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Universities, Innovation and the Growth of Communities

Address to the Chambre de Commerce du Montreal Metropolitain
Prof. Heather Munroe-Blum
May 13, 2003

 

Introduction:

Thank you, Madame Forest-Allard, Monsieur le Maire, McGill Chancellor - Richard Pound, M. Labonté, M. Fréchette, Distinguished Guests and Fellow Montrealers.

Let me say how happy and honoured I am to be here. Yes, of course to be here presenting to you and the Board of Trade; but also happy and honoured in a larger sense - to be here now, in Montreal and Quebec - to be making my future here and that of my family - with my husband also coming as a returning Montrealer.

Je m'adresse à vous aujourd'hui en tant que Montréalaise, Québécoise et Canadienne. À ce titre, j'affirme mon adhésion aux aspirations de cette grande ville et de notre nation. J'ai quitté Montréal et le Québec à l'âge de deux ans et me voici de retour aujourd'hui, dans un lieu où je me sens "chez moi". Comme beaucoup de personnes avant nous, mon mari et moi, donnons ainsi raison au maire de Montréal, M. Tremblay, pour qui Montréal est une ville de retour.

Je ne pense pas qu'il puisse y avoir un meilleur moment pour vivre à Montréal et au Québec qu'aujourd'hui; tous les signes d'un avenir prometteur sont réunis. Nous jouons tous un rôle important en dirigeant avec ambition nos propres organisations tout en travaillant en même temps à la réalisation des rêves que nous avons en commun pour que Montréal et le Québec et bien sûr le Canada accèdent au rang unique et original auquel ils peuvent prétendre.

I want to thank the Board of Trade for the invitation to speak today. I am truly delighted to join the ranks of the many illustrious leaders who have stood at your luncheon podium over the 180 years that the Board of Trade has celebrated the growth of our great city of Montreal. We here today, collectively, represent the leadership of this wonderful city, leadership expressed across the range of sectors: business, government, academe and not-for-profit organizations.

J'aimerais vous entretenir du rôle stratégique que les universités jouent dans l'innovation et l'amélioration de nos collectivités; par le développement économique et social, par l'épanouissement culturel et l'amélioration de la sécurité, par le formidable pouvoir qu'elles ont de rassembler des personnes d'horizons et de pays différents. Nous avons beaucoup entendu parler de l'importance de l'innovation de la société du savoir et du rôle que les grands groupes d'activité jouent dans l'épanouissement des villes et des communautés.

As I was thinking about standing here today, I was struck by how the ambitions that we all share are connected. We all want success. And we want our success to be visibly excellent. We want the work of our hands and minds to be recognized as being the best for our great city and Quebec, and the best internationally.

This level of recognition does not come about by luck. It is the result of education, strategy, preparation and dedicated, hard work. It is also the result of access to opportunity.

In this regard I am mindful of the analysis of last year's Symposium 2017 and work already underway through the Board of Trade, Montreal International, the Mayor's Office and others in designing an effective economic and social strategy for Montreal. And I congratulate you on these efforts and the very significant progress made to date.

Recent events show how clearly our success is tied to the successes and the tragedies of other cities and other nations. We live in a truly global society. And it is clear that we will not succeed by looking inward; nor by acting and measuring ourselves only in relation to local standards. We must be ambitious. And we must be confident in setting our targets high.

In the global society, we will succeed by creating and harnessing an environment in which our internal competition keeps us sharp, but in which working together also makes us more creative. We live in a world where our fiercest competitors can also be our closest collaborators. An environment in which all parties may, with an effective plan and dedicated effort, benefit from developing Montreal's unique combination of talent, excellence and opportunity; where we can develop local and regional capacity in a strategic fashion while at the same time nurturing the successes and impact of our internationally successful companies, public institutions and cultural enterprises.

And here, speed is of the essence. We must be ambitious and quick as we mobilize our talent and other resources to advance our common cause. We know our competitors in other regions aim to permanently outdistance us in advancing their own cause. And they are also acting now.

When I speak to you as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, I do so proudly and on behalf of a distinguished, public research-intensive university; a university with an international reach and a reputation for excellence.

In the 2002 rankings of both the Kaplan/Newsweek annual college guide, and the Princeton review, McGill was the only non-American university in the world to rank in the top fifteen of these two distinguished American polls. In my last job, I must say, it was a source of constant irritation that everywhere I went, from Asia, to the Middle East, to Europe, I found McGill already there. Everywhere! I was irritated - but I was also very impressed. In fact, I was so impressed that I joined the team.

But McGill is an asset for all of us. Founded in 1821, McGill shares with the Board of Trade a sustained and substantial record of contribution to the initial development and subsequent growth of Montreal, Quebec and Canada. And clearly McGill is our asset for the present and the future as well.

