A couple of quick notes about two interesting things from Universities Canada this week.
The first is the release of some public opinion polling, which they commissioned in the spring, regarding universities and other forms of higher education. You can see the whole thing here, but I want to highlight a couple of slides, in particular.
The first is this one:
It seems Canadians are overwhelmingly positive about most post-secondary institutions (though Quebecers clearly have a few doubts about CEGEPs). Somewhat perplexingly, UnivCan also felt the need to test Canadians’ opinions about universities in Europe (do Canadians really have deep feelings about French grands écoles, German fachhochschulen, and Romanian politehnici?). Mostly, though, this is all to the good.
But the more interesting set of answers is this one:
Turns out Canadians think their universities are world-class, practical, and produce valuable research… but they also really need to change. Which seems about right to me. However, one wishes there might have been a follow-up: what kind of change is needed, exactly?
Often times, these kind of dissonant results (you’re great/please change) give the poll-reader a lot of room to cherry-pick. Is UnivCan doing this? Well, maybe. Take a look at the new “Commitments to Canadians” the Presidents collectively issued this week. They commit themselves to:
- Equip all students with the skills and knowledge they need to flourish in work and life, empowering them to contribute to Canada’s economic, social, and intellectual success.
- Pursue excellence in all aspects of learning, discovery, and community engagement.
- Deliver a broad range of enriched learning experiences.
- Put our best minds to the most pressing problems – whether global, national, regional, or local.
- Help build a stronger Canada through collaboration and partnerships with the private sector, communities, government, and other educational institutions in Canada and around the world.
OK, so some of this is yadda yadda, whatever kind-of-stuff. (“pursue excellence in everything we do” is utterly void of meaning). But an emphasis on partnerships is good, as is the commitment to preparing students for work & life – in that order. Something stronger on internships and co-ops would have been better: both UC Chair Elizabeth Cannon and UC President Paul Davidson have spoken a lot about co-ops in recent speeches, but a specific commitment to them is lacking in the actual statement. That’s too bad: co-ops and internships have the potential to be a genuine and unique value proposition for Canadian higher education; our universities do a lot more of it than those in other developed countries. And pretty much everyone loves them, bar the sniffy types who disdain them as “mere training”.
The issue is follow-through, of course, and Lord knows shifting institutional cultures ain’t easy. But one gets the sense that Canadian universities are absorbing the change message, and acting upon it. That’s good news.
Have a good weekend.