This op-ed was published in The Hill Times on September 15, 2021
By Paul Davidson, president and CEO of Universities Canada.
For those in the education sector, September is always a time of hope and promise. This year, those hopes are tempered by threats of a fourth wave of the pandemic. But to see students arrive on campus, to see residences and classrooms open safely, and to see researchers back in labs at higher levels gives confidence that Canada will get through the pandemic and prosper once again. Because investing in people and ideas is always the right thing to do.
At every stage of the pandemic, Canada’s universities have contributed to the national effort – from providing chemical reagents and scarce PPE in the early days of the first wave, to enabling frontline health care workers to stay in university residences to protect their families. Canada’s universities moved swiftly to meet the needs of people in their communities and to find solutions the world needs.
Through the pandemic, Canada’s universities also delivered by providing educational opportunities for 1.4 million students, advancing research, serving as stabilizers in communities faced by disruption and catalyzing recovery. They worked to expedite vaccine research, drive public health innovation, and provide safe, quality education. As a $39 billion dollar sector, universities employ 410,000 people and purchase products and services in their communities. In the past ten years, they’ve helped 1.9 million graduates find meaningful employment, and in the 2018/19 academic year alone, universities performed $15 billion in research and development.
Whether from bedrooms or kitchen tables, through webinars or endless emails, those at Canada’s universities did their part in the first three waves of the pandemic and will continue to do their part going forward. Education, research, innovation and the exchange of ideas not only carried on but intensified during the greatest global health crisis in generations.
And now, as students, faculty and researchers around the country return to campus, we know that for Canada to succeed, our universities must be strong. Investing in people and ideas is the key to Canada’s success. In a global economy that is unpredictable and constantly changing, our higher education system is our competitive advantage.
Every nation is looking to spur activity post-COVID-19. Aging societies and foreign investors around the world are turning to countries with highly skilled workforces, and as Sophie D’Amours, the Rector of Université Laval and chair of Universities Canada puts it, “The race for talent will be the gold rush of the 2020s.”
Five years ago, universities made public commitments to Canadians with a prescient introduction. “We live in a world where economic, social and personal fulfillment depends less on what we know and more upon what we are able to learn, how we think and the degree to which we are able to respond to change around us. As centres of learning and discovery, universities play a crucial role in this process. Universities transform the lives of people, who in turn transform our communities, our country and the world.”
In recent days, universities have reopened their doors. They are committed to ensuring vibrant campus life will make a safe comeback as they protect health and safety and support Canada’s recovery.
Universities are well positioned to help Canada make a strong economic and social comeback. Already, decades of fundamental research conducted at universities across the country have helped to develop life-saving vaccines and to understand and address the social impacts of the pandemic. The ideas and research cultivated at universities will continue to support Canada’s recovery and are essential to securing a healthier, greener, more vibrant and inclusive future.
So, as classroom doors reopen, as the residences return to life, and the lecture halls, seminars and laboratories welcome back Canada’s next generation, let’s be sure they can succeed by investing in people and ideas.
Paul Davidson is president and CEO of Universities Canada.
Tagged: Research and innovation
About Universities Canada
Universities Canada is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, advancing higher education, research and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians.