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Commentary - August 26, 2015

The following op-ed was published in today’s Montreal Gazette and posted online by the Vancouver Sun, The Province, The Leader Post, Edmonton Journal, Star Phoenix, Calgary Herald, Ottawa Citizen, Windsor Star and on

By Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada


Paul Davidson

Young people across Canada will soon be packing up and heading off to university for the fall semester. Those of us a little older may feel a twinge of envy, as we remember our own time on leafy campuses in September. But in fact their experience will be quite unlike ours. More than ever before, these students will be learning by doing.

Today more than 50 percent of undergraduate university students across all fields of study will have a co-op, internship or service learning experience over the course of their studies. And that number is growing.

It’s pretty clear how this benefits students. They’re gaining workplace experience and building a network to help them land that crucial first job. They’re learning to transfer new knowledge and skills to the workplace and preparing to hit the ground running after graduation. But what’s in it for the employer?

Simply put, students are good for the bottom line. And Canada can ill afford to forego what’s good for the bottom line.

Smart employers are drawing on the energy, knowledge and skills of university students to bring fresh thinking to business challenges.  Talented students help open up new markets, find efficiencies on the production line and bring innovative thinking to business operations.

Employers get access to a wealth of new knowledge and skills, while both students and employers get to ‘test drive’ the match. But not nearly enough small- and medium-size businesses take on co-op and internship students. That’s the big disconnect in Canada’s economy. Too often, critics wring their hands at the challenges of an increasingly competitive and complex marketplace, while not building bridges to the ready talent in our universities and colleges.

Students see the value. They’re savvy and want an edge in the job market. The number of university students participating in co-op programs has grown by 25 percent in recent years – there were approximately 53,000 students in university co-op programs in 2007 compared to more than 65,000 in 2013. Fifty-nine universities now offer students more than 1,000 co-op programs. But even at that level, it doesn’t satisfy student demand, because not enough employers participate in co-op programs.

Canada needs the private sector to step up and do more to take advantage of the largely untapped potential of university students – from undergraduates to PhDs – to make businesses stronger and advance our competitive advantage.

Enterprises already seizing the opportunity are reaping the benefits. Four out of five employers who take on co-op and internship students say these hires add value to their company as a source of new talent and as future employees with workplace skills. Two-thirds say these students contribute new ideas to the company and are effective in their work.

The value of co-ops and internships for employers is evident in the hiring process. Research shows that graduates coming out of university co-op programs are hired faster and enjoy a 30-40 percent income premium over graduates with no co-op experience.

The stats are just part of the story. Universities Canada recognizes the power of students sharing their stories in their own words. That’s why we recently launched a new online resource at It’s where a public relations student tells us about brainstorming with senior staff at a marketing firm, and a computer science student says his placement as a software designer will put him ahead of the curve when it comes time to finding a job.  We’re also sharing the perspective of employers. They tell us students bring fresh energy to their teams and the latest knowledge and technical skills to their operations.

These student placements also provide our universities with valuable employer feedback on the performance of their students.

The university community welcomes new initiatives designed to strengthen collaboration with the private sector to ensure Canada’s workforce is ready for the future. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has made enhanced opportunities for co-ops and internships a pre-election priority in its electoral platform, A Canada That Wins. Canada’s Manufacturers’ and Exporters have recently launched a new initiative to support work integrated learning amongst their member firms. And it is encouraging to see that the Canadian Council of Chief Executives has launched a new Business-Higher Education Roundtable as a strategic opportunity to bring together the private sector, university, college and polytechnic leaders to share information and objectives for driving Canada’s future prosperity. This kind of collaboration holds promise.

There is a role for the federal government to play. A recent Universities Canada survey of employers shows that new financial incentives for private sector partners, especially small- and medium-size enterprises would enable them to take on more student co-op and quality internship placements.

There is no reason Canada cannot be a global leader in experiential learning. More business leaders have to see themselves in the equation, connecting the dots to improved productivity and expanded markets. Higher education, the private sector and government must commit to a more meaningful, long-term dialogue and action plan to better connect our changing economy and workplaces with students.