While some think of the University as an ivory tower, this does not fit McGill, nor does it fit our sister universities. In fact, no nation enjoys a level of university access greater than our nation, nor depends more on its universities to educate its workforce, conduct its research, develop its intellectual property, and collaborate with industry and government, than do we. In my view, there is no jurisdiction that has the breadth of fine universities offered here in Quebec, except perhaps, California. In fact, Quebec was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of having a strong, broad system of universities each with its own special mission and role. Quebec was a pioneer in investing in university research and research networks. And Quebec has benefited dramatically from this foresight.

As Principal of McGill, I am the CEO of one of the city's major enterprises.

  • We have a talented workforce of 8,000 employees;
  • We have a body of outstanding students numbering just under 30,000;
  • And these 38,000 increasingly multicultural and multilingual people win a disproportionate share of national and international prizes year after year; they bring their skills and ideas to Montreal, to Quebec and to Canada;
  • We are an institution that annually attracts into Quebec close to $850 million dollars in resources from sources outside of the province;
  • And the public benefits from our beautiful campuses, our libraries, our sophisticated technological infrastructure, our Gault Nature Reserve on Mont St- Hilaire and the Morgan Arboretum;
  • And we contribute to the planning of major Montreal initiatives such as the Biocentre and la Cité universitaire internationale project;
  • And McGill has an annual budget, with an increasingly diversified revenue base that, each year, pumps over 700 million dollars into the economy of this city!
  • We have legal and health clinics, student-run volunteer services, public education programs, partnerships with community organizations;
  • We have long offered all of our students the opportunity to conduct their essays and take their exams in French and increasingly we are offering French language training and services to members of our community;
  • As with our sister universities in Quebec, we are building for the future in strategic areas; McGill is targeting special programs in the social sciences, the arts, the physical and life sciences and our professional programs; as well as innovative new programs at the interface of disciplines - all so important to the health and well being of our communities;
  • Over the next ten years, we are recruiting 100 new faculty a year, largely from outside Quebec. We also have major projects for capital expansion already underway - for example: the purchase of the Renaissance Hotel as a new student residence; the construction of the Lorne M. Trottier Building for engineering and computer sciences; the recently announced Bellini Life Sciences Pavilion; and a new music centre for both performance and research in music, media and technology. This is McGill's most ambitious building program of the past 100 years and it represents a very significant construction enterprise in this city.

All of this may sound rich - and reinforce the view that McGill is self sufficient and uniquely resourced from private treasure chests. I can only wish that this were so! It is simply not the case.

In spite of new investments from Quebec and Ottawa; and in spite of McGill's own very substantial efforts to diversify our resource base; in spite of all this, McGill, with its current operating base, is not rich by Quebec standards in terms of public operating grants and major infrastructure investments. And, frankly, overall it is poor by comparison with peer universities in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. It is against these peer universities that we are in a head-to-head competition to attract world-class talent. We do so in our efforts to cure cancer, preserve the environment, build on the genius of the past, and build a new genius - the genius of the future, which will create future technologies, future businesses, future ideas and knowledge; and, soaring expressions of the human spirit that we cannot even begin to imagine.

Tout cela pourrait paraître insignifiant à tous ceux qui sont étrangers à McGill s'il n'était amplement démontré que toute grande ville, toute autorité territoriale, dépend étroitement de la présence de plusieurs universités de recherche réputées et reconnues à l'échelle internationale sur son territoire. Ces établissements attirent des investissements, fidélisent des gens talentueux, drainent de nouvelles connaissances et technologies, grâce aux réseaux internationaux d'enseignement et de recherche auxquels ils appartiennent. Ils tissent aussi des liens avec des personnalités renommées, avec des scientifiques et des investisseurs dans le monde entier. Tous ces aspects sont importants pour se positionner à l'échelle mondiale et régionale. Nous tirons avantage des réseaux de recherche internationaux et de la diversité de nos étudiants et professeurs pour promouvoir le savoir, la tolérance, la créativité et le respect. Ces ingrédients sont aussi essentiels à la réussite sur cette petite planète que la technologie et les investissements.

Clearly I speak to you now as someone with a passionate belief in the transformative power of higher education. But, we are at a point in time when higher education has never been more centrally important to society.

How then do we foster a context in which our universities and our affiliated hospitals and our research institutes are best positioned so as to foster the capacity to contribute to the wonderful city in which we have the privilege to work and live?

To begin with we must value not just access, but also quality in our educational and research programs.

Quebec has built up, in a short period of time, an enviable system of regional universities - these are very important in providing access, in creating targeted programs uniquely positioned to serve the regions. This progress, however, must be balanced by a complementary commitment to sustain and grow the successes of the urban, research-intensive universities and their affiliated teaching hospitals and research institutes. No successful jurisdiction undermines its strengths in the name of capacity building. Both are critically important. In fact, the diversity of our universities is a strength that should be the envy of the private sector. Both Montreal and Quebec will flourish as the performance and success of different types of universities are encouraged and nurtured.

In this context, what is a reasonable portion of the cost of education for students to bear? At McGill, students' fees account for less than 15% of the cost of running the University that provides the world-class education they receive. Quebec and Canadian students pay the same tuition fees to study at McGill as they would at any other university in the Quebec system. Yet the evidence clearly shows that no tuition fees, or low tuition fees, defeat the goals of achieving both access and quality in public higher education. In fact, a low, frozen tuition fee policy such as the one that operates in Quebec, provides an extraordinary subsidy for all students but, in fact, paradoxically, also results in the poor subsidizing the rich. It has been well demonstrated in developed areas such as Europe and North America that non-existent or minimal tuition fees dilute both the overall quality of academic programs and limit access to them in a world where, inevitably, the funding envelope is limited. A reasonable level of re-regulation of student fees is one approach that would, coupled with a corresponding strategic increase in student aid, provide a fairer approach, and a measure of market-driven flexibility that would enhance both the quality of our universities and access for talented, but financially disadvantaged students.

The important thing is to create incentives for excellence and productivity, and to respect the ability of universities to define their distinctive niches when compared to their peers. We must create "rewards for success" and discourage disincentives in this regard. Historically, the idea of rewarding excellence and success has not been a defining Canadian value. We must get past that. The global competition is simply too fierce.

For all sectors we need an effective public policy framework that creates incentives, rewards successful effort and encourages productive public-private collaboration.

Jusqu'ici, je n'ai évoqué que les atouts de McGill et les contributions qu'elle a apportées à Montréal et au Québec. Mais j'imagine que vous êtes nombreux à vous poser des questions sur la faculté de médecine de McGill. Permettez-moi donc de revenir sur cette question.

La faculté de médecine est la plus ancienne faculté de l'Université McGill. Pendant près de deux cents ans, la faculté et, à terme, les hôpitaux qui lui sont affiliés, ont joué un rôle capital dans l'édification d'un réseau exceptionnel d'établissements de soins de santé à Montréal et au Québec et aussi dans la réalisation de recherches avant-gardistes qui ont fait progresser le diagnostic, la prévention et le traitement du cancer; du diabète, des maladies mentales, des maladies cardiaques et des maladies liées au vieillissement. Toutes ces recherches ont, entre autres, débouché sur des découvertes qui ont profondément modifié la manière dont nous prenons en charge la maladie et assurons la promotion de la santé. Elles ont aussi donné naissance à de nouvelles techniques et industries et cela toujours dans l'intérêt de notre communauté.

Let me say something else about McGill. We are proud of the fact that we attract many students from outside of Quebec, whether from the rest of Canada, the United States, or countries around the world. Since there has recently been this attention in the press regarding the relocation of our medical students after they graduate, it is important for you to know that medical students who come to us from the United States or other foreign countries, known as visa students, are required, upon registration, to sign a contract with the Province of Quebec that they will not remain to practice in Quebec unless they agree to spend at least four years in a remote region of the Province. The penalty for non-compliance is $300,000 payable to the Government of Quebec. This is not the case for graduates who are Quebec residents. This punitive rule virtually eliminates any possibility that an American or other foreign student, who has completed an undergraduate medical program at McGill, will stay on to practice in Quebec.

It is worth noting also that our foreign medical students pay for their education a yearly average of approximately $17,000 in tuition to the Government of Quebec; which in turn provides McGill with a grant in roughly the same amount, with the result being that their training costs the province little or nothing at all.

Of the McGill students who completed their medical qualifying examinations in the period for which recent statistics are available, 43% of McGill graduates were practicing in Quebec, a number that compares very favourably to the practice patterns of medical school graduates elsewhere in Canada. Moreover, almost 40% of the medical residents who come to train at McGill are Canadians from outside of Quebec; and almost a third of these medical residents ultimately take up practice in Quebec. This more than balances the loss of graduates from our medical school who do their residency and ultimately take up a career elsewhere.

Note here that the medical residents we have attracted have received their undergraduate medical training elsewhere and bring their training and talent into Quebec at no cost to Quebec and for Quebec's sustained benefit.

