Transcript: CSPS Virtual Café Series: How Canada's Universities Are Mapping the Future
[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]
[A video chat appears with Taki Sarantakis, Suzanne Fortier and Deep Saini.]
Taki Sarantakis, Canada School of Public Service:Welcome to the CSPS virtual cafe, where we talk about policy and ideas, and not about politics and not about partisanship. We are very, very pleased today to have two distinguished Canadians come before you to talk about one of, not only one of my own personal favourite things to discuss, which is Canada's universities or universities and the role of knowledge, but also one of the most important things that Canada needs to get right, going forward. Whether it's knowledge creation, knowledge dissemination, innovation, social cohesion. There is not a lot on the public policy plate that doesn't, in one way or another, touch Canada's university sector and Canada's universities. And as public servants, most of us are here because a long, long time ago, we went to university, and we learned stuff. And the stuff that we learned way, way back then is stuff that we apply today, in our jobs every single day. Whether we're policy people or program people or administrators or lawyers or nurses or any of the plethora of occupations and jobs and positions within the government of Canada.
So, let's get to our guests. Our first guest, and I'll let them introduce themselves, rather than having me introduce them. And then after we introduce them, we'll go into a conversation. So, our first guest is Suzanne Fortier. She is the principal of McGill University, and I think you're also the Vice Chancellor. Every president of a university or principal of a university also seems to have a second job, which I hope comes with the second paycheck. But, Suzanne?
Suzanne Fortier: Yes, so I've been in this job, here at McGill for eight years. It is an extraordinary privilege for me to be in this job because I was a student at McGill. And so, I'm bringing also good memories, but also a very special responsibility to give students today what I got when I was the student. I was telling Taki before, that, I was president of NSERC, and so I had the great privilege to go to the school, wonderful Lunch and Learn from people that the school brought to the public servants. So, it's a real, also special opportunity for me to come back in a different role.
Taki Sarantakis: Thank you, Suzanne, and welcome. And our second guest is Professor, President Deep Saini, who is president of Dalhousie University, one of Canada's, I would say, most beloved universities, judging from my friends who went there and even a couple of decades later, still speak very, very fondly of it. Deep, over to you.
Deep Saini: Thank you, Taki, and, and greetings to all who are watching this. Yes, I am fortunate to be president of Dalhousie. I've been here for almost two years. It'll be two years at the end of this year. So, I spent much of my, actually almost all, of my time here under pandemic conditions. I have had the fortune of working at several Canadian universities from, almost from the West, started in the West at University of Alberta, then Université de Montréal, Waterloo, University of Toronto, and then left for a short while to go to Australia to be president of the University of Canberra and then back here, just about two years ago.
It is a privilege to serve this institution. And it is loved, especially in Ontario, we get about 62% of our students come from outside the province of Nova Scotia, so, it says it's a very Canadian university in the Eastern corner of, of Canada.
Taki Sarantakis: That's wonderful. And it's obvious you both bring kind of passion and dedication to your jobs and maybe we'll start there with kind of a bit of a personal question that informs the professional. Maybe I'll ask each of you, what does a university mean to you? And I can tell you what it meant to me as kind of the, the son of two immigrants in Canada, and my most educated parent was grade six. And my second most educated parent was grade two. And the fact that I got to go to a university really changed my life. But what does it mean? What does it mean to you, Suzanne?
Suzanne Fortier: Oh, it's very similar to you. My family was of modest means, and none of my parents had gone to university. In fact, one parent didn't go past primary school. And I think when I look at the role, about the impact of universities in, particularly in this country, it is that they're really motors of social inclusion. These are, we are so fortunate in Canada to have universities that are open to people, no matter where you come from. And we have a chance to go to university and have opportunities that will open all sorts of doors for us. It is extraordinary. It is something I cherish about my country and that I cherish about my universities. My top goal is to preserve that, to be accessible to people no matter where they come from. If they have talent, if they want to work hard, they're welcome at McGill.
Taki Sarantakis: I love that phrase, "motors of social inclusion." Deep, what does a university mean to you?
Deep Saini: Well, it seems like that we have had very similar journeys to a university ourselves. I mean, in fact, my journey started probably before I was even born. My, my father grew up as a child under conditions of abject poverty in rural India, and he ended up going to, to a school completely by accident only through benevolence of a teacher he had a chance meeting with. And that changed the course of the history of our family from that point on. I was the first one not only in my family, but in the entire clan as far as I could see, to go to a university and some of my older siblings and others, cousins went to colleges, but nobody went to university. So, university has meant complete transformation for me.
I would not be here if it wasn't for the fact that my dad got a chance to get some education and that turned him into a civil servant, eventually in Indian, in India's civil service. And you know, I would repeat the words of the, you know, my, my previous boss, the chancellor of the University of Canberra, who was the first indigenous man to be the chancellor of an Australian University. And he used to say this often that education is vaccination against poverty, and it was so well said and, and I believe in that transformative power of education. And that's why I'm at a university.
Taki Sarantakis: An education is an enormously important facet to us, as human beings. It's also enormously important as citizens in a modern economy. Now, if I understand the statistics correctly, we are either the most educated country in the world in terms of populace, or like, second. We are very, very much up there, so, if not, world leaders in education. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be from your perspective and in terms of like public policy, is it something that we aspired to? Is it something that is an accident? Is it something that... how did we get to become the most educated country in the world, which, which might surprise some members in, in our audience. So maybe I'll start with Deep this time.
Deep Saini: I thought you were going to say that, and I was afraid of it, and I am going to punch it back to Suzanne because Suzanne has much deeper roots in Canada than I do, and I have some thoughts on this, but I would defer to Suzanne and her, her much deeper knowledge of the country.
Taki Sarantakis: Over to you, Suzanne.
Suzanne Fortier: Well, I think a fundamental value of our country, which is equality of opportunity. And what that means is that we have essentially a public system here of higher education. The fees are reasonable, compared to many other countries. And also, we're very open. I know in some countries; I've done a lot of work internationally. While accessibility is something they may be striving for, it does remain that if you come from a certain class and society is much easier to go to university or certain schools. So that's the number one.
The number two is a bit more technical, though. In Canada, we talk about higher education, which is universities and colleges, and it is important to have the two types of institution. Some students want to go in a highly applied area and get a job in those areas, and they have great opportunities in our colleges. And so, the two together create a very highly educated population. In some countries, they don't have the equivalent of our colleges, as we have here. And so, it in a way, make their figures look lower than us. So that's part of the answer here.
Taki Sarantakis: Terrific, and Deep, maybe if you want to jump off that and maybe talk about your experience or knowledge vis-à-vis other countries, like what are we kind of getting right? Part of it sounds like it's tuition, but there must be more here.
Deep Saini: I think tuition is, is a consequence of the, the value system in Canada, it is not, it's not the primary driver of it. Tuition is a consequence, and that's one of the factors that plays into it. I'm glad that Suzanne mentioned the relative flatness of our society where access has been, you know, very broad. And we know and we see today that the segments of our society and we, we are flatter society than many others, but we are not absolutely flat and that the segments of our society that have not had the same kind of access, for example, our indigenous population.
Suzanne Fortier: Mm hm.
Deep Saini: Here in Nova Scotia, our African Nova Scotian population. That's where we see the similarities to other societies where we have not had the same penetration of education that we have for the broader population of Canada. So, I think it's the nature of the society. It's for a very long time. Canada has been a less stratified society compared to even the societies that many of our immigrants have come from. And I think that has played into this outcome that we see today where we have such a hugely, highly educated population in Canada, compared to other countries.
You know, I grew up in India, and now India has also had access to education, but it's been more so at the primary and high school level. Once you go to university, the number of universities in India or even colleges. Things are changing now rapidly there, but traditionally, the number of colleges and universities in the country were very small compared to what that population would need. That means the competition to get in was intense. It wasn't ever very expensive to go to university there, except for a few areas. Medicine, for example, is very expensive, but you know, mostly it was not that expensive. And so, but the issue was getting in, because the competition is so severe to get into, especially, good institutions that a lot of bright people were left out and just did not have the opportunity.
And then, of course, you know, the, the perpetual low education in rural communities of India, which, you know, that also is changing. But when I was growing up, 75% of the population of India lived in rural areas where the penetration of education was very low, even at the primary level, even though it was mandated by the time I was growing up. But still, very few people went to school, and that just left a whole huge segment of the population outside even contention.
Taki Sarantakis: And I love what you said there, Deep, because it's something that's very, very important. What you basically said was that the fact that education is relatively accessible in Canada is a derivative and it's a derivative of our values.
Suzanne Fortier: Yes, yes.
Taki Sarantakis: And our one of our values is we try to be inclusive. And I think you also made another very important point that even though we're amongst the best in the world, we're not quite yet where we want to be as a derivative. There are certain subsections of Canadian society that continue to have the same problems vis-à-vis universities or access that they have in other facets of Canadian society, and we have to work harder at that, including the public service, which is, which is not as representative as it should be.
So now, I want to shift a little bit to the notion of education. Deep talked earlier about kind of education being a vaccine. And I love that notion. But education is kind of changing a little bit. I think as we, we all went to universities, and we were lucky enough to go to universities. And when I went to university, it was four years for a bachelor's degree, and I didn't sleep a lot in year four. I remember being exhausted all the time. And then one year for a master's degree, which I started right away after my master's degree, which, by the way, was a lot easier than my fourth year of undergrad, but anyways. And then I did four years and almost finished a PHD. But that's nine years of my life, and we're starting to live now in a society that you know, doesn't have four years of attention span anymore. I keep reading that kind of the average human being has, I think it's an attention span now is down to like eight or nine seconds. If you don't get somebody in the first eight or nine seconds, you've lost them. They're kind of gone. How does how does that start to kind of affect the notion of education? Because it seems to me that there were people, when I was going to university, were far more inclined to kind of walk into a lecture hall and sit there for an hour or even in some cases, three hours, and pay attention and take notes. But as you know, our society has changed dramatically from there.
Like, I can't imagine being a professor today, we're looking out over a group of people, each of whom has a cell phone, and they're texting or they're reading. I just, I just can't imagine that. Who wants to start on kind of this notion of how is, maybe technology, maybe society, maybe attention spans, how is that starting to challenge, kind of, traditional modes of education?
Suzanne Fortier: Yes, I can start on that because I go to a lot of classes of McGill and I went to a lot of classes in person and also in the virtual world, because of the pandemic. And I see a lot of changes. I have, actually, the same worries that you have. I thought, "How will students sit still there?" because of the decreased, the level of ability to be attentive, particularly, if it's not that interesting.
But what I saw is that the classes are far more interactive. You mentioned, for example, looking at your laptop or your tablet or whatever, the professors ask them to do, they do sort of the learning together in the classroom and they ask them to do some research and so on. Much more interactive environment for learning now. And of course, during the pandemic, a breakout in small groups where you really have to participate and that's something I realized, you're no longer able to sit at the back of the class, sorry. Because you are brought into learning and participating. But the one thing I've mentioned it is that there's a lot, a lot of learning that occurs outside the classroom.
