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Commentary - December 15, 2014

This op-ed was published in the Victoria Times Colonist on December 13, 2014

By Jamie Cassels, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Victoria.

As the season for university applications in British Columbia approaches, there will be lively conversation around the holiday table. Where to go and what to study takes some thought. There are plenty of choices. But whether to pursue a postsecondary education shouldn’t be a question. It’s never been more important to pursue higher education and it is a terrific time to be a student at any one of B.C.’s fine universities.

Just as universities are incubators for the human talent that our society needs in the years and decades ahead, so are they engines for ideas and innovation through their research mission.

Last Thursday, the prime minister launched the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). It is a transformative investment – $1.5 billion over 10 years – that will enable Canadian universities to excel globally in research areas that create long-term social and economic benefits for Canada. On the same day, the federal government released its updated Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy, which identifies five research priorities that are of strategic importance to Canada.

This new fund – layered on top of existing programs of research support – recognizes the role universities play in the country’s economic well-being. I listened to the prime minister as he articulated the benefits. “This very substantial funding helps our universities attract more top talent in areas identified as national priorities. Then it allows that talent to get to work and undertake the long-term world-class research that will ultimately be the foundation for Canada’s evolving economy,” he said.

B.C.’s universities are well-positioned to make the most of the opportunity and to deliver on it. They are recognized as global leaders in many of the fields identified as priorities, including environment and ocean sciences, clean energy, health and life sciences, information and communications technologies, advanced materials and nanotechnology.

The applications to business in those fields are significant too. The new funding will mean more connections between universities and companies ready to work with new discoveries and compete globally. It’s the type of high-level research that creates vital impact on the lives of Canadians and people around the globe.

The University of Victoria, for example, has experts working on a wide range of sustainable energy systems: from harnessing renewable sources, to managing and mitigating adverse impacts, to inventing and designing entirely new forms of energy.

UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) created the world’s first plate-sized ocean observatory – an installation that countries around the world are trying to emulate. It opens the door to global collaboration on everything from earthquakes and tsunamis to climate change and the impact of ambient noise on marine mammals. This contributes to our knowledge and understanding of the world’s oceans as well as global climate systems and stimulates the development of innovative technologies that can be marketed and deployed around the world.

And UVic’s researchers, along with their colleagues at B.C.’s other research universities, are making fundamental contributions to understanding and improving human health.

The new CFREF encourages universities to do more of that ground-breaking research, to create more “Canada Firsts,” promoting discovery and innovation that is the key to individual, social and economic wellbeing for generations of Canadians.

CFREF is based on the principles of open competition and peer review. It supports excellence where it exists across Canada’s universities and it recognizes the need for a long-term commitment. That visionary approach encourages bold and ambitious strategies and allows us to attract and retain top researchers and to foster a new generation of innovation.

Such research intensity benefits our economy and our students. Our researchers already work with business, government, community partners and non-profits looking for better ways to solve and build. We have already seen a dramatic growth in the number of graduate students at our universities; at UVic the number of graduate students has more than doubled since 2000. And all of our students benefit from being educated in a research-intensive environment. After all, they are the innovators, problem solvers and research and business leaders of tomorrow; their creativity will be fundamental to our long-term social and economic prosperity.

When I arrived back on campus last week with the program details in hand, I saw students hard at work finishing assignments and studying for exams, some for the first time. In a few years’ time, with the benefit of this significant new future-focused investment, imagine what they’ll discover.


Commentary - December 10, 2014

This article was published in Embassy News on December 10, 2014

Vianne Timmons, president, University of Regina.

Vianne Timmons

By Vianne Timmons, President, University of Regina
Chair, AUCC’s Standing Advisory Committee on International Relations

When I was growing up in a small mining community in Labrador in the 1960s and ’70s, the idea of moving to another country to study never occurred to me. Thankfully, times have changed. Young people today have a far greater knowledge than I did that such opportunities exist, and as President of the University of Regina, I now have the privilege of seeing many young Canadians seize the opportunity to study abroad.

I am always struck by the bravery and courage of these students. I vividly remember leaving home to attend university in a neighbouring province, and how overwhelmed, scared and excited I was. I can only imagine how these feelings would be intensified by moving to another country and being immersed in a new language and culture. But it’s a transformative experience, and students know it will do a great deal to prepare them for the workplace of today and tomorrow.

Access to international opportunities reflects the high priority and increased focus universities are placing on internationalization. New survey results released by the Association of Universities of Colleges of Canada this week show that universities’ international activities are growing broader, deeper and more sophisticated. Today, 95 percent of AUCC institutions include internationalization in strategic planning, and more than four out of five consider it one of their top five planning priorities.

The report also points to where Canada can do more.

University internationalization is about preparing globally aware and connected citizens and internationally skilled workers for Canada’s labour force, bringing future citizens and workers to our shores, forging linkages with emerging economies and working together with the world’s best talent to address common challenges through research and innovation.

International study is a two-way street, and we often hear about the economic impact of the approximately 89,000 international students currently studying in Canada. Every year they bring close to $8 billion in spending to the economy and create 81,000 jobs. What we don’t hear about as much, however, is the contribution these students make to our universities and communities.

They bring new perspectives, languages and cultures to campuses, towns and cities across the country. Curricula are increasingly internationalized, with global perspectives woven into teaching and learning. Internationally engaged faculty, visitors from abroad and the presence of international students in the classroom—all of these contribute to bringing an international dimension to teaching and learning for all students.

AUCC’s study shows that 72 percent of Canadian universities engage in initiatives to internationalize the curriculum; of those, 82 percent coordinate activities that develop students’ international perspectives. In addition, 53 percent integrate international students’ perspectives into classroom learning and 44 percent provide professional development for faculty to help them integrate international/intercultural dimensions into their teaching.

While our universities have done a great deal to enhance international education, Canada still needs more students to seize opportunities for studying abroad, and those experiences need to be more geographically varied. Currently, 97 percent of Canadian universities offer students international experiences abroad, and student participation in study-abroad programs is funded at 78 percent of institutions. At my home institution, for example, students who wish to do a study-abroad experience are eligible for a $1,000 scholarship to help offset costs. But demand far outstrips the supply of these funds.

That being said, overall rates of outbound student travel are still low, with just 3.1 percent of full-time undergraduates in Canada (about 25,000) having had an international experience in 2012-13. Canada lags behind the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States in study-abroad participation rates. Germany, for example, has set a target of 50 percent of undergraduates having an international study experience by 2020.

Furthermore, students still largely choose English-speaking and Western European destinations, as opposed to emerging global powers such as China, India or Brazil.

In many other ways, however, the internationalization efforts of Canada’s universities are leading the way in engaging the world’s most dynamic economies. Among the 86 percent of Canadian universities that identify geographic priorities for their international activities, China, Brazil, India, the United States, France, Mexico and Germany (in descending order) are most often given overall priority. Institutional people-to-people linkages with those key economies will benefit Canada in the long run.

Progress in expanding universities’ international engagement—through more study-abroad opportunities, research partnerships and other means—requires universities, government and business to work together. A good start is seen in the new federal International Education Strategy, which recognizes the need for Canadian students to gain international experiences, while providing a framework for promoting the excellence of Canadian education abroad. To enhance learning opportunities and strengthen Canada’s competitive advantage, more concerted efforts to forge international connections in higher education will be needed in the coming years.

Canada’s future will be largely shaped by the educational experiences of our young people, now and in the years ahead. And in a world of growing complexity, those experiences must increasingly extend beyond our own borders.


Media release - December 9, 2014

OTTAWA – Canada’s universities are becoming more internationally engaged, placing a premium on  more global experiences for students to prepare them for success in today’s global knowledge economy. That’s among the findings of a new survey by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada on internationalization at the country’s universities.

The report, released today, shows that 96 percent of Canadian universities ensure internationalization is integrated in strategic plans, and more than 80 percent identify it as one of their top five priorities.

The report also highlights where Canada can do better, and why that is so important.

Just three percent of full-time undergraduates (about 25,000 students) had an international experience in 2012-13, and only 2.6 percent had a for-credit experience abroad. Universities indicate that cost is the most significant barrier to more young Canadians studying overseas during the course of their degree. At the same time, the most important benefits of internationalization for students are the development of a global perspective and values, gaining international competencies, and increasing employability and access to job opportunities in the international marketplace.

