So the answer to how strategic universities can help Canada win the amazing race is simple to articulate and an exciting challenge to implement.
Simply, it’s all about talented people:
- educating them in a differentiated, well-funded and strategically designed system;
- attracting and retaining them in the face of global competition, and
- connecting them so as to bring the world into Canada and Canada into the world.
And at a deeper level, it’s about working together, nationally and strategically, to build the scale and quality in higher education that is essential for us to compete internationally.
Together, for our regions and as a country we must:
- identify the niches where we can excel on the international stage;
- develop critical mass and quality in these areas of strength; and
- define a means to reach out to key regions of the world that have a particular resonance with our strengths.
Alberta, Quebec, and indeed, Canada, have many elements of the foundation in place on which we can build.
So I will pose a final crucial question: How can we best position our universities to ensure that Canada delivers a high quality of life to Canadians? My answer is as follows:
Attract. We must partner to brand Canada as the Great Bright North – as THE destination of choice for top talent: for students, professors, visionary entrepreneurs and other skilled workers and investors.
Canadian provinces and the federal government must continue to increase funding for international graduate students to compete for the best young minds from across the world.
Connect. We must work together, across universities, governments and industry, to provide a climate in which Canadian researchers have incentives to lead and participate in global networks.
Educate. Canada must dramatically improve its high school completion rates and also provide quality training to meet the demand for skilled trades, but also to lead into university education.
At the university level, over the next decade, we must increase the number of undergraduate degrees awarded by 50 per cent, and triple the number of advanced graduate degrees. Nothing else will better position us to get ahead in the race. And most importantly, our universities and governments must make tough choices. We must choose quality and we must pick our winners.
Institutions must better mobilize strategy consistent with their mission to develop distinctive areas of strength; and benchmark their programs against competitors around the world. Governments must invest in and focus resources on quality and excellence of people, programs and institutions. Doing so will allow us to develop a critical mass of expertise and knowledge that will stand up to international competition.
You don’t win the race by developing 20 people who can run a 6-minute mile. You need those who can do it in under four minutes. Achieving our ambitious goals requires a shared vision and, above all, leadership and passionate engagement that straddle all sectors involved in innovation. Universities cannot win on their own. If we are complacent, the world will pass us by. As our progress over the past decade shows, we can get there, if we have the will.
We have the talent and resources to succeed. We must move quickly. We are in the race – let’s win it.