This op-ed was published in Embassy magazine on June 6, 2012.
By Paul Davidson
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
Canada needs to get serious about Brazil. There are few places in the world today where the opportunities to build prosperity through partnerships and collaboration are as abundant and robust – but like all opportunities, this is a limited-time offer.
Calls for action in building stronger connections with Brazil grew again last week with the Senate committee report calling for the government of Canada to focus its relations with Brazil in areas such as education, science and technology. The report of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade encourages a strategic role for the federal government, with education as a driving force in intensifying Canada-Brazil relations. Canada’s universities couldn’t agree more.
Strengthening partnerships with Brazil is a priority for Canada’s universities, as evidenced by this spring’s unprecedented international mission of university presidents, led by His Excellency the Rt. Hon. David Johnston. During visits to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Campinas and Brasilia from April 25 to May 2, close to 30 of Canada’s university presidents saw first-hand the tremendous opportunity to build strategic collaboration in research, innovation and higher education with Brazil.
The Governor General was instrumental in securing Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff’s commitment to send up to 12,000 Brazilian students to Canada over the next four years through her innovative Science without Borders program. In addition, Canada’s university presidents announced 75 new partnerships and scholarship programs to deepen Canada’s collaboration with Brazil.
Government, universities and industry all see the potential in this economic powerhouse. Now our challenge is to come together to create additional partnerships that will build prosperity in both countries.
Canada’s prospects for economic growth are dramatically enhanced when our strategic assets are leveraged effectively – no individual institution or sector acting on their own can fully realize their potential or maximize the benefits to Canadians. When it comes to the Brazil connection, collaboration is key.
Why Brazil? There is limited awareness amongst the broader public about the incredible opportunities that Brazil presents. This dynamic nation has emerged from the global economic downturn stronger than many of Canada’s traditional partners. Brazil is making important investments in research, innovation and education – including student mobility – to enhance its place in the world.
Brazil recently surpassed the United Kingdom to be the world’s sixth largest economy and is set to become the fifth in the coming years. Canada has more investment in Brazil than it has with India and China combined.
The education connection is critical. Strategic collaboration in higher education with countries such as Brazil leads to linkages in trade and diplomacy. Partnerships in higher education are fundamental to our competitiveness in a global economy.
In order to build such connections, Canada needs an ambitious and sustained international education strategy that is sector-driven and built on partnerships. The university community looks forward to the upcoming report of the federal government’s Advisory Panel on Canada’s International Education Strategy, which was tasked with making recommendations for a strategy that will maximize economic opportunities in international education, including building our engagement with key markets.
This international education strategy can support Canada’s innovation, science and technology objectives. Canada has invested to create a dynamic research community and research infrastructure that is globally ready and globally engaged. Developing mechanisms to achieve international research collaboration at scale will require partnerships and commitment from government and the private sector.
Canada’s international education strategy will need to move from simply international student recruitment to developing sustainable funding for Canadian students to study, research, work and volunteer abroad. In virtually every meeting with Brazilian universities, we were asked how many Canadians would be coming to study in Brazil.
Brazil is investing in strategic international partnerships. In addition to the ambitious Science without Borders program that will see 100,000 Brazilians study around the world, this country is aggressively investing in research and innovation, including international research collaboration.
In Canada, too often we introduce pilot programs to test the waters, but fail to take them to scale, or worse, cut existing programs in an effort to meet deficit-reduction targets. This approach not only lacks ambition, but weakens our brand and prevents us from building momentum and competing on the global stage.
Many other countries are knocking on Brazil’s door. Canada made important progress in positioning itself as a partner of choice through last year’s visit of Prime Minister Harper to Brazil, the establishment of the Canada-Brazil CEO Forum, and the successful university presidents’ mission.
Now is the time to build on this momentum and mobilize significant resources in government, higher education and the private sector – working collaboratively – to realize the potential of the Canada-Brazil relationship.