Getting it right will bring both short- and long-term benefits to business, and build the highly productive and innovative future workforce Canada needs to be globally competitive. Those students preparing to get back to class are ready to do their part, in bringing new knowledge, energy and skills to the workplace. The private sector, universities and government need to work together to ensure that those workplace doors are open.

Commentary - August 17, 2015

This op-ed was published in the Hill Times on August 17, 2015

By Dr. Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary elizabeth-cannon-2012-crop

In a few weeks, close to a million undergraduate university students will head off to campuses across Canada. About a quarter of them are first-year students, and they’re in for a life-changing experience. The people they meet, the courses they take, and the projects they tackle outside of the classroom will shape their future – and Canada’s.

But what will that future look like? What’s in store for them after graduation?

Today’s university students are being prepared for a lifetime of learning.  They will enter a rapidly evolving labour market, where many of the jobs in highest demand didn’t even exist 15 years ago. They’ll need to be adaptable to new challenges, new skills and new opportunities.

Canada needs more highly trained university graduates to meet upcoming labour market shortages. Job projections by the Canadian government show that between 2013 and 2022, there will be more than 5.8 million job openings. More than 65 per cent of those will require postsecondary training.

Canada’s universities are doing their part to equip graduates with the experience, skills, and flexibility they’ll need to succeed in the workplace. Part of that involves hands-on research, starting as early as first year.

Employers today are looking for more than just a credential. They want to hire people who can delve into open problems and work creatively with people of different backgrounds. A 2013 survey by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives shows that problem-solving, communication, leadership, and analytical skills are among the top qualities that employers look for in new hires.

We often hear about the role of co-ops, internships, and other hands-on learning in fostering this broad skill set. More than half of today’s undergraduate students have a work-integrated learning experience during their studies. What we hear less about is the value of hands-on research.  But it’s also an integral part of the experiential learning toolkit.

Research skills can and should be learned early. Tackling an open-ended question, whether in a lab or a library, cultivates that inquisitive, problem-solving drive that helps students succeed in the world of work.

Research experience early in an academic career helps students create a unique body of expertise which differentiates them from their peers. It also allows them to dive into a subject that fascinates them; gaining insights and knowledge that will help them make career decisions.

A 2012 survey of undergraduates across Canada showed that 58 per cent of bachelor’s students are getting exposure to their professors’ research. That’s a good start, but universities are looking to do more.

There are inspiring examples across the country of universities helping undergraduates get their hands dirty through research. Institutions are leveraging their strength in research to provide better learning opportunities for our next generation of thinkers and doers.

At the University of Calgary, we’re creating a culture that integrates research with the undergraduate learning experience.  We want students to go beyond being consumers of knowledge, and instead develop the skills that allow them to create new knowledge – right from the get-go.

The University of Calgary offers a number of research awards and programs specifically for undergraduate students.  The Program for Undergraduate Research Experience, for example, funds students from across disciplines to undertake independent summer research projects as early as first year.  The Markin Undergraduate Student Research Program (USRP) in Health & Wellness supports students whose research interests lie specifically in the health field.

The students who participate in these programs are tackling real-world problems early in their academic careers. Karen Leung, a science student and a recipient of a Markin USRP, examined cross-cultural experiences of dementia, interviewing Alzheimer’s patients from four different cultural and linguistic communities in Canada.  Engineering student Jason Motkoski manufactured and tested a new laser tool to be used in surgery by a medical robot arm.

With guidance and leadership from faculty, students like Karen and Jason have experienced first-hand how research can contribute to new knowledge and solve real-world problems.

Hands-on research experience is becoming increasingly important in preparing today’s students for new economic and labour force realities.

When we see major investments that aim to expand the research capacity of Canadian institutions – for example, the new Canada First Research Excellence Fund – we must recognize their value in giving students exposure to world-leading research initiatives. And we need to continue to invest in research experiences for students, starting in first year.

Making the most of experiential learning – and hands-on research in particular – requires that universities, government and the private sector all recognize the value of these experiences in developing graduates who can assess challenges, analyze information and find solutions. We don’t know exactly what the economy of the future will look like, but we do know navigating it will require the creative thinking and problem-solving skills that research experiences nurture.

Commentary - August 10, 2015

This op-ed was published in the Moncton Times and Transcript and the Telegraph Journal on August 8, 2015

MountAllison_President_cropBy Robert Campbell, president and vice chancellor of Mount Allison University

Almost 10 million adult Canadians read newspaper content, and many of us head directly to the editorial and opinion pages. Why? It is in our nature to discuss, examine and share information and points of view. It is an essential part of what makes us human.

In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Harari maintains that it is not our ability to speak or communicate that differentiates us from other creatures. It is our ability to discuss. We are social animals. And discussing to problem-solve and cooperate is key to our survival.

And yet, we hear increasing skepticism about the value of studies in the humanities and social sciences, the precise fields of study that make us competent and effective when discussing and cooperating and being human. We ignore those studies at our peril.

I recently revisited the revamped Pier 21 in Halifax, which celebrates our character as a country of immigrants.  Multiculturalism has played a consequential role in Canada’s evolution. When Canadians live and discuss and cooperate together, we engage with a range and complexity of distinctive cultures, languages and sensibilities. The humanities and social sciences help us to understand and navigate these intersections. The study of history and literature, or sociology and anthropology, or philosophy and religion – they each add to our collective interpretation and understanding of who we are, the complexities that we confront and the possibilities of what we can achieve together.

These insights and perspectives give us a world view as well. Can we fully understand what is happening in Greece, Syria, China, or in the U.S. today without having a grounding in and understanding of the history, cultures and emotions that comprise these societies?

I am president of a university in Canada’s only officially bilingual province, one that is increasingly embracing our aboriginal heritage and receiving a substantial influx of new Canadians from across the globe. Ours is an increasingly diverse and textured community, and our students need a range of understanding and tools to be successful and useful participants in this complex world. We have produced 10 Rhodes scholars in the last dozen years and they have one thing in common: they all have a strong interdisciplinary background with grounding in social sciences and humanities.

Like many educators and leaders, I fundamentally believe that students in all disciplines need exposure to the insights of the social sciences and humanities. Whether an engineer designing new highways, an urban planner building new communities, or a designer creating social media tools – our graduates need to understand people, what motivates them, how cultures work and how a society and economy can cooperate and prosper.

Employers report time and again that the top skills that they look for in new hires are teamwork, problem-solving, planning, and communications. Employers want our graduates to be prepared and able to work with others, to define and figure out how to approach complex problems, to discuss and debate competing perspectives and ideas, and to collaborate effectively on plans and solutions. These are the precise tools and skills that are developed through programs in humanities and social sciences.

Employment data confirms this reality, as there is a healthy demand for liberal arts graduates. For example, there are almost 40,000 Canadians with a bachelor’s degree in history – 18 percent of whom work in management occupations and another 23 percent who work in business, finance, and administrative positions. And these grads are doing well. Full-time employees with degrees in history earn on average the same as grads with degrees in biological and biomedical sciences – above $65,000 a year.

Canada’s universities are encouraging more exposure to the humanities and social sciences through innovative interdisciplinary programs to equip students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields with the skills that will help them succeed in applying their technical knowledge to complex social problems.

I am a president of a complex organization as well as a professional researcher in postal and communication systems around the world. Whatever success and accomplishment that I might enjoy in these occupations is substantially related to the excellent liberal arts education that I received at Trent University, where I really learned how to think, research and communicate, and to understand social and economic systems, culture and the world.

Where do we find liberal arts grads in today’s labour market? Everywhere. And they can be found especially as leaders across all political, economic and social sectors. A recent U.K. study found showed that the majority of the world’s leaders with higher education have degrees in the social sciences and humanities. Their skills in negotiation, problem-solving and collaboration helped them to be successful.

Humanities and social sciences programs produce graduates who are ready to adapt to, engage in, and help manage our changing world. The challenges that we face as a global community – social, economic, environmental and ethical – are rooted in complex intersections of identity and culture, business and politics. We need leaders in our corporate, technological, political and community realms with the necessary interdisciplinary and humanitarian perspectives and understandings, if Canada is to develop, succeed and prosper in a stable and just way.

A Council of Canadian Academies’ report earlier this year concluded that in order to ensure future innovation and productivity growth, Canada needs a workforce with a balance of both STEM and non-STEM skills, such as those acquired and used in the liberal arts.

It is not a question of developing one group or the other. It is necessary to generate more high quality graduates in both areas.

We must encourage today’s students to learn from and be exposed to the liberal arts in ever greater numbers, if Canada is to develop the array of effective leaders and informed citizens that will make it a successful society in the future.

Media release - August 6, 2015

Canada’s universities preparing students for academic success, rewarding careers

OTTAWA – In the coming weeks more than a million undergraduate students are set to arrive on Canadian university campuses. Innovative learning opportunities will prepare them to hit the ground running after graduation.

Universities Canada is happy to provide journalists with data and interview opportunities related to the start of the new academic year. Learn how universities are nurturing Canada’s next generation of entrepreneurs, leading reconciliation efforts and preparing students for rewarding careers.

Some points of interest:

  • Today’s students are more connected than ever before to the world outside the classroom.  More than half of undergraduate students across all disciplines will take part in at least one internship, service learning or co-op experience, before graduation. (Source: Canadian University Survey Consortium, Graduating University Student Survey).
  • Between June 2008 and June 2015, about twice as many new net jobs were created for university graduates (1,065,000) than for college and trades graduates combined 620,000). (Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey).
  • Over their careers, university graduates earn on average 50 percent more than other full-time workers without a university degree. (Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey).
  • Ninety-seven percent of Canadian universities offer international experiences to students, including academic course work, service or volunteer opportunities, and research experience. (Source: Universities Canada Internationalization Survey).
  • Canada’s universities are committed to improving First Nations, Métis and Inuit students’ access and success in higher education. Canadian universities offer hundreds of programs designed to support Indigenous student achievement, with more than one-third offered off campus. (Universities Canada Aboriginal programs directory

More back to school facts and stats

Interview opportunities:

Universities Canada president Paul Davidson is available for media interviews related to the experiences and opportunities in store for students headed to university campuses this fall.

To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact:

Helen Murphy
assistant director, Communications
613-563-1236 ext. 238 or cell: 613-608-8749

Nadine Robitaille
communications officer
613-563-1236 ext. 306

Media release - July 28, 2015

OTTAWA – Excellence in Canadian university research is getting a major boost with the awarding of $350 million to university research projects in the first round of funding from the new Canada First Research Excellence Fund. The initial announcement of $114 million in funding for the University of Toronto’s “Medicine by Design” project in regenerative medicine was made today by Ed Holder, Minister of State (Science and Technology). Additional announcements are expected shortly.

CFREF was the largest budget commitment made in the federal government’s Economic Action Plan 2014.

The fund will inject $1.5 billion over seven years into internationally significant research initiatives that advance Canada as a global leader in research excellence and innovation. From about 40 proposals submitted in this first round, funded projects were selected in an open, competitive and peer-reviewed process.

The applications for this initial funding demonstrate the readiness of Canada’s universities to undertake large-scale research partnerships of global excellence and relevance. A second competition for up to $950 million in funding was launched today, providing increased opportunity for world-leading research teams to design projects that will fuel discovery and innovation.

“CFREF is a new initiative to advance Canadian research capacity and leadership in areas of global significance,” says Paul Davidson, president of Universities Canada. “Canada’s researchers are amongst the world’s best. CFREF will ensure Canadian leadership in groundbreaking work to the benefit of Canadians and the world.  We look forward to the next round of the competition which will offer even more opportunity to engage Canada’s next generation of top researchers in world-leading research programs and networks.”

Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, representing the interests of 97 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities.


Media Contact:

Helen Murphy
Assistant director of communications
Universities Canada/ Universités Canada
613 563-3961 ext. 238 or cell: 613 608-8749

Nadine Robitaille
Communications Officer
Universities Canada/ Universités Canada
phone: 613-563-3961 ext. 306

( Total - 286 )