to get a job after graduating,” says Mandy Cooper, a first-year student at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Education. ”I may not live in Saskatchewan afterwards and believe if I move somewhere else it will be harder for me to get a job.”

Despite the negative statistics and stories, hope is not lost among students and professionals. Graduate study may not lead directly to employment, but students say it's worth the extra time and money spent.

“They still love what they might be able to do,” says Dr. Johnston of students applying for orthopaedic surgery residencies. “They certainly seem to be aware that there is an issue right now, but that doesn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm.”