Canada's Research Universities Economically Indispensable

Canadian Speeches, March-April 2003 | Go to article overview
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Canada's Research Universities Economically Indispensable


Public research universities are seen as crucial to Canada's economic health: not only in providing needed post-secondary education for students to utilize in pursuing a prosperous career, but also as place of research and development that will bring new products and ideas to the market. In a knowledge-based society, continual research is necessary to stay on top of the market. It is vital that Canada's public research universities have strong support from both the public and private sectors, thereby safeguarding our economic place of strength on the world stage. Speech to the Empire Club, Toronto, Ontario, February 6, 2003.

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For all of its 175 years, the University of Toronto has been making positive contributions, in countless ways, to our community. I am privileged to lead my University into its third century, and deeply proud of its prominent role in shaping our city, our province and our country.

Today I intend to outline some of my views on the current state of the university of Toronto, and the uniquely important part that our public research universities, such as the University of Toronto, will need to play in our nation's future.

Canada's leading research universities, of which the University of Toronto is one, occupy a special place in the service of the public's educational needs. They do this by providing exemplary undergraduate and graduate education. Notably, their wide-ranging professional faculties educate professionals in virtually every field from health to architecture. Indeed, the graduates of their master's and doctoral programs enrich the workforce and become future faculty members in all of our universities and colleges. One statistic that I find particularly striking is that one out of every six professors at anglophone universities across Canada, from Dalhousie to UBC, possesses at least one University of Toronto degree.

What then do I mean when I speak of a leading research university? In my view, the top universities give equal value to teaching and research, and they combine research, scholarship and education in unique ways that shape not only the graduate, but also the undergraduate experience. Such universities attract very talented students, and the reasons are manifest. There is nothing more exciting for a student than sitting in a classroom, or lab, with a professor whose own work is helping to change the paradigm in his or her field; or who is deeply engaged in the major, current questions on the frontiers of knowledge. Nothing can replace the educational value of studying with the people who are transforming knowledge as they speak.

Every great city is fulfilled by the presence of a leading university at its heart. The University of Toronto plays this role in Toronto. I believe firmly that as the University grows in stature, so too will the city. Moreover, as a public university, the University of Toronto has an obligation to be inclusive in educating everyone from our diverse community and beyond who qualifies for admission. It means that our faculty must be both inclusive and representational while meeting the highest standards as teachers and scholars both nationally and internationally.

While the University of Toronto operates in a provincial, national and international context, it is firmly linked to its public roots. Since Canadian higher education is virtually entirely public in character, public universities are the backbone of Canadian higher education; with a commitment to equity and access, and significant contributions to the economic growth and development of the nation.

Canada's public university system strives to provide the best in higher education to as large and diverse a segment of the population as possible. This sets Canadian universities apart from many public universities in other parts of the world, and from the private universities that, by their very nature, have very different missions.

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