Key findings:

  • Universities are translating internationalization into action with greater urgency: 89 percent say that the pace of internationalization on their campuses has accelerated during the past three years.
  • Canada’s universities are leading the way in engaging the world’s most dynamic economies. Eighty-six percent of Canadian universities identify geographic priorities for their international activities. China, Brazil, India, the United States, France, Mexico and Germany are top priority partner countries.
  • Universities report the most important barrier to international research collaboration to be a lack of research funding opportunities, and challenges related to different funding application cycles in these countries.
  • Of the 97 percent of Canadian universities that offer international experiences:
    • nearly all enable students to do academic coursework abroad,
    •  70 percent send students to foreign field schools,
    • 67 percent offer service work or volunteer opportunities,
    • 67 percent help students do research abroad, and
    • 66 percent offer foreign work experience.
  • Eighty-one percent of Canadian universities offer collaborative academic programs with international partners, a major increase over the last eight years. Of those, 63 percent offer dual or double degree programs and 45 percent offer joint degree programs.
  • In 2014, there were approximately 89,000 full-time international students enrolled in undergraduate programs on Canadian campuses (approximately 11 percent of full-time undergraduates), and 44,000 full-time international students in graduate programs (almost 28 percent of all graduate students).


“This survey shows that Canada’s universities have broadened and deepened their international activities and are leading the way for Canada to engage the world’s most dynamic economies like China, India and Brazil,” says Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. “Research, academic and people-to-people ties forged through these relationships are vital for Canada’s prosperity.”

“The global knowledge economy requires employees with the kinds of skills and competencies gained through global study experiences,” says Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. “Unless Canada takes action now to ensure its students have more opportunities to live and learn in another country as part of their university education, Canada risks losing its competitive position in the world.”

About AUCC

As the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, AUCC represents 97 public and private not-for-profit universities and university degree level colleges. A membership organization providing university presidents with a unified voice and a forum for collective action, AUCC has represented the interests of Canadian universities since 1911.


The full survey report is available here

Media Contacts:

Helen Murphy
Assistant Director of Communications
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
phone: 613-563-3961 ext. 238
cell: 613-608-8749

Nadine Robitaille
Communications Officer
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
phone: 613-563-3961 ext. 306
cell: 613-884-8401

Media release - December 4, 2014

$1.5 billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund sets a new marker for federal research investment for universities across Canada

OTTAWA – Today’s launch of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) program will advance Canada as a global leader in research excellence and innovation, fuelling our nation’s top researchers to undertake new global research collaborations that will increase Canada’s competitiveness as businesses benefit from new discoveries.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper launched the CFREF program today at Toronto’s IBM Canada Software Lab, accompanied by Minister of State for Science and Technology, Ed Holder.  Building on year-over-year investments to date, this unprecedented $1.5 billion investment over 10 years will stimulate Canadian universities to achieve global leadership in specific fields of strength by providing a research excellence destination of choice. The world’s best minds will forge ground-breaking discoveries that will fortify Canada’s global research standing and propel a vibrant economy.

“This bold new program will position Canada as a leader in international research. It will support Canada’s top research talent and build new global links,” says David Barnard, president of the University of Manitoba and chair of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC). “University leaders welcome the tremendous potential of this initiative to engage Canada’s next generation of top young researchers in globally significant research programs and networks.”

AUCC worked in consultation with partners in government and universities across the country as this program was developed, and underscored the importance of an open and peer reviewed competition for CFREF. This initiative is structured to ensure that benefits will be shared by universities, faculty, students and communities across Canada.

“This program demonstrates the government’s understanding that a vibrant, innovative and competitive Canadian economy needs a world-class university research system,” says Paul Davidson, president of AUCC. “It will help our universities to collaborate with global research leaders and better translate knowledge and ideas into the national and international marketplace.”

AUCC also welcomes the release today of Canada’s renewed Science Technology and Innovation strategy, which reviewed Canada’s research and innovation strengths, and supplemented existing priorities with emerging fields including advanced manufacturing and agriculture.

Today’s funding announcement builds on Canada’s solid research position—continually cultivated and strengthened by global initiatives that include AUCC-led missions to India and Brazil, and AUCC-hosted innovation best practice collaborations, most recently bringing together global higher education leaders from Canada, Israel and Germany.

About the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada 

AUCC is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, representing the interests of 97 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities and university degree-level colleges.


Media Contact:

Nadine Robitaille
Communications Officer
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
phone: 613-563-3961 ext. 306
cell: 613-884-8401

Media release - December 4, 2014

Media advisory

OTTAWA – Spokespeople for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada are available for interviews on the university community’s response to the Government of Canada’s announcement of the implementation of the $1.5 billion Canada First Research Excellence Fund, and how this bold and transformative investment will help universities build new links with global research leaders to strengthen Canada’s position on the world stage and advance a competitive and vibrant Canadian economy.

To schedule an interview, please contact:

Nadine Robitaille
Communications Officer
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
phone: 613-563-3961 ext. 306
cell: 613-884-8401

( Total - 255 )