Forward-looking strategies key to ability to compete in knowledge society
Quebec needs to develop concrete education, research and innovation goals and strategies tied to a clear timeline that will enable it to compete and prosper in the knowledge economy, Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, told an audience at the Montreal Board of Trade today.
"We urgently need a new game plan that builds prosperity alongside social development, one that will have as much of an impact on the realities of today's Quebec as the Quiet Revolution had for the Quebec of Jean Lesage and René Lévesque," Munroe-Blum said.
"There are signs that the progress we have realized over the last 30 years is at risk and that Quebec is economically much more fragile than the rest of Canada and the United States," she said. "We are beginning to slide backwards," and Quebec is losing ground from the major strides in education, research and industry of the Quiet Revolution and of the 1980s. Quebec investments in education, research and innovation have not kept pace with the competition and as a result, Quebec's ability to compete for top talent and investment in the knowledge society is undermined.
"Quebec has come to an economic and demographic moment of decision. For all the progress we have made, we are now stalled," Munroe-Blum said.
In her remarks, Munroe-Blum underscored the strengths of Quebec and Montreal, including the university sector, that have resulted from Quebec's education and research investments in past years. Quebec has emerged as an important player in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, aerospace, telecommunications, information technology and software, as well as in the creative industries. Quebec also has the special advantage of being known as a society that reflects our strong commitment to social values and social responsibility, she said.
But Quebec is losing ground as other jurisdictions move forward. Investment in university research has been declining year over year, across every disciplinary field, at a time when other jurisdictions, including Toronto, Edmonton and Boston, are investing massively in research and efforts to recruit the very top talent. For the first time in recent history, last year 13 Quebec universities fell back in research achievements, the worst showing in Canada. Quebec university graduation rates, after years of increasing, slid to 27 per cent and, notwithstanding strong government investments, are stagnating.
As if that were not bad enough, she said, "Quebec displays from time to time an almost suicidal capacity to undermine its competitive assets. While Montreal boasts about competing with Boston as one of the top two cities in North America with respect to the number of university students per capita, we treat as a disadvantage what Boston and other great world cities celebrate; that is, the fact that we have two great faculties of medicine in our city.
"We have become so addicted to petty politics and hurtful and regressive positioning that Montreal has for over a decade deprived its citizenry of the cutting-edge academic hospitals that it requires to serve the health needs of its citizens, to generate the knowledge, technology, innovation and service upon which all modern jurisdictions depend. Our paralysis in creating the great academic hospitals that will uniquely benefit all Quebecers is an outrage that none of us should stand for."
Munroe-Blum said Quebec and Montreal must aim immediately to increase productivity and reinforce existing regional economic clusters through policies that support education, innovation and strategic cross-sector partnerships in order to attract and retain the next generation of Quebecers, to position Montreal as a true world city, and to make Quebec a place where people from around the world want to live and invest.
She said Quebec must aim much higher for its universities, with an international outlook and increased university participation and degree completion at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
"To move ahead, we must embrace this next phase of development – now fully completing the dream of Quebec's Quiet Revolution for the coming generation. The world is not slowing down. It's speeding up. We cannot afford to let it pass us by," she said.
Founded in 1821, McGill University is one of Canada's leading research-intensive universities. McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools, offering more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. There are approximately 24,000 undergraduate students and more than 7,000 graduate students at McGill's two campuses in Montreal, Canada. McGill is one of two Canadian members of the American Association of Universities. For additional information, please visit www.mcgill.ca.
"For a New Quiet Revolution/Pour une nouvelle Révolution tranquille"
(speech to the Montreal Board of Trade/Chambre de Commerce du Montréal Métropolitain)