McGill's medical school does, and has historically, recruited high quality clinical and research talent to Quebec; it attracts a disproportionate share of outside research funding into Quebec, and, it fosters Quebec's participation in distinguished international knowledge, technology, investment and practice networks. It is these very networks that create strategies in times of medical crisis such as when we confront West Nile Virus and SARS. It is these networks that create sustained economic and healthcare benefits through access to global resources. The international talent reflected in the researchers, heads of clinics and leaders of medical research networks here in Quebec today, in fact the Shriners' Hospital itself, have come here in great part because of the magnet that McGill has created. In fact, Quebec and its people experience a strong and unique scale of net gain from the presence of McGill's medical school and its affiliated hospitals. So I celebrate our Faculty of Medicine, as do the very many of us who benefit directly from its experts, its world-renowned research, its distinguished healthcare services, its groundbreaking educational and training programs, and its contributions to the development of progressive and effective healthcare delivery systems and health policies. It is the envy of many other jurisdictions.

Let me now turn to our aspirations for Montreal. Since returning to this wonderful city, I have been well aware that the "magic of McGill" is, in so many respects, the "magic of Montreal".

Most of you have heard scholar Richard Florida and his colleagues argue that what creates truly world class cities is the combination of a diverse, highly educated talent pool, progressive technology capability, and, tolerance with an embracing of diversity. Clearly he is on to something that resonates for most of us. His analysis certainly reflects my own experience as I rediscover Montreal with adult eyes.

Montreal ranks very high on creativity indices. We are a city that is welcoming to people of different racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In addition, we provide a supportive environment for artists, scientists, writers, designers, engineers and musicians that serve as the core of our creative energy. We are home to a large and vibrant gay and lesbian community, a further indication that we embrace diversity. And what's more, we look good… We wear colours. We kiss - often - and not once, but twice, and Mon Dieu! sometimes three times. We celebrate ideas and we debate. Sometimes we just celebrate. We vote - and in high numbers. We care about this city and Quebec.

Montreal possesses an attitude to life and culture that enables people of remarkably diverse backgrounds to live and work effectively together. And McGill plays an important role here. Our faculty of music, for instance, the largest in the country, offers more than 450 public performances a year - more than one a day - performances that embrace orchestral and chamber music, acapella singing, and jazz, as well as longstanding partnerships with Société Radio-Canada/CBC to share our artistic riches with the rest of the country.

Montréal obtient des résultats honorables selon ces critères empiriques. Aussi éloquents que puissent être les travaux de Richard Florida pour beaucoup d'entre nous, ceux-ci peuvent donner lieu à des erreurs d'interprétation. Nous avons tendance en effet à nous identifier uniquement aux aspects de ses travaux qui témoignent de nos propres intérêts et activités. Il est ainsi intéressant de noter par exemple que Pittsburgh n'est pas une ville de niveau international, malgré un nombre important de titulaires de doctorat par habitant, l'importance de la technologie dans son économie et les investissements qui y sont consentis. Cela est dû au fait qu'elle ne possède pas les infrastructures culturelles et tolérantes qui font la réputation de Montréal. On peut y travailler, mais veut-on vraiment y vivre?

Cependant, ces caractéristiques à elles seules, ne peuvent créer un environnement sain et solidement implanté sans la présence d'une main d'œuvre éduquée, sans les outils technologiques essentiels et sans la capacité d'attirer des investissements. Montréal a les moyens de promouvoir l'intégration, et la synergie de tous ces atouts, souvent si divergents.

Nous avons donc un défi à relever, un défi digne à mes yeux de tous les efforts. Il nous appartient en effet d'atteindre un niveau supérieur de qualité de vie et un niveau supérieur de productivité, avec une main d'œuvre orientée vers le service. Il nous appartient de mettre en valeur tout ce qui fait de Montréal, une ville aussi tolérante, agréable et enchanteresse. Il faut capter tout ce que Montréal possède sur le plan intellectuel, scientifique et technologique afin d'en favoriser la synergie et l'intégration plutôt que de se contenter de la co-existence.

We all agree that there is no place like Montreal. Our universities are blessed with wonderful partners in the Mayor's office, at Montreal International, in industry, with the Government of Quebec, with Ottawa and with international collaborators. Fuelled with dedicated, strong leadership, strategic, targeted plans and a commitment to accountability in our progress towards clear goals, we are going to build dramatic successes from our unique assets and we are going to do it together.

Together, we will realize the full potential of Montreal as an international beacon of creativity, knowledge, technology, innovation and culture. Together we will spread Montreal's reputation as the singular destination of choice for talented and creative individuals from around the world. With you, McGill is committed to building on Montreal's already strong foundation as a ville universitaire, une ville du savoir, une ville du savoir-faire et une ville du savoir-vivre.

While you are all witnesses here today, who will judge our success in achieving these goals; I would like to close by congratulating the 73 young leaders who have been recognized today. These are the recipients of the Board of Trade's Awards for Outstanding Students. You students are an especially talented group of individuals living in one of the world's great cities at a time of rebirth for Montreal and at a unique time in your lives. Years from now, you especially will judge the fruits of our labours and I believe that you will look back, and marvel at what we have built here.

Thank you.

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