It's the campus life also that bring people together and bring them into all sorts of projects, social innovation and entrepreneurship, discussions about ethics, all sorts of things going on in the campus life, very interactive. Everybody can have their place there and participate fully to the life of the university. So that's what I've noticed.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, and that's another great point, because I think all of us kind of remember that in some ways you learned more like outside of class than you did in class, like in terms of arguing after class or trying to kind of nail down the finality of the point. Talking things over in the cafeteria, I don't even know if you still have cafeterias. You probably have Starbucks and stuff like that. But the one thing that I really learned at university that stays with me to this day isn't so much the kind of, you know, the facts or the arguments. Two things that I think really stay with you for your whole life. One is the capacity to communicate, like just getting up and doing presentations over and over again, writing term papers, having to kind of have an introduction, a body of argument, a conclusion, a summation. So, your communication skills are those kind of great, durable, sustainable vaccine-type skills that Deep was talking about at the beginning.
And the second was it was the first time in my life that I actually learned how I had to kind of juggle priorities, and you know, what was I going to do the week where I had four exams and two papers? And how was I going to plan for that? And it was kind of the first time that I learned how to prioritize things and how to- and nobody was telling me, "Well, you study this one first, that that one first, and then you do a little bit of your paper." And that was the real focus, that kind of, that was my education in the sense of kind of those skills. Deep, talk to us about the challenges of kind of teaching undergrads or grad students in 2021 with things like technology, attention spans, gig workers, part time workers, et cetera.
Deep Saini: So, you know, it's, it's interesting that, when I look back, there are things that have changed and there are things that haven't changed at all. The part that you were talking about is this whole thing about formation of the whole person, outside the classroom. That hasn't changed. That just, the tools are slightly different, but the facts haven't changed. And I mean, I look at my own education. I started university in 1972 and I, I was a, you know, serious student, but I was also a student athlete. I was also very active in other extracurricular activities and unknown to my students, today, I was also a student union leader. And so, you know, I juggled all those balls and I look back at my life today. At that point, it wasn't visible to me going forward. I don't think I was planning to do this. But when I look back in the rear-view mirror, I see that who I am today is a result only about half of my classroom experience. But at least half of it, probably more of it, actually is shaped by experiences outside the classroom, in other areas. So that aspect hasn't changed about university. Now, the nature of teaching, one fundamental change that I have seen happening and I've taught at universities for a very long time, and I still teach. I still get in front of the class every now and then.
The classroom of even 20 years ago was a place where a professor came in as a fountain of knowledge and students sat around that fountain and drank from it. That's no longer the case. Students have access to many fountains before they come to the classroom, and they're sitting in the classroom drinking from other fountains while you are, your fountain is flowing there as a teacher. So that's something that has changed fundamentally. And you know, I remember when I used to get upset if two students talked to each other in my class way back, 30 years ago. Today, that is a norm that students are constantly engaged in discussions.
o, it's the role of the teacher in the classroom has now become more of an integrator, more of a filter, making sense out of that massive and maddening amount of information that students come in with. And often that information is actually very flawed and making sense of all of that in interaction with students so that they end up going in the right direction, rather than get latched on to the wrong things and become victims to all that lot of garbage information that is out there in the cybersphere. That I think is a fundamental change in the way we teach and learn.
Taki Sarantakis: Exactly, because knowledge in the sense of facts and information is more available than it's ever been. And as you said, Deep, we all have almost the totality of all kinds of facts and knowledge on our phones. What's really the critical thing is learning how to interact with that knowledge, to learning how to, as you said, filter the stuff that's important from the noise and how to integrate in your mind, different things.
So that's kind of, I wanna make one last kind of point about, or one last area about kind of, the life cycle of education, and then maybe we'll move on to the next stage, which is kind of not so much the consumption of knowledge, but kind of the, the creation of knowledge, which is another big, big, important role that our universities play. So again, when I was going to school, the life of a student, it was pretty simple. It was like, you went to school, you maybe had a part time job. You worked all summer. The odd rich kid took a year off and went to Europe and that kind of stuff. But most kids, like they started, and then three years, they put their head down. They came out after three, four or five years, whatever the case was. It's a little different now. Students, my understanding is kind of, you go to school, you have a job, you take some time off, you take three courses, this semester. You take five courses the next semester, then you do an internship somewhere. You do a co-op placement somewhere. Is that more the model today than kind of when a lot of public servants that are looking on this now, remember?
