Education Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021

Release date: March 30, 2022 (preliminary) Updated on: November 30, 2022

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Definitions and concepts

The 2021 Census of Population collects education information on the Canadian population in private households. Education information is collected in the census because education plays a major role in Canadian society. Governments use this information to develop training and other programs to meet the changing needs of the workforce and of specific groups such as First Nations people, Métis, Inuit, immigrants, visible minorities, Veterans and youth.

The 2021 Census measured four main concepts through its education questions (collected only for the population aged 15 and older):

Within these concepts, data for several analytical variables are released:

For definitions of these variables, see the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-301-X.

For information on instruction in the minority official language, refer to the Instruction in the Minority Official Language Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X.

Questions

The 2021 Census of Population 2A-L and 2A-R long-form questionnaires contain five education questions. They were asked only for the population aged 15 and older.

Questions 33 and 34 collected information on all certificates, diplomas or degrees that the person had completed through high (secondary) school (Question 33); apprenticeship and other trades programs (Question 34a); college, CEGEP, or other non-university institutions (Question 34b); or university (Question 34c).

Question 35 collected information on the major field of study of the person’s highest certificate, diploma or degree above the high school level.

Question 36 collected information on the province, territory or country where the person’s highest certificate, diploma or degree above the high school level was completed (location of study).

Question 37 collected information on whether the person attended school during the nine months prior to the reference date (at any time between September 2020 and May 11, 2021), and the type of school they attended (school attendance).

For the 2021 Census, the 2A short-form questionnaire was used to enumerate all usual residents of 75% of private dwellings. The 2A-L long-form questionnaire, which also includes the questions from the 2A short-form questionnaire, was used to enumerate a 25% sample of private households in Canada. For private households in First Nations communities, Métis settlements, Inuit regions and other remote areas, the 2A-R questionnaire was used to enumerate 100% of the population.

The 2A-R education questions were the same as those on the 2A-L (long-form) questionnaire; however, some of the examples were adapted to reflect education programs that are more common in those areas.

For information on the comparability of the 2021 Census education questions with those in previous census cycles, refer to the Comparability section in this reference guide.

For more information on the 2021 Census questionnaire, including how census questions are determined, refer to the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X. For more information on the reasons why the census questions are asked, please refer to the five fact sheets found on The road to the 2021 Census web page.

Classifications

Classification of major field of study write-in responses

In the 2021 Census, the major field of study of the respondent’s highest postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree was classified using the newly revised Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Canada 2021. People without a certificate, diploma or degree above the high school level were not asked to provide a major field of study.

Write-in responses for major field of study were assigned a six-digit code at the most detailed level. These could also be grouped into four-digit codes (subseries) and two-digit codes (series). The two-digit codes could also be further combined into primary groupings. For example, code 14.0803 is "Structural Engineering," 14.08 is "Civil Engineering," 14 is "Engineering," and the primary grouping for Engineering is "Architecture, engineering, and related trades."

The major field of study responses were also classified using the older CIP Canada 2016 classification to allow for comparisons with the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), 2016 Census and other sources of data that use that classification.

It is not recommended that data users compare individual categories of the two classification systems (CIP 2016 and CIP 2021) on the basis of their labels. Even though many entries in the two classifications are similar, direct comparison could be inappropriate, given the numerous changes made at the detailed level to update the classification.

There is also a variant that can be used to examine or compare STEM fields of study (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and computer sciences) and BHASENote 4 fields of study (non-STEM; e.g., business, health, humanities, arts, social and behavioural sciences, and education). This variant was introduced in 2016 and is different from the STEM groupings variant used in the 2011 NHS. For more information on this change, see the Education Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2016, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X. For the 2021 Census, the major field of study responses were grouped into the STEM and BHASE variant using CIP Canada 2021, as well as CIP Canada 2016 to allow for comparisons with the 2016 Census.

