This will be my last blog as President and CEO of the Council of Ontario Universities so let me offer some parting thoughts.
The thing I love about universities is that, while they are seen by some as old institutions with dusty books and ivy-covered limestone buildings, they are actually about the future. The future of the individual and the future of society.
Let me be clear, universities don’t create the future. What they do is catalytic.
One important mission of universities is to acquire and preserve the knowledge of humanity. At first it might sound like a contradiction that the preservation of knowledge is what helps contribute to the future. But it is by building upon the discovery of those that came before us and pushing the bounds of knowledge that we contribute to that better future.
Educating students and advancing the bounds of knowledge helps inform and contribute to the forward momentum of our society. Universities are partners in a better future for our students, our communities and for the province.
I want to thank the staff at COU, the leadership of our universities and our partners in government and the private sector for all we have been able to accomplish together in the past five years. Ontario’s universities touch every aspect of life in Ontario and only through collaboration are we able to continue to drive the economy, serve students and support communities. I know that Steve Orsini will bring the experience and style of leadership needed to further evolve COU in the years to come.
While preservation of knowledge is one of the fundamental missions of the university, this year universities have undergone a dramatic transformation in how education is delivered. Change in an institution with a mission of preservation might sound like contradiction, but it is not.
Students arriving in person at residences or arriving virtually this fall will have a different experience than previous years; online education has different benefits and drawbacks from in-person learning. We are confident that supports are in place to help students adjust, but we have to acknowledge this will be challenging for students and faculty alike. But the catalytic role of universities remains at the core. Preparing students with the skills to contribute to a better future and continuing to push the bounds of knowledge remains the mission, though the methods of delivery will be different.
What remains unchanged is that a postsecondary education is still the best way to build a career, establish the skills needed for life-long learning and prepare for a changing workplace. University graduates are better equipped to help drive the economy, deliver health care, teach Ontario’s children, create art and entertainment and lead communities.
The rate at which universities have responded to the pandemic, both in how they deliver education but also how quickly university researchers began taking up the fight against COVID-19, is an undeniable proof point for the important contribution of Ontario’s universities to society and all we can achieve together.
This is a period of profound disruption, but also one of tremendous opportunity. The collaboration I have witnessed between sectors over the past six months is further evidence of the ability to build a stronger university sector and province.
In order to be strong partners in creating a better future, universities need financial stability and predictability to ensure they can continue to deliver the talented and skilled workforce that a prosperous Ontario requires. This is not an appeal for a “bailout”, rather, the sector and its partners should truly look at the moment we are all in as a historic opportunity to shape education following the pandemic and to build back better. This is a call for an investment in the future of our students, our communities and the province.
Ontario has the opportunity to renew its commitment to student access through initiatives such as new modes of funding for student bursaries and supports. New models of online learning will allow students, who may have been unable to attend in the past, to access a world-class education wherever they live in Ontario. Investing in the programs that students have already been migrating towards will help universities respond to the demands of the market. The scope of the opportunities in front of the province are a direct reflection of the quality, enthusiasm and drive of Ontario students, faculty and institutions.
Ontario needs an adaptable, talented and skilled workforce in order to recover from the pandemic and build a dynamic economy. We need entrepreneurs and commercialized innovations. We need to continue to push the bounds of knowledge. We need to invest in the future.
The students of today become the entrepreneurs, health-care workers, administrators, creative citizens and community leaders we need. As Ontario’s economic engine comes back online, our students will be ready to join the workforce and speed our recovery.
I am very optimistic about our province and our country. We have the resources, the talent and the social infrastructure to come through this current global challenge. And, strong stable universities will be important catalysts and contributors to that better future.
President & CEO
Council of Ontario Universities