Deep Saini: Um.
Suzanne Fortier: Oh.
Deep Saini: Suzanne, I'm sorry, I think you were about to speak.
Suzanne Fortier: No, no. I was going to say, "Deep, I'll leave Deep to start on this one." I started on a few questions.
Deep Saini: Yeah, I think to, to a degree, that model still persists. And you know, and I actually would like to see more of that kind of mobility than we have. In fact, you know, the shift has been happening to some extent, but I'd like to see more of that mobility because I think that's part of education. That's not an interruption of education, that is part of education. You know, I just spent three and a half years in Australia and Australians are actually masters of this. You know, it's, they're, something like 30% of Australian students take a year off and they go abroad and learn, and they come back. I think they come back more aware of the world. And it's probably that their geography that has instilled that into their culture, because it's an island away from-- it's a huge island, but it's an island, away from the rest of the world and they crave to, to connect with the rest of the world. And they do it very well.
We here have, you know, we are, it's about one tenth of that, the number of students who go elsewhere to do part of their studies or take a break and go elsewhere. So, I think that's an admirable trend. But the other things that have changed is that not just simply that students would take a gap year and do some time, you know, spend some time elsewhere. But they would be coming back to the university many times in their careers. after they graduate. And I think that's one thing that universities have to gear up for here. Here at Dal, we are actually formalizing that into our next strategic plan, where we need to develop a lifelong relationship with anybody who comes to Dalhousie. And I have no doubt that every other university in the land is thinking of the same thing because at least the presidents I talk frequently to, they all are fully aware of this, this new trend that's going and it's a trend imposed by the very rapid shift that's happening in the nature of jobs, nature of work. And it's going to continue to happen.
Taki Sarantakis: Suzanne.
Suzanne Fortier: Yes. So, the one thing that we observe is, of course, we have many different groups of learners. So, it's not a homogeneous group here that a student is representative of all of our students. We do have students who have the real opportunity to take that special time, four years on a university campus, at a time of their lives devoted to learning both in and outside of the classroom. There are many more opportunities, of course, because they do have opportunities for study abroad, for getting involved in entrepreneurship projects, and community projects. So, I describe our universities and our students as open, connected and purposeful. It's amazing, actually.
When you talk to our students today at universities, one of the words that will come out almost all the time is a "life with purpose." They're not just thinking, "Okay, I'll get a job and a well-paying job, hopefully," they're thinking about a purpose to their lives. And again, here, I mean, I've mentioned that we're fortunate because we have great public support and my university, we have a lot of private support. Alumni are very generous because we've done for them what has helped them get to where they are. Many of our great donors and friends are so because they came to our university needing help from others so that, as they find. But of course, what we are seeing, and a very important group of learners are those people who are at work, and they need to upskill and reskill, we hear those words all the time.
The nature of work is changing. I'm very much part of the World Economic Forum and we know that every five years you need a refresh, a booster on all sorts of things to stay well plugged into what you do. And I tell you a word that I've heard from my dean of continuing studies. Of course, we talk about lifelong learning. She talks about long life learning, because what we know as well is that most people who are, say 20, they have a very high probability of living till at least 100 years old, and most likely will have a longer work time than the previous generations. They won't work just until 65, so they'll work for a longer period and most likely will need to change orientation, directions. And so, it's a long life learning, and I think we're seeing that right now. And what we've learned is how to provide that learning to people who have other elements of their lives, family career and so on, but also want to advance in their contribution to their workplace, or the world.
Taki Sarantakis: Absolutely. And that's something that we really, really try to hammer home to Canada's public service through our little institution, where the life cycle of kind of, you know, you're born, you go to school, you have a job, pension and then you die. That's over. Like, learning isn't something that you know you park when you're 22 or 23.
Suzanne Fortier: That's right.
Taki Sarantakis: You have to keep learning all the time. And you know, if you stop learning at 22 or 23, or once you have a piece of paper or two pieces of paper, you're not only doing kind of a disservice to yourself, you're doing a disservice to, to Canada and to the public service because you have to constantly keep absorbing new skills, integrating new knowledge, because the world isn't standing still. The world is changing. And if you're standing still within a changing world and you have responsibilities, those responsibilities will not be discharged in, in a good way. So, let's shift now a little bit away from kind of how we learn, to kind of a little bit of what we learn.
So, another big role of universities is they're knowledge creators. They do research, they do research in the humanities and social sciences and in the hard sciences, the physical sciences. And that's really this is kind of now where the federal government comes in a little more and more. That's really where the interest of the federal government has been vis-à-vis universities over most of our period, as a country. We know that education is a provincial responsibility. And so, universities overwhelmingly are kind of the domain of provinces, but there is a federal role that hasn't been played over the years. Kind of on the research side, maybe I would ask each of you to maybe just describe what that federal role has been or, you know, whether it's waxed or waned, or what has been kind of your sense of the federal role in, in Canada's universities. Suzanne, you want to start?
Suzanne Fortier: Yes. Well, I was in the midst of that role not so long ago. Of course, it is a role of supporting, promoting and being a catalyst for research and innovation. And for the training, it was very important in Canada is it's not only providing support for research programs but providing support so that we can train researchers. A very large percentage of the monies that are allocated by the government of Canada for research goes to the training of students. So, it's a very, very important role. There's always discussion about how much should go to discovery research, as opposed to the applied research and innovation and commercialization. We always have these debates, and I don't know that we'll ever get to a consensus on that.
But where we have a consensus is that it's a spectrum of activities. All are important. And I think the challenge we all have, it's not only in Canada, everywhere is to connect them.
People talk about an ecosystem. I would say we have the strong pieces of this ecosystem in Canada. Where we might have areas to attend to is the connection part. But the strong pieces are there for talents, discovery, research, innovation, we have a lot of strong pieces and that's what the federal government, I think, has put its efforts in. It's the talent discovery and innovation.
Taki Sarantakis: Deep.
Deep Saini: Yeah. So, I think, Suzanne, you have such a rich experience said at the epicentre of all of that, you know, as when you were president of NSERC, for example, that you put it so well. And I'll just simply add a little bit to that and say that you know this, this balance between what is often referred to as fundamental versus applied research, or discovery research questions, vs. mission-oriented research and so on. There are many, many different monikers used for these two activities. I think that's very artificial. I mean, I can't remember the author of this, but somebody some pretty famous said that there is no such thing as fundamental research, only research that hasn't been applied yet.
And it's so true. I mean, let's take examples. For example, you know, the, the discovery of genetic code, for example, you know, that was a fundamental discovery in the, in the in every sense of that expression. But imagine the applications that have flowed from that since the 1960s when the structure of DNA was first deciphered, or genetic code was first deciphered. So, it's, it's a fundamental discovery that has led to transformation in so many fields, from medicine to agricultural everywhere else.
Take the example of electromagnetism, you know, a fundamental discovery that the value of companies based on that one discovery today, runs into trillions of dollars across the world. So, I think that that divide is very artificial, but the balance is important. It is important that we allow a space for that research that is driven purely by the quest of knowledge, and research that then leads to changing the world, so to speak, you know, in a big, big way. Which leads to the shift in the frontiers of knowledge and application that that improve life for human beings across the world.
Taki Sarantakis: Now Deep, you talked about kind of the divide. You talked about kind of the artificialness of the divide. And we have that a lot in other facets of life. And one of the things that seems to be the case in Canada vis-à-vis some other countries, like maybe the United States, maybe some European countries is there seems to be a bit of a divide between government and university. Suzanne, you have this interesting experience where you've kind of lived in both worlds and been a leader in both worlds. But that's relatively rare, right? At least in in movies, if nothing else, we see people going from Harvard to the administration, and then back to a think tank. And then in Germany, same kind of thing, like universities are kind of closer to government, or kind of more institutionally linked with government. Is that fair, or is that like just this Hollywood mythology I have in my head?
Suzanne Fortier: I think it's Hollywood, frankly, because if you look at, for example, our main research agencies in Canada, they're all led by people who are coming from the academia and are professors. And I'm certain that after they finish that job, they'll go back to that to that. So, I think that the model in Canada is very similar, in fact, to what I've seen in other countries in the world. It's largely academics or researchers themselves, who will go and lead our research agency in Canada. But you know, and it's interesting because the very first president of NSERC, way back in '78, came from the public service and he was a very, very good president and the right person to start that new agency. I think we must remember that too. But after that, they all came from the world of universities.
Taki Sarantakis: Deep, what are your thoughts on this? Are the connections between governments and universities as strong in Canada, a) as they kind of could or should be, maybe, and b) like relative to other countries that you've seen, like in Australia, for example?
Deep Saini: I think it's not that different from other countries, at least not other Western countries, but where those kinds of examples happened, for example, industry and university, you know, those boundaries being, are being blurred, it has actually often led to magical outcomes, you know? One example in our own country, of one of my former universities, University of Waterloo. You know, Suzanne, as you said, you know, you know, NSERC president, the first president of University of Waterloo, was a Michigan industrialist, Gerry Hagey. That had a transformative impact on the course of that university in, you know, the future evolution of the university. The introduction of co-op, for example, they became the biggest co-op university in the world, as a result of that industrial linkage that they had, right at the beginning of the university. I won't go into the details of the genesis of that, but it's been magical.
Taki Sarantakis: But let's, let's explore that. Yeah, let's explore that. So, if the relationship between government and the university sector is pretty much the way it is across the world, let's dig into the next thing that you just raised, Deep, which is, what about the linkages between kind of Canadian commerce or business and universities? Is that kind of typical or atypical?
Deep Saini: Well, it's again, I don't think it's that atypical here. I've seen a little bit greater instance of Australian universities bringing in former civil servants or others onto the faculty ranks. There's greater flexibility for that. And to bring in like, for example, when I was at University of Canberra, the fellow who headed our security institute was the former chief of Australian Armed Forces. And you know, who better to have in that position than somebody who has been in the trenches? He's a veteran of multiple wars and so on, and a soldier scholar, and a prolific writer and publisher and so on.
nd there were other examples, you know, top notch journalists retiring from, having worked for a newspaper or elsewhere, on Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and coming to the university to take a position. And so, these were these kind of professional professorships that were created and that other universities had similar positions. I think that Australians do more of that, but it's, much of it is either after retirement, or as a second career rather than while they are in those positions.
I think there is a huge opportunity and a very exciting one that has been opened up to us through the experiences, during this pandemic. We have learned today that, you know, I could be teaching a class here in Halifax, and students from 120 different countries could be, you know, logged into that classroom. What is there for us to stop us from having professors who are giving a fraction of their time sitting in, let's say, Johannesburg or Berlin or, or Sydney, Australia or wherever else and be on our faculty, but not full time, but they are available top scholars and then, you extend that to public service. You know, the know-how in public service that exists, why not have people teaching on our faculty? And I think it's particularly true for teaching, but in research, where you do a bit of that already anyway, because happens, we understand there we have collaborations across boundaries.
So why not have a public servant? Or can you imagine Barack Obama teaching governance at a university, right? Or Lee Iacocca, you know, teaching corporate management and so on, so or innovation. I think those opportunities have just- they were always there, but we just did not realize them the way we have learned about them during the pandemic. And I think the universities will be reaching out. And I think we will be looking at different models of provide- of creating and disseminating knowledge as we go forward.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, so, so Suzanne, Deep has kind of raised or opened the door to kind of the future of universities or maybe the opportunities of COVID. If it's okay with you, I want to park that for a little later, probably towards the end, because it would be a nice way to close.