Note that major field of study responses were classified at the six-digit level only to the degree that respondents provided precision in their responses. For example, it is likely that some people who studied civil engineering provided a response of only “engineering” to the major field of study question. Some general categories also include people who took general programs without further specialization.

CIP series 21, 32 to 37 and 53 and their sub-components are not used in the census major field of study concept. These series consist of high school equivalency programs and courses typically taken for personal enrichment.

For more information on the CIP, see the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Canada 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 12-590-X.

Classification of location of study responses

In the 2021 Census, the locations of study outside Canada for the highest postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree were classified using the Countries and Areas of Interest for Social Statistics - SCCAI 2019. For additional information on changes to country names and codes since 1970, see the list of Current and Historical Countries and Areas of Interest 2019. People without a certificate, diploma or degree above the high school level were not asked to provide a location of study.

Write-in responses for location of study were assigned a five-digit code at the most detailed level. These could also be grouped into geographical sub-regions (for example, Southeast Asia, Western Africa, South America) and geographical macro-regions (for example, Asia, Africa, Americas).

For more information on the SCCAI, see Countries and Areas of Interest for Social Statistics - SCCAI 2019, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 12-608-X.

Concepts over time

The 2021 Census measured four main concepts: certificates, diplomas and degrees (Questions 33 and 34); major field of study (Question 35); location of study (Question 36); and school attendance (Question 37). These concepts are the same as those in the 2016 Census, 2011 NHS and 2006 Census.

Collection and processing methods

The COVID-19 pandemic emerged in Canada in early 2020 and affected all steps of the 2021 Census process, from data collection to dissemination. Please refer to the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X, for more detailed information on this topic.

For general information on the overall content, collection, design, processing and data quality for the 2021 Census of Population, please see the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X.

Data quality

The 2021 Census of Population underwent a thorough data quality assessment. The different certification activities conducted to evaluate the quality of the 2021 Census data are described in Chapter 9 of the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X.

The data quality assessment was conducted in addition to the regular verifications and quality checks completed at key stages of the census. For example, throughout data collection and processing, the accuracy of specific steps such as data capture and coding was measured, the consistency of the responses provided was checked, and the non-response rates for each question were analyzed. As well, the quality of imputed responses was assessed during data editing and imputation.

During the data quality assessment, a number of data quality indicators were produced and used to evaluate the quality of the data. These indicators are briefly described below. Finally, resulting census counts were compared with other data sources and certified for final release.

The main highlights of this assessment of the data pertaining to Education are presented below.

Variability due to sampling and total non-response

The objective of the long-form census questionnaire is to produce estimates on various topics for a wide variety of geographies, ranging from very large areas (such as provinces and census metropolitan areas) to very small areas (such as neighbourhoods and municipalities), and for various populations (such as Indigenous peoples and immigrants) that are generally referred to in this document as “populations of interest.” In order to reduce response burden, the long-form census questionnaire is administered to a random sample of households.

This sampling approach and total non-response introduce variability into the estimates that needs to be accounted for. This variability also depends on the population size and the variability of the characteristics being measured. Furthermore, the precision of estimates may vary considerably depending on the domain or geography of interest, in particular because of the variation in response rates. For more information on variability due to sampling and total non-response in long-form census questionnaire estimates, please refer to the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X.

Non-response bias

Non-response bias is a potential source of error for all surveys, including the long-form census questionnaire. Non-response bias arises when the characteristics of those who participate in a survey are different from those who do not.

In general, the risk of non-response bias increases as the response rate declines. For the 2021 long-form census questionnaire, Statistics Canada adapted its collection and estimation procedures to mitigate the effect of non-response bias to the extent possible. For more information on these mitigation strategies, please refer to the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X.

Data quality indicators

A number of quality indicators were produced and analyzed during the 2021 Census of Population data quality assessment. Four indicators are available to data users for long-form content: the total non-response (TNR) rate; the confidence interval; as well as the non-response rate and the imputation rate per question.

