Remarks by Stephen Toope
President of The University of British Columbia
and chair of the AUCC board of directors
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 26, 2012
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Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament;
What we are experiencing here today is evidence of a quickening in relations between Canada and Brazil. The words we have heard testify to the importance of this mission. So too does the very presence of the people who have chosen to be in this room today. Here, in addition to His Excellency [the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada] and our Brazilian friends representing our two governments, are Diane Ablonczy, Canada’s Minister of State for the Americas, and Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Minister of State for Science and Technology.
I can see, and could name, the presidents of nearly 30 Canadian universities. Here too are the rectors and representatives of more than 30 Brazilian universities with whom I look forward to closer acquaintanceship.
What draws us together is the collective will to step beyond our borders into a new and much larger world of collaboration. In a few hours, and over the next few days, we will bear witness to many new announcements of collaborative effort across our borders, and the work we do together during this mission will further accelerate this movement.
I don’t think that it is going too far to say that this is a momentous occasion. The steps we take together beyond our borders will open the door to worlds that we can only imagine. And these steps will return great benefit: to our economies through innovation, to our societies through higher education, and to the world as a whole through the creation of new knowledge through research.
Ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues of higher education, it is in our nature to be leaders in this movement across our borders. The work of universities uniquely encourages and requires that we step beyond the comfort of what is known into the promise and possibility of what has yet to be discovered. A sense of unyielding curiosity is likely to have drawn us into academic life in the first place. And our profession prizes the qualities of teamwork and sharing in a globally competitive environment. It is our daily work to gaze outward beyond our institutions and our countries while staying firmly rooted and aware of where we come from. We benefit our countries as catalysts of collaboration.
Canada and Brazil occupy different continents in different hemispheres, yet our countries share natural affinities. We both enjoy strong and diverse economies. We are both blessed with an abundance of natural resources and the environmental challenges of maximizing their value while minimizing negative impact. Each country embraces a sensitive frontier whose fate has global significance. In Canada’s case it is the Arctic. For Brazil it is the Amazon rainforest. And we both experience the advantages and the complexities of pluralistic, democratic societies that value individual liberty and human rights.
Addressing these kinds of qualities and their attendant questions are just what our universities live for. Our job is to make the world a better place. We do this by joining forces with the world’s best minds, wherever they live, to tackle the world’s toughest problems, globally and locally. We do this by preparing students to enter larger worlds – so that they, as global citizens, can surpass their teachers, and accomplish things that we may only dream of. We do this by working together with governments, civil society and industry to translate knowledge into practical action.
Canada and Brazil are well suited, together, to make the world a better place through innovation in those industries in which we share interests and expertise. We already know that these include:
Aerospace and transportation. Biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and health sciences. Engineering and nanotechnology. Information technology, creative media and communications. In principle there are no boundaries to how we might collaborate, but in practical terms these are some of the most fruitful areas for Brazilians and Canadians to benefit our respective societies through innovation. And let us not forget that the entire world is hungry for what we might discover in these areas and how we will apply those discoveries.
Stepping beyond our borders to create knowledge and to put innovation to work is something that our two governments are increasingly facilitating – through linkages such as that between Canada’s Department of Foreign affairs and International Trade and Brazil’s CAPES, (the Federal Agency for Support and Evaluation of Graduate Education).
But the impetus to connect across our borders is also more personal and specific. We see it driven by institutions from across Canada and Brazil.
And as is so often the case, we see it also driven by individual researchers whose curiosity prompts them to connect across borders. For example, Professor Muriel Gavira, at the School of Applied Sciences at the State University of Campinas, is working with Charlene Zietsma, a professor at the University of Victoria. Together they are studying the methods by which clean technology entrepreneurs are promoting adoption of their innovations in the marketplace.
The number of research publications with Brazilian and Canadian co-authors is growing. That number will grow even more quickly as a result of this mission.
We are also gaining expertise in crossing the borders that exist between the academy and industry. Four years ago, the University of Guelph, together with Kinross Gold, a mining company active in Canada and Brazil, established a network of government, university and private sector partners devoted to research and innovation in using natural resources more effectively with minimal environmental impact. Two years later, Kinross endowed a Chair of Environmental Governance at the University of Guelph, to be held by a succession of high-profile experts in the field.
These are just a few of many examples of existing collaboration. I will not steal the thunder of my colleagues, but you may be certain that by tomorrow we will all be discussing a host of new and diverse examples of our countries, companies and universities stepping beyond their borders to work together. And much more will come as a result of this momentum.
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, Her Excellency Dilma Rousseff, has inaugurated the Ciencias Sem Fronteiras program [Science without Borders] with an aim to help more than 100,000 Brazilian students to study abroad. We recognize the value of this effort and admire its bold commitment. Canada’s universities are opening our doors to these students. The Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada is committed to increasing this number. Global student mobility brings manifold benefits. It enriches not only the student who steps beyond the borders of his or her homeland but also the students, universities and communities who welcome that student. More Canadian students need to come to Brazil, so that our students can experience your language, your culture, your society and your expertise. Speaking on behalf of all the universities in my association, I can say that we need to raise our profile here at all levels. That indeed is why we’re here. Our countries can only benefit by having more Canada in Brazil and more Brazil in Canada.
Our job is not to erase our borders. Our respective differences are part of what enriches our working relationships. Rather, the task before us is to become more and more adept and confident at stepping beyond our borders and moving beyond where we think our boundaries lie. There are practical issues to contend with – - such as adapting our funding agencies and regulations to cross-border programs, removing barriers to student mobility, negotiating more efficient and effective partnerships among governments, industry and academia, each with their very distinct “languages” and ways of doing things. We will be addressing these issues later today, and it is safe to say their solutions will ultimately involve new policies and more effective collective action among our institutions.
Fundamentally I believe that the key to forging closer and closer ties between our two nations is manifest right here and now in this room. It is within the friendships that we are forging among ourselves as individuals that we create, I believe, the greatest promise for the future. In an interdependent world, such networks are what give us the motivation and inspiration to find the practical means to move ahead. Such networks are, in fact, the ultimate drivers of advanced education and research. Today, and in the days that we will spend together in Brazil, we have a precious opportunity to step beyond our borders person to person.
Let us make the most of this time together, and let this become a foundation for an ever-growing network of productive friendships between Canada and Brazil.