Jean-Marc Mangin, Executive Director, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
“I love you, please change.”
These words succinctly capture Stephen Toope’s message to Canadian universities in his rich, nuanced and compelling October 2014 report for Taking Action for Canada: Jobs and Skills for the 21st Century. An initiative of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, Taking Action for Canada seeks to bring together educators, governments and businesses to develop solutions and best practices for keeping the next generation of Canadian workers engaged.
Toope, a scholar of international law, is President-Elect of the Federation. He has also served as President of the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, President of the University of British Columbia, and has been named Director of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. He has experienced and continues to address the challenges facing universities.
Universities, he says in his report, need “vital change,” not “radical transformation.”
There is a lot that already works; the positive perception of university education among Canadians and the high employment rates of university graduates corroborate this claim. But to continue to prepare students for success in work and research, Toope proposes that universities must look into five key areas of change. These are:
- Meeting students’ new ways of learning, which comprise unrestricted access to an unprecedented wealth of digital information. In this regard, universities must limit barriers to information access while helping students navigate this information with a critical eye
- Creating a differentiated academic experience, rooted in place, to continue drawing students to an on-campus learning experience that cannot be provided by non-place settings, like MOOCs. This experience should increasingly include off-campus experiential learning with government, business and NGO partners in Canada and overseas.
- Promoting intercultural fluency and international connectivity, by admitting more international students and facilitating intercultural exchange within Canada’s own diverse student body and labour force. Businesses and government must work with universities to achieve this goal.
- Moving beyond hyperbolized claims about the liberal arts, which neither reflect the actual proportion of students who study liberal arts disciplines, nor their successful employment outcomes. Universities and governments must provide students with facts about the labour market, not tropes.
- Addressing urgently the underrepresentation of aboriginal Canadians in education and work, by providing more funding and culturally sensitive opportunities for Aboriginal students entering post-secondary education. Government and businesses have a key role to play in providing this funding and ensuring ease of access.
Toope’s report provides forward-looking and attainable recommendations that call on universities, businesses and governments to take action. Honouring the long standing mission of universities to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge, the report is a grounded testimony, celebrating what already works and suggesting practical avenues to build upon this success.
Image: Taking Action for Canada, Council of Chief Executives (CCCE)