The total non-response (TNR) rate is the primary quality indicator that accompanies each disseminated 2021 Census of Population product, and is calculated for each geographic area. It measures total non-response at the dwelling level. Non-response is said to be total when no questionnaire is returned from a dwelling or when a returned questionnaire does not meet the minimum content. More information on the TNR rate is available in Chapter 9 of the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X.

The confidence interval was selected as a variance-based quality indicator to accompany the 2021 Census of Population long-form estimates because it helps users easily make a statistical inference. This indicator provides a measure of the accuracy of the long-form estimates. Using a science-based approach, research and simulations were done to ensure that confidence intervals are constructed using adequate statistical methods for the Census of Population data and areas of interest.

A confidence interval is associated with a confidence level, generally set at 95%. A 95% confidence interval is an interval constructed around the estimate so that, if the process that generated the sample were repeated many times, the value of the interest parameter in the population would be contained in 95% of these intervals. The confidence interval consists of a lower bound and an upper bound. These two bounds accompany the long-form estimates in most data tables.

Further details on the different methods used to construct confidence intervals and their assumptions are provided in the Sampling and Weighting Technical Report, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-306-X.

The non-response rate per question is a measure of missing information due to non-response to a question. It measures only the non-response that is resolved through imputation during data processing (as opposed to weighting when a sample is used). For the long-form questionnaire, the non-response rate per question includes only partial non-response to the question, except for First Nations communities, Métis settlements, Inuit regions and other remote areas where both partial and total non-response are taken into account. Partial non-response is when answers to certain questions are not provided for a respondent household.

The non-response rate per question for a question on the long-form questionnaire is defined as the sum of the weights of in-scope units in the population of interest who did not respond to the question divided by the sum of the weights of in-scope units in the population of interest. Here “units” refers to the statistical units for which data are collected or derived (e.g., persons or households, depending on whether the question is about a person-level characteristic or a household-level characteristic). A unit is considered to be in scope for a given question if the question is applicable to that unit and the unit belongs to the population of interest related to the question.

The imputation rate per question measures the extent to which responses to a given question were imputed. Imputation is used to replace missing data in the event of non-response or when a response is found to be invalid (e.g., multiple answers are provided when a single answer is expected). Imputation is conducted to eliminate data gaps and to reduce bias introduced by non-response. Imputation is generally done by identifying persons or households in the same geographical area with similar characteristics to the incomplete record and copying their values to fill in the missing or invalid responses.

The imputation rate for a question on the long-form questionnaire is defined as the sum of the weights of in-scope units in the population of interest for which the response to the question was imputed divided by the sum of the weights of in-scope units in the population of interest (see the definition of “units” provided in the above section on the non-response rate per question).

For long-form content, imputation for most areas is done to resolve partial non-response—not total non-response, which instead is treated by weighting. However, in First Nations communities, Métis settlements, Inuit regions and other remote areas, whole household imputation (WHI) is used to resolve total non-response. It first imputes the occupancy status of non-respondent dwellings and further imputes all the data for those dwellings resolved as occupied in the first step. WHI is included in the imputation rate per question, including the use of administrative data to impute non-responding households in areas with low response rates; see Appendix 1.7 of the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X. As with the non-response rate, a unit is considered to be in scope if the question is applicable to that unit and the unit belongs to the population of interest related to the question.

The non-response and imputation rates per question can be interpreted as the proportion of in-scope units in the population of interest for which information was not reported or was imputed, respectively. The long-form rates are weighted to reflect the fact that the long-form questionnaire is only distributed to a sample of the population, so in this case, the proportion is estimated.

The non-response and imputation rates for a question are often similar, but some differences can be observed for a given question because of additional data processing steps that may have been required. These rates were regularly checked during data assessment, and a detailed analysis was done if there was a difference between the two rates for a question, to ensure the appropriateness of the processing steps taken and the quality of the data. A difference between the non-response rate and the imputation rate for a question can generally be explained by one of the following two factors:

Tables 1 and 2 below present the non-response and imputation rates per question for Canada and for each province and territory.

The non-response and imputation rates per question at lower levels of geography are also available in 2021 Census data tables presenting data quality indicators. This information is scheduled for release on August 17, 2022, for short-form questions and on November 30, 2022, for long-form questions.

The 2021 Census Data Quality Guidelines, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-26-0006, provides all the information required to understand and interpret the data quality indicators for the 2021 Census, along with guidelines to enable their proper usage. Data quality indicators are provided so that users are informed about the quality of the statistical information and can determine the relevance and the limitations of the data relative to their needs. In general, the quality of the 2021 Census of Population data is very good, but in some cases, data have to be used with caution. It is strongly recommended that users consult all available data quality indicators to get a better sense of the quality of the data products they are interested in.

Table 1 
Non-response rate for various education questions, Canada, provinces and territories, Census of Population, 2021
Table summary
This table displays the results of Non-response rate for various education questions. The information is grouped by Regions (appearing as row headers), 2021 Census long-form questionnaire education questions, High school, Apprenticeship or trades, College or CEGEP, University, Major field of study, Location of study and School attendance, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Regions 2021 Census long-form questionnaire education questions
High school Apprenticeship or trades College or CEGEP University Major field of study Location of study School attendance
percent
Canada 1.4 1.8 1.9 1.8 2.9 1.9 1.9
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.0 1.5 1.6 1.6 2.6 1.7 1.6
Prince Edward Island 0.8 1.4 1.4 1.4 2.7 1.7 1.2
Nova Scotia 1.0 1.5 1.6 1.5 2.6 1.7 1.6
New Brunswick 1.2 1.7 1.8 1.8 3.2 2.1 2.0
Quebec 1.2 1.6 1.6 1.6 3.1 1.8 1.8
Ontario 1.2 1.5 1.6 1.6 2.6 1.7 1.7
Manitoba 2.1 2.6 2.6 2.6 3.3 2.4 2.8
Saskatchewan 2.2 2.7 2.9 2.8 3.4 2.6 2.9
Alberta 1.8 2.1 2.3 2.2 3.3 2.2 2.3
British Columbia 1.6 2.0 2.1 2.0 3.0 2.1 2.1
Yukon 5.6 5.9 6.2 5.9 7.3 6.1 6.1
Northwest Territories 10.4 11.1 11.0 10.9 10.7 9.9 11.6
Nunavut 25.4 26.5 26.4 26.2 29.3 26.9 27.9
Table 2
Imputation rate for various education questions, Canada, provinces and territories, Census of Population, 2021
Table summary
This table displays the results of Imputation rate for various education questions. The information is grouped by Regions (appearing as row headers), 2021 Census long-form questionnaire education questions, High school, Apprenticeship or trades, College or CEGEP, University, Major field of study, Location of study and School attendance, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Regions 2021 Census long-form questionnaire education questions
High school Apprenticeship or trades College or CEGEP University Major field of study Location of study School attendance
percent
Canada 1.4 1.7 1.8 1.6 4.1 2.1 2.0
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.0 1.4 1.4 1.3 4.2 1.8 1.8
Prince Edward Island 0.8 1.3 1.2 1.1 3.6 1.8 1.3
Nova Scotia 1.0 1.4 1.4 1.2 4.0 1.9 1.7
New Brunswick 1.2 1.6 1.6 1.4 4.4 2.3 2.1
Quebec 1.2 1.5 1.5 1.3 4.5 1.9 1.9
Ontario 1.2 1.5 1.5 1.4 3.7 1.9 1.8
Manitoba 2.1 2.5 2.5 2.2 4.5 2.5 2.9
Saskatchewan 2.3 2.6 2.7 2.4 4.5 2.8 3.1
Alberta 1.8 2.1 2.2 1.9 4.4 2.4 2.4
British Columbia 1.7 1.9 2.0 1.8 4.2 2.3 2.2
Yukon 5.6 5.8 6.1 5.6 8.0 6.3 6.2
Northwest Territories 10.3 10.9 10.8 10.2 11.4 10.1 11.8
Nunavut 25.4 26.0 25.9 24.6 30.6 27.2 28.3

For information on TNR rates for people living on reserve and in Inuit Nunangat, refer to the Indigenous Peoples Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-500-X.

Coding processes for major field of study and location of study

The written responses for major field of study were coded using the new Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Canada 2021. Most of the write-in responses (85.0%) were coded automatically from a reference file that contained the most common responses in past censuses and the associated CIP Canada 2021 codes. The remaining write-in responses (15.0%) were processed by subject-matter coders who assigned a CIP Canada 2021 code by associating each write-in response with its nearest match from the reference file.

A study was carried out to measure coding quality. A sample of 5,000 entries was recoded using CIP Canada 2021, and the overall accuracy rate was found to be 97.2%.

For the question on location of study, 99.3% of the write-in responses were coded automatically from a reference file. The remaining write-in responses (0.7%) were processed by subject-matter coders.

Certification of final counts

Once data editing and imputation were completed, the data were weighted to ensure that estimates represent the total Canadian population living in private dwellings. Certification of the final weighted estimates was the last step in the validation process, which led to the recommendation to release the data for each level of geography and domain of interest. Based on the analysis of the data quality indicators and the comparison of long-form census questionnaire estimates with other data sources, the recommendation is for unconditional release, conditional release, or non-release (for quality reasons on rare occasions). For conditional release or non-release, appropriate notes and warnings are included in the products and provided to users. Moreover, other data sources were used to evaluate the long-form census questionnaire estimates. However, since the risk of error often increases for lower levels of geography and for smaller populations, and the data sources used to evaluate these counts are less reliable or not available at these lower levels, it can be difficult to certify the counts at these levels.

Long-form census questionnaire estimates are also subject to confidentiality rules that ensure non-disclosure of respondent identity and characteristics. For more information on privacy and confidentiality, please refer to Chapter 1 of the Guide to the Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-304-X. For information on how Statistics Canada balances the protection of confidentiality and the need for disaggregated census data, with specific attention to new 2021 Census content, please refer to Balancing the Protection of Confidentiality with the Needs for Disaggregated Census Data, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-26-0005.

For more information on data processing and the calculation of estimates and their level of precision, please refer to the Sampling and Weighting Technical Report, Census of Population, 2021, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-306-X.

Apprenticeship and other trades versus college certificates and diplomas

Similar to past censuses, comparisons with other data sources indicated that some respondents reported their apprenticeship or other trades certificates as college diplomas or reported them in both the trades and college questions. This occurs because many trades and apprenticeship programs include a classroom component at a college. To minimize the occurrence of this type of response, the college question instructs respondents to exclude any trades certificates or diplomas previously reported in the trades question.

Comparability

Statistics Canada produces a range of education data from various sources for different uses. Comparability of education data with other data sources is affected by differences in survey target populations or administrative sources; survey sampling and collection methodologies; survey objectives, question wording, reference periods, format, examples and instructions; the social, economic and political climate at the time of data collection; and other factors.

As is done with every statistical program, the quality of the education information from the 2021 Census was internally evaluated before publication. The data were compared, as much as possible, with alternative data sources. The two main sources of comparison include previous cycles of the Census Program and the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

Census Program

Education data were collected in previous censuses, reflecting a long-standing, continuing and widespread demand for information about education characteristics of the Canadian population. Over time, there have been differences in the question wording, reference periods, format, examples and instructions of the education questions used. The historical comparability of education data may have been affected by these factors and by changes in education systems. Data users should be prudent as variables may not have retained comparability over time.

Education question changes and impact on comparability

For Question 33 (high school diplomas or equivalency certificates) on the French version of the questionnaire, the examples of high school equivalency certificates were updated to be more relevant. The example “le test de développement général” was used instead of the previous examples of “La Batterie générale de tests d’aptitudes” and “formation de base des adultes.” Census linkage data between 2021 and 2016 did not indicate any noticeable impacts because of this change.

