Christine Tausig Ford
Christine Tausig Ford
Vice-president and Chief operating officer

Moving forward


The Canadian university presidents’ mission to Brazil has wrapped up, and now follow-up begins.

Canadian presidents have pledged to return again to Brazil – to follow up, keep learning, and to deepen the partnerships that have been built over the past days. They’ll be followed by others from their institutions, especially faculty members and students, who will be making the lasting “person-to-person” connections.

In total, Canada’s universities signed 75 formal partnerships, agreements and scholarship programs while in Brazil, worth about $6.7 million. Mission participants also laid the foundation for strong collaboration on Brazil’s ambitious Science without Borders program, which will see more than 100,000 Brazilian undergraduates, PhD and postdoctoral students fan out worldwide over the next few years to widen their knowledge and their horizons.

While the AUCC delegation was in Brazil, its president Dilma Rousseff announced that her country will allocate up to 12,000 of those Science without Borders students to Canada – the second highest number after the United States, which will receive about 16,000.

“We”ve seen a lot of delegations come before who are interested in Science without Borders,” said Carlos Nobre, national secretary in Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. “But we’ve never had 30 university presidents. I’m very impressed.”

So what are the highlights of the Brazil mission? Certainly, for the university presidents who took part, the days were full. Up most days for a 7 a.m. briefing, we visited university campuses, research labs and government offices. In each one, we were warmly received (almost invariably meeting someone who had studied or conducted research in Canada at some point in their academic careers.)

Meetings often extended until late in the evening – and as always I was impressed by the energy, commitment and global outlook of Canada’s university presidents.

The connections that were made – and that already existed – are real. At the Brazil synchrotron near UNICAMP, we met a University of Guelph researcher collaborating on a research project, and watched as the president of the University of Saskatchewan, Peter MacKinnon, linked Brazil’s synchrotron with Canada’s, which is located at the U of S, for an experiment across borders. At Universidade de Brasilia, meanwhile, the head of its Institute for Sustainability announced proudly that he had done his PhD at the Université du Québec à Montréal. And at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, we met a researcher who had just returned from Montreal, where she had been working with Canadian colleagues on new ocean technologies.

Everywhere we went, we met students keen to study at Canadian universities. In fact, Canada was described by the rector of the Universidade de Brasilia as one of the top “dream countries” for Brazilian students.

This fall, some of those Brazilian students will set foot in Canadian university classrooms for the first time. If the energy for collaboration we saw in Brazil last week is any indication, they will be followed by many more.

We also saw first-hand the remarkable commitment of Brazil’s private sector to research and innovation – where companies donate one percent of total revenues to research, and where the private sector contributed an additional 26,000 scholarships to the Science without Borders program.

The AUCC mission to Brazil was unprecedented in its size and scope, and it demonstrated the value to both countries of international research collaboration and faculty and student mobility. “We don’t talk about brain drain or brain gain anymore,” Dr. Nobre told us. “We talk about brain circulation. We want to open up Brazil to international collaboration on a vastly larger scale than before.”

University education, research and innovation are clearly on the rise in Brazil – and those of us on the AUCC mission came away deeply impressed by the immense and inspiring ambition and pace of Brazil’s progress.


Connected by a beam of light


Separated by thousands of kilometres, researchers on two continents took a step closer to understanding Crohn’s disease on Saturday.

University of Saskatchewan President Peter MacKinnon was in Brazil’s Synchrotron Light Laboratory, located in Campinas near the mega-city of São Paolo. On the computer screens in front of him were some familiar faces – researchers back home at the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Light Source synchrotron.

His Excellency, the Right Hon. David Johnston, Governor General and to his left , Peter MacKinnon, president of the University of Saskatchewan, participating in a live experiment done in conjunction with the Canadian Light Source Sychrotron in Saskatoon © MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall.

I watched Prof. MacKinnon wave to his colleagues. Then I turned to see the image of a piece of intestine from a Crohn’s disease patient, on the computer screens in Campinas. It had been sent using the Saskatoon beamline, with the help of new software developed at the Canadian synchrotron. In moments, the Brazilian researchers had started experimental scans of the tissue samples and began analyzing the resulting data.

“This is an amazing example of new opportunities for research and collaboration available to scientists and graduate students,” Prof. MacKinnon commented. (He had conducted the same experiment earlier in the day, under the watchful eyes of Canada’s Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston.)

The experiment was part of a tour of Brazil’s synchrotron for some 30 Canadian university presidents, who are here to build research and mobility links with colleagues in Brazil. During the mission, the Canadian presidents have signed some 75 agreements to solidify their partnerships with Brazilian colleagues.

Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory in Campinas, Brazil. © MCpl Dany Veillette, Rideau Hall.

Before visiting the synchrotron, the Canadians had been to the nearby Campinas university known as UNICAMP, a high tech university that spares no effort to attract the top Brazilian and international students and faculty.

Linking the synchrotrons brings benefits to both Brazil and Canada, Prof. MacKinnon told me. “It’s tremendously efficient. A company in Saskatoon that wants to do a certain kind of research, for which we don’t have the right kind of beam lines, can now use the synchrotron in Brazil.”

So instead of Canada needing to build a whole new beamline for its synchrotron, researchers can join forces through this kind of international collaboration.

Synchrotrons are used particularly by researchers and companies working in the biosciences and nanomaterials.

While at the Brazil synchrotron, I also met up with Stefan Kycia, a professor of physics at the University of Guelph who is working with colleagues at Brazil and Canada’s synchrotrons on a project known as the Brockhouse Sector (named after Canadian Nobel prize winning physicist and McMaster University professor, the late Bertram Brockhouse). The project aims to establish a cutting-edge x-ray scattering presence that will support experiments by scientists in areas such as physics, chemistry, environmental science and geology.

“We’re not just collaborating for fun,” said Dr. Kycia. “It’s necessary for survival” in a big science world. Funding for the Brockhouse project has come from Canada’s federal government, provincial governments including Ontario and Quebec, IBM and Petrobras.

“Instead of duplicating our efforts, we are using each other’s capacities and that just makes sense,” Dr. Kycia added.

As for the Brazilians, they were impressed by the size of the Canadian university delegation, and its serious intent. The Brazilians mean business, too. They’re planning to build an even more powerful state-of-the-art synchrotron called Sirius, which they expect will be ready by 2016.

Why that date? They plan to use their new synchrotron to light the Olympic torch, which will make its way to Brazil in four years. Brazil’s scientists expect to be ready for it.


“Together we can do great things”


His views are shaped by a deep and passionate commitment to innovation and international education. Everywhere he goes in Brazil, His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, reaches out to young people, engaging them, encouraging them and talking about the values that bring Canada and Brazil together.

His Excellency is leading AUCC’s mission to Brazil. A compelling speaker, he knows the university community well. The father of five daughters, all of whom pursued student exchanges and university studies outside Canada, he is a proud Canadian with a global outlook – just as he was when he led two outstanding Canadian universities, McGill University and the University of Waterloo. (While he was at McGill, he was also chair of AUCC’s board.)

Watching him over these last days, I’ve been impressed as always by his ability to connect with people, especially young people. Last night we were at a reception for young Brazilian students who are part of the Sciences without Borders program, an ambitious vision that will see some 100,000 Brazilian students study abroad. Earlier this week, His Excellency announced that Canada would host 12,000 of these students, not just for postsecondary studies, but in a uniquely Canadian twist, for internships and work-study experiences in Canadian businesses and research labs. That opportunity to put theory into practice will give young Brazilians a real taste of life in our country. Yesterday, Mr. Johnston was at his most energized when he spoke to those students, laughing, posing for pictures, and taking a deep interest in their study plans.

Their Excellencies, the Right Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada and Mrs. Sharon Johnston meet with scholarship recipients of the Brazilian Science without Borders program.

Earlier this week, His Excellency spoke to a group of Brazilian and Canadian university presidents who are deepening higher education and research collaboration between our two countries. He was introduced by Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia and chair of the AUCC Board, who used the analogy of a shared passion to set the stage for the Governor General’s remarks.

Hockey, said Prof. Toope, is a lot like futebol (or soccer) in Brazil – competitive and tenacious, demanding strength and manifold skills, but also teamwork and collaboration. In fact, Prof. Toope went on, those words could describe the AUCC mission to Brazil equally well. “The people of Canada and Brazil are also engaged in a globally competitive game of skill, a game that is fast and getting faster, and one in which we can only compete with teamwork, not just nationally but amongst nations.”

Then the Governor General took the stage, and told the compelling story of how he had grown up in northern Ontario, leaving first to go to Harvard University to study and play hockey, and then moving on to Cambridge University. But despite the fears of his high school principal – who wouldn’t sign a letter of reference for the young David Johnston because he was afraid he would never come back home – Mr. Johnston returned to Canada, broadened in every way, and, in his words, “a considerably better educator through those international experiences”.

At the roundtable, His Excellency spoke directly to the Canadian and Brazilian university presidents, as a former colleague. He urged them to make the partnerships they are creating between Canada and Brazil powerful and lasting. “Let’s turn that old saying around,” he said. “Too many times, when all is said and done, there is more said than done.” Instead, he urged the presidents to be champions for their institutions, making sure to stretch and challenge the young Brazilians who will come to Canada, and the Canadians who will study and conduct research here in Brazil.

“Canada needs Brazil,” he said simply. “Together we can do great things.”


And we’re off


Waiting at Pearson Airport in Toronto to board our overnight flight to São Paolo, then on to Rio. The flight leaves at midnight, and we get into São Paolo around 11 a.m. tomorrow morning.

I’m in the company of a dozen university presidents, who have spent the last few days at the AUCC membership meetings. We’re the last group of some 30 university presidents who are heading to Brazil today to build higher education and research linkages.

At the AUCC meetings, presidents have been listening to GE Canada’s Elyse Allan talk about innovation and creativity – and about the importance of ensuring Canadian students graduate with a global outlook and knowledge of the world. They’ve had discussions about how to increase student mobility across Canada. How to make sure undergraduates get more opportunities for hands-on research. How to work closely with their local communities.

And now we are off to Brazil, to put into practice many of the things we’ve talked about over the last days. We’re launching into a whirlwind of meetings, partnership announcements, and intensive discussions with academic partners in Brazil. In the end, Canadian students will see the benefits. They’ll learn more about the world when they study in Canadian classrooms alongside students from this South American economic powerhouse. Their learning will be enriched by faculty who undertake new and exciting research partnerships with colleagues in Brazil. And some of the Canadian students will get a chance to see the Brazilian economy and culture first-hand, with new opportunities to study abroad and gain that global experience that GE Canada and other companies find so valuable.

Yes, the next few days will be a whirlwind – but the payback will be long-term for our Canadian university students.

I can’t wait to see it all first-hand.