MAY 20, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mesdames et Messieurs, and fellow panelists:
I am delighted to be able to join you this morning, and I only regret that I have not been able to be present for the entire conference, which no doubt has been very stimulating and constructive. Certainly the brief portion which I attended yesterday afternoon was most interesting to me. The reason I was unable to be here earlier is that I was in England attending a meeting of the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents with our British counterparts and colleagues. Interestingly, we have been discussing - in a rather different frame of reference - some of the same themes that may have been of interest to you at this conference: the importance of international experience and collaborations both in research and in the student experience, the impact of technology in broadening access to learning and the international experience, and the role of partnerships bringing together universities, the private sector, and government.
Based on the agenda for your conference, I surmise that you have been considering a variety of quite practical and specific issues relating to business practices and entrepreneurship in the international context. I would like to reflect on somewhat broader issues - how universities are evolving in a rapidly changing world, and the relationships between universities and the business enterprise and those involved in it.
We are told that capitalist societies are now part of the knowledge based economy, and that a critical ingredient in this new economy is investment in knowledge - which involves both the communication and transfer of knowledge through education and the creation of knowledge through research. We need both education and research - the education of a highly flexible labour force possessed of very complex and transferable skills; and the conduct of basic research with benefits for innovation in technical and institutional development, and more applied research and development impacting economic productivity and competitiveness. The Canadian government has recognized the importance of significant investment in education in this knowledge based economy, for example, in the establishment of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) [Federal budget, February 18, 1997], which provides funds to support research infrastructure and innovation. In announcing the CFI [February 17, 1997], Prime Minister Jean Chr�ien said: Technology and globalization are transforming economic activity. Governments cannot change this. Nations cannot hide from it. What we can do and are doing is to work to ensure that Canada and Canadians are winners in this new global economy. An economy which above all focuses on knowledge and our knowledge capacity. That means helping our universities modernize and enhance their science capacity. It means helping our teaching hospitals improve their research capacity. It means increasing our investments in new technologies, research and development. The Speech from the Throne [October 1999] echoed these sentiments: A skilled workforce and a capacity to innovate continuously are crucial building blocks of a successful 21st century economy. And again in 2001, the Throne Speech stated: To succeed in the knowledge economy, Canada will need people with advanced skills and entrepreneurial spirit. I quote all this to show you what a persistent theme this has been with our federal government, one of whose representatives has already addressed you this morning.
And this is where the universities come in. It is this very commitment to innovation and knowledge - that is, knowledge resulting from carefully designed, independent research, grounded in theory, meeting high ethical standards, and subject to peer review - and the emphasis on fostering analytic and communication skills, that have been fundamental to the mission of universities worldwide for many years. (Traditionally, the liberal arts have been seen as the core of this kind of broadly-based approach to education.) In recent years, however, interest in learning for the sake of learning and personal growth has to some extent been superceded by students demand for more career-oriented, applied study, either in concert with or instead of a more general education. The universities, therefore, (sometimes with reluctance) have responded by beginning to offer programs in information technology and business and to meet this student demand. Interestingly, the recent down-sizing in the technology industry, typified by the much-publicized situation at Nortel, may signal a return to what universities have always held to be true: the value of the broad liberal education. We may, as a result, see renewed student interest in a broader education, as graduates who pursued specialized technology-related degrees find themselves out of work and without the transferable skills that would allow them to move easily to positions in other sectors and fields. Ironically, employers have continued to tell us consistently -even in the face of student demand for specialized career-oriented programming - that they would prefer to employ university graduates possessed of the skills and qualities developed through a broad education: imagination, flexibility, and the ability to understand complex reasoning, to present clear, well-documented, and articulate arguments, and to apply their critical skills to solving a range of problems. It seems likely, then, that the value of a broad education, whether it be in the arts, the fine arts, the sciences, or the professions, will continue to be recognized. At the same time, universities will strive to address students need for career-related opportunities through development of, for example, certificates and diplomas to be taken with or separate from degree programs, joint programs with other more applied institutions such as colleges or polytechnics, work/study programmes, internship or co-op programmes, and short credit courses or even non-credit courses and programmes.
What does this mean for you? Crucial to you as young entrepreneurs, living and working in this new knowledge economy, as knowledge executives to use a phrase sometimes used, crucial to you are skills relating to innovation, flexibility, and the development of international perspectives. In these terms, universities are ideally suited to prepare entrepreneurs. With their emphasis on the creation and exploration of new fields of knowledge (both disciplinary and crossing disciplinary borders), on cutting-edge research and teaching, and on questioning and intellectual exchange, universities, whatever the field of study, foster the development of fertile and nimble minds - minds accustomed to thinking outside the box, to use the clich� We are always told that entrepreneurs must be prepared to take risks, but of course this is not just any risk - they must be able to analyze the benefits and costs and evaluate the ethical implications to determine which risks are worth taking.
Increasingly universities are turning their attention to global perspectives, including issues of cultural diversity, globalization, and internationalization. Canada has been described as a cultural mosaic - a place where people of many diasporic cultures, religions, and ethnicities come together while retaining their own uniqueness; indeed the intersection of these cultural influences has helped to create Canada and give our country its identity. Not only is the university I know best - York University in Toronto - a microcosm of this multi-cultural Canadian society, reportedly the most diverse university in Canada, but this diversity is something we welcome and celebrate. Indeed, we try explicitly to build an appreciation of a variety of cultural perspectives into our curriculum, taking advantage of the approaches our students bring.
Internationalization is a strategic objective in our academic planning. We have developed a number of area studies programmes which take an interdisciplinary approach to various regions (e.g., European Studies, African Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, East Asian Studies, South Asian Studies), as well as a programme which examines international development from a variety of perspectives, and programmes with international components such as the innovative International BBA and the highly successful International MBA at our Schulich School of Business. And we have developed a multitude of formal exchange agreements for study and research with partner institutions around the world, and more or less formal collaborations with researchers, government agencies, and NGOs.
Of course, the explosion in technological development is having an enormous impact on what we can do internationally - bringing the university to the world and the world to the university. Anywhere there is a computer with internet access, students have opportunities to choose among an array of university programmes and courses. This competitive environment puts great onus on us to ensure that our programmes are of outstanding quality, relevant, and responsive to student needs. Technology also facilitates life-long learning, which is becoming increasingly attractive and important for a variety of reasons: to up-grade qualifications, explore new areas of study, or simply for interest.
A relatively recent development for universities has been the forging of formal direct partnerships between universities and the private sector (and sometimes government), primarily in the area of research. The Canadian Foundation for Innovation, to which I referred earlier, is an example of the initiation of such partnerships: the federal government provides funds, but requires matching funds from private sources, as well as the universities themselves. These partnerships, of course, have not always been an easy alliance; with them comes the question of the extent to which business then controls research and threatens academic freedom. While we must be aware of these issues, it is safe to say that these new partnerships have thus far proven to be fruitful for all parties. The partnerships have brought to universities much-needed funding to support important research and the training of graduate students, and to the private sector the results of highly relevant research by the brightest minds in the country. In a situation where government support for universities is declining, and we must rely increasingly on tuition fees and various forms of private funding to support the universities mission, there seems little doubt that these partnerships will grow and flourish.
An excellent example of the spirit of innovation and internationalization, and of the powerful partnerships which can be developed among universities, business, and government, of which I have been speaking is, of course, Sujit Chowdhury, the Secretary General of this Summit - and the Institute for Leadership Development he pioneered. Sujit is a York University graduate [MES 1998], and the ILD has been located on the York campus since its inception, although with no formal link whatsoever. It has grown dramatically in activities and reputation, has involved several of our senior faculty members as consultants (two of whom you have seen at this Summit), and has contributed substantially to the universitys profile internationally. Sujit has now determined the next stage in ILDs development - a transformation of ILD into the World Trade University, a project announced earlier at the Summit (and for which I was not present). This will be an exciting project, bringing together the best of ILDs programming for young entrepreneurs and complementing it with critical theoretical university-based curriculum. I wish ILD well, as it moves forward in this new endeavour.