For questions 33, 34a, 34b and 34c on educational qualifications obtained by respondents, new text was added to instruct respondents to report qualifications obtained in Canada or outside Canada. This new instructional text was to clarify that foreign credentials should be reported. Census linkage data between 2021 and 2016 did not indicate that respondents were more likely to report foreign credentials in 2021 than in 2016.

For Questions 34a, 34b and 34c on postsecondary credentials, two improvements were made to the electronic questionnaire in 2016 that are still applicable for the 2021 Census education data. First, new instructional text was added to emphasize that only completed credentials should be reported. Second, the detailed response categories on postsecondary qualifications were only displayed if the respondent selected “Yes” as a response to the new initial filter question. For example, for part c, a respondent would initially see the question, “Has this person ever: c) completed a university certificate, diploma or degree (e.g., Bachelor’s degree)?” They would only see the more detailed response options (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, etc.) if “Yes” was selected.

These improvements and the increased use of the electronic questionnaire (particularly in canvasser areas) further reduced the reporting of incomplete credentials in 2021. The changes contributed to the decline in the share of the population with college as their highest certificate, diploma or degree from 2016 to 2021. It is recommended that data users consider this information when comparing data on educational attainment with previous censuses, particularly for First Nations communities, Métis settlements, Inuit regions and other remote areas where the electronic questionnaire was used for the first time in 2021.

For Question 36 (location of study), an improvement was made to the electronic questionnaire through the use of radio buttons, instead of a drop-down list, for respondents when selecting their province or territory. This was a return to the format used in 2011 and earlier because analysis of 2016 data showed that the drop-down list made it more likely for respondents to inadvertently scroll to the bottom of the list using the mouse wheel and unintentionally select the territories. It is recommended that data users consider this information when comparing locations of study in the territories with previous censuses.

In 2021, the school attendance question on the electronic questionnaire was improved by initially displaying the responses “Yes” or “No” to whether a person attended school and by only displaying the categories of the school attended (e.g., high school, college, university) if “Yes” was selected. The question was also reworded in English from “has this person attended...” to “was this person attending....” This notably improved data quality by increasing the chance of respondents correctly interpreting the question as asking whether the respondent had attended school since the September preceding the census, rather than asking whether the respondent ever attended school. Specifically, the problem of older adults erroneously reporting high school attendance was resolved by this improvement.

Because of this change and its impacts, it is recommended that data users avoid comparing school attendance data for older adults with previous censuses and use caution when making comparisons for younger adults.

Labour Force Survey

The LFS includes questions on educational attainment, location of study (for immigrants born outside Canada who have postsecondary credentials) and school attendance.

However, differences in question wording, question order, methodology and coverage between the two surveys mean that results will vary.

The LFS question on school attendance refers to attendance during the week prior to the LFS, while the census question on attendance refers to attendance at any time during the period from September 2020 to the census reference day (May 11, 2021). These periods are not comparable. As a result, the LFS school attendance estimates are expected to be lower than those from the census.

Table 3
Comparison of educational attainment (highest certificate, diploma or degree) for the population aged 25 to 64 years between the Labour Force Survey and the Census, 2021
Table summary
This table displays the results of Comparison of educational attainment (highest certificate. The information is grouped by Variable and distribution by category (appearing as row headers), LFS, Census and Census‒LFS
percentage difference (appearing as column headers).
Variable and distribution by category LFS Census Census‒LFS
percentage difference
Percentage distribution
Highest certificate, diploma or degree 100 100 0
No certificate, diploma or degree 7 10 3
High (secondary) school diploma or equivalency certificate 21 23 2
Apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma 10 10 0
College, CEGEP or other non-university certificate or diploma and University certificate or diploma below a bachelor’s degree 26 25 -1
Bachelor’s degree or higher 35 33 -2

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