This op-ed by Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia and chair of the board of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, was published in the University World News on May 20, 2012.
Building prosperity in these challenging times requires that nations reach out beyond their borders, more than ever before, to establish strategic international connections. Increasingly, the right doors are being opened and the path to prosperity is being constructed through partnerships being forged by universities in research, innovation and higher education.
Canada’s universities recognise the need to build and strengthen international collaboration with nations that are making bold investments in education and research. High on that list is Brazil.
That’s why 30 university presidents from across Canada embarked on an unprecedented mission to Brazil from 25 April to 2 May 2012.
My colleagues and I met with the leaders of Brazilian universities and research networks, government officials and private sector partners who share our objective of advancing research, innovation and higher education connections between Canada and Brazil.
The importance of this mission is underlined by the fact that Canada’s Governor General David Johnston was asked by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper to lead the mission.
A fruitful investment
It was the largest-ever international mission of Canadian university presidents, and has already proved to be a most fruitful investment of time, energy and ideas. What we witnessed during our time in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Campinas and Brasilia is a quickening in higher education relations between our countries.
During our week-long visit, 75 new university partnerships and scholarship programmes were announced and meaningful discussions set the stage for even greater collaboration in the years ahead.
In addition to pursuing collaborative research, both countries are keen to advance an innovation agenda. This mission included opportunities for university presidents to meet with Brazilian private sector leaders.
Canada’s private sector shares the goal of strengthening partnerships with Brazil, and in São Paulo partners from both countries explored successful models of university-industry linkages to advance research and innovation in common areas of interest.
The steps that Canada and Brazil are taking together will open the door to new worlds that we can only imagine for our students and faculty. They are investments that will benefit our economies through innovation, our societies through higher education, and the world as a whole through the creation of new knowledge through research.
The benefits of exchange
These days, vast amounts of international research and enterprise can be accomplished virtually, through computer-mediated communications, and this is a great enabler of global collaboration.
But there is something essential and irreplaceable about the opportunity for students and faculty to take actual, physical steps beyond the geographic borders of their native countries and enter a larger world.
Especially for students, the benefits include access to people, information, expertise, facilities and resources that are not readily available to them at home. But the advantages of international study in higher education extend much further than this. International study is – or should be – a transformative experience.
Different cultures, different languages and different ways of doing things have a way of expanding our minds and our capabilities. I know of no more effective way of cultivating creative, engaged global citizens capable of contributing meaningfully to their society. Our world and our economy are hungry for such people.
It is in recognition of this need that Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has inaugurated the Science Without Borders programme, which aims to help more than 100,000 Brazilian students to study abroad. We recognise the value of this effort and admire its bold commitment. Canada’s universities are ready to welcome 12,000 of these students.
One of the themes reinforced during our Brazil mission was that truly meaningful international partnerships emerge from people-to-people connections. To be effective, they have to be so much more than words on the page.
Personal connections provide durable bonds that ensure two-way flows of knowledge, innovation and business opportunities. Personal bonds not only cross borders, but are much more sustainable through time and inevitable difficulties.
This mission allowed those personal connections to take shape.
Putting words into action
Now we are back at home and mobilising our university communities to put those words into action. We are connecting researchers with Brazilian scientists and enhancing mobility opportunities for both students and faculty.
Most importantly, we are putting into action a commitment to build on the momentum of our mission, to return to Brazil and to build even stronger connections in the years ahead for the benefit of the people of both countries.