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A profile of Canada's highly qualified personnel

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by Michael McKenzie, SIEID, Statistics Canada

Highly qualified human resources in science and technology are vital for innovation and economic growth. Both are dependent on the stock of human capital which supplies the labour market with highly skilled workers and helps in the diffusion of advanced knowledge. This article profiles Canada's highly qualified personnel based on immigrant status and place of birth, field of study, and selected demographic and employment characteristics.

About this article
About the author

About this article

This study is based on data from the 2001 Census of Population. More information is available here.

A related study entitled ‘Where are the Scientists and Engineers', was published in Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 88F0006XIE, April 2007.


Canada's highly qualified personnel (HQP) are defined as individuals with university degrees at the bachelors' level and above.

The immigrant population refers to people who are, or have been, landed immigrants in Canada. The period of immigration refers to ranges of years based on the year of immigration. The year of immigration refers to the year in which landed immigrant status was first obtained.

Non-permanent residents refer to people from another country who had an employment authorization, a student authorization, or a Minister's permit or who were refugee claimants at the time of the Census, and family members living here with them.

The non-immigrant population refers to people who are Canadian citizens by birth. Although most were born in Canada, a small number of them were born outside Canada to Canadian parents which accounts for the slight differences between the non-immigrant and Canada figures shown in Table 1 and Table 3, respectively. In the aggregate, the figures for non-immigrants in Table 1 and those born in Canada shown in Table 3 are almost identical.

The university certificate or diploma above the bachelor level is obtained following a first degree in the same field of study or following a masters' or first professional degree. In addition to teaching certificates such as a Bachelor of Education qualification, these certificates are also found in applied engineering and high technology areas along with degree programs that have medical specializations.


The demand for knowledge and skills is not only due to an ageing labour force population, but also to the changes in advanced technologies and the global knowledge-based economy. There appears to be a growing reliance on immigration as a source of skills and labour force growth. Between 1991 and 2001, nearly one-half of the labour force growth occurred in highly skilled occupations that normally require university qualifications.1 During the same period, foreign-born individuals with university degree qualifications at the bachelor's level or higher contributed to one-quarter of the growth in Canada's labour force.


According to the 2001 Census of Population, there were approximately 3.7 million highly qualified persons (HQPs) in Canada—over 15% of the 24 million labour market population, aged 15 years and over.2 The majority of HQPs (2.6 million) were non-immigrants, while about 1.1 million were immigrants, and nearly 52,000 were non-permanent residents. Four out of ten immigrant HQPs arrived in Canada between 1991 and 2000, the most recent decade of immigration studied (Table 1). During the early 1990s there were changes to immigration policies that favoured the entrance of immigrants with higher levels of education. This, combined with the high technology boom of the mid to late 1990s, encouraged the immigration of HQPs to Canada. What is striking is that all degree categories examined saw significant increases in the number of HQPs who immigrated between 1991 and 2000, compared with the previous decade. The immigrant and non-permanent resident HQPs include those who had a degree when they immigrated to Canada as well as those who earned their degree after they arrived.

Table 1 Highly qualified persons by immigrant status and period of immigration, 2001. Opens a new browser window.

Table 1
Highly qualified persons by immigrant status and period of immigration, 2001

The vast majority (69%) of Canada's highly qualified persons were born in Canada, while the percentage of foreign-born HQPs in Canada was 31% in 2001. As Table 2 demonstrates, there were striking differences by degree categories within certain fields.  In the science and engineering (S&E) field, for instance, Canadian-born HQPs were in the minority at the graduate degree level. Foreign-born individuals comprised 54% of the science and engineering HQPs with a master's degree and 61% of the science and engineering doctorates.3 Foreign-born HQPs are individuals with university qualifications at the bachelor's level or higher who were not born in Canada, including immigrants and non-permanent residents.

Overall, the proportions of male and female HQPs were almost even at 51% and 49%, respectively. There were however gender differences by field of study as well as by degree category. Males dominated the HQPs in science and engineering fields, especially at the doctorate degree level where the ratio was four to one in favour of male PhDs. Female HQPs were in the majority (55%) in the non-science and engineering fields, however a higher proportion of male HQPs were found at the master's and doctorate levels.

Table 2 Highly qualified persons by selected demographic characteristics and field of study, 2001. Opens a new browser window.

Table 2
Highly qualified persons by selected demographic characteristics and field of study, 2001

One-quarter of the foreign-born contingent of highly qualified persons in Canada was from Asia and Europe combined; those born in the United States represented only 2% of the total (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Distribution of highly qualified persons, place of birth by selected country or region, 2001. Opens a new browser window.

Chart 1
Distribution of highly qualified persons, place of birth by selected country or region, 2001

In terms of foreign country of birth, the United Kingdom led with over 106,000 of Canada's foreign-born HQPs, followed by India, China, United States and the Philippines (Table 3). Comparisons among the top five foreign countries reveal that more HQPs with doctorates were born in the U.S., while more with master's degrees were born in India, and more with bachelors degrees were born in the Philippines. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, led in HQPs with medical degrees, as well as certificates or diplomas above the bachelor's degree level.

HQPs born in the U.K. and the U.S. were much older due to their earlier arrival compared with the younger more recent arrivals born in India, the Philippines, and China. The median age of those born in the U.K. was 53 and 47 for the U.S., in contrast to 41 for India and the Philippines and 38 for those born in China.4

Table 3 Highly qualified persons, place of birth by selected country or region, 2001. Opens a new browser window.

Table 3
Highly qualified persons, place of birth by selected country or region, 2001


Canada competes with many other industrialized countries in educating, attracting and retaining highly qualified persons in order to maintain, as well as to augment, the supply of highly skilled individuals to fuel economic growth and prosperity. The end of the high-tech boom, as well as the events of September 11, 2001 has influenced human resources mobility worldwide.  Future work based on 2006 Census data is planned to examine in more detail the movement of HQP. If, for example, governments set new targets for research and development and innovation activities, additional research scientists and engineers will be required. Indeed, the analysis of 2006 data will be quite rich in that for the first-time information will be available as to where (province, territory or country) an individual completed their highest degree, certificate or diploma.

About the author

Michael McKenzie is with the Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division (SIEID) at Statistics Canada. For more information about this article, please contact


  1. Highly skilled occupations normally require a university education; skilled occupations normally require a college diploma or certificate, or apprenticeship training; and, low skilled occupation normally require a high school diploma or less. See, 2001 Census: analysis series: The changing profile of Canada's labour force. Statistics Canada, Catalogue No. 96F0030XIE2001009. February 2003.
  2. Total labour market population (in reference week) refers to the labour market activity of the population 15 years of age and over in the week (Sunday to Saturday) prior to Census Day (May 15, 2001). Respondents were classified as either employed, or unemployed, or as not in the labour force.
  3. Approximately 100,000 doctorates were employed in 2001, 47,000 were born in Canada while 53,000 were foreign-born. Of the Canadian-born PhDs, 22,000, or 46% were science and engineering doctorates, while the rest had doctorates in other fields. Of the 53,000 foreign-born employed doctorates, 35,000 or 60% were science and engineering doctorates. For more detailed analysis of Canada's doctorates, please see, McKenzie M. (2007). Where are the Scientists and Engineers, SIEID Working Papers Series, Statistics Canada, Catalogue No. 88F0006XIE no. 002, April.
  4. The median age as well as the figures for China in Table 3 refers to the People's Republic of China and does not include Special Administrative Regions: Hong Kong and Macau.  Hong Kong and Macau are included in the overall Asia total.  When Hong Kong and Macau are added to China (sometimes referred to as China and Special Administrative Regions) the total university degrees (BA or higher) figure is 152,390 individuals which includes 96,620 with bachelor's degrees, 32,850 with master's degrees, 9,770 with earned doctorate degrees, 8,195 with certificates or diplomas above BA, and 4,945 with medical degrees.