Suzanne Fortier: Yeah. But, can I say, Taki, can I say a few words about what Deep said, because there's something I discovered when I came back to McGill, is a wonderful group of professors that would call professors of practise.
Taki Sarantakis: Mm-Hm.
Suzanne Fortier: They don't come from the traditional academic- they come from the practise, highly accomplished individuals, they teach in our school of business, our faculty of management, our school of public policy. Lots of great people come to teach there. And of course, in all fields, we have professors of practise. They bring their on-the-ground, highly accomplished career to our students. The students love it.
Taki Sarantakis: So, Suzanne, let's get back to kind of a little bit the- not the integration, but the relationship between kind of business and the government sector in Canada. We have this image in our head, some of us, about kind of Stanford and MIT, and Cal Tech and all these places where, you know, Google is like on campus and Facebook is on camp- and, and that their relationship is like this.
[Taki interlocks his fingers.]
Is that again, is that more mythology? Do they have this business and commerce and research, have more linkages with American universities than we have in Canada?
Suzanne Fortier: Well, I think to start with, there are many, many, more big companies and also startups and all size of companies in the US. And so, these absolutely great universities like Stanford and MIT will attract these people. In fact, if you go to MIT, around MIT, they're all these startups company or bigger companies that we see. The venture capitalists are all circulating both within the campus and outside the campus, so that they connect with the people there, the students in particular, because they're ready to go into a very energetic part of their life and start something.
So, we see that, of course, this may be a lower level, simply because we have fewer companies here, but there's quite a bit of activities in Canada as well. I know in Montreal; the aerospace companies have been plugged into the universities. In fact, it was always used as a model of collaboration and that has happened many, many years ago. So, it's happening here. I'd say something that I regret about what we're missing, and what I think we're missing. Can I mention, you know, we have a good ecosystem, but the connections are not as good as they should be.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, and that's-
Suzanne Fortier: In my university, I'd like to have at least a dozen people on the grounds, walking through our labs, our sites of research in social science and humanities, knowing what people are doing and, and making sure that we initiate those great collaborations with the startups, with the companies. And when I say relationship, I mean relationship. Not "well, we'll visit you once a year and see what you might be interested." Every year, every month being plugged in creates a real innovation, a place to meet an agora of innovation where people come from. This is what we see around MIT, and we don't have enough people, I don't know if Deep has the opportunity to have more. But I know at McGill, this is what we're missing, is having these people right there on the ground and bringing the great people who are on the innovation side, the companies and our researchers in this agora of innovation.
Taki Sarantakis: You took it exactly where I wanted to take it, which is how do we start creating that magic of the ecosystem where you have governments and universities and business and students and small business? And how do we get that magic that we have and in some of the corridors and you mentioned some of them. We have like one of the world's best kind of corridors, Montreal to, you know, to Windsor. If you think one way, if you slice it another way, Toronto to Waterloo, if you slice it another way, Montreal to Alberta. And then all this stuff kind of coming out of Dal in those corners. How do we, how do we start to kind of scale that magic? How do we get it kind of beyond maybe AI, maybe beyond aerospace? How do we, how do we put the, how do we get the magic sauce to get us all working together? Deep?
Deep Saini: So yeah, great, great direction to go in. I think this is where we really need to focus. So, it's, I think we need to be cognisant of two things here. One that, you know, each of us, institutions, not just simply the country, the institutions also, we have a context in which we reside. And that's our ecosystem. And the ecosystem for Stanford or for MIT is different than it is for McGill or for Dalhousie, or for UBC, or Waterloo. Even among us. I mean, McGill's ecosystem is different than my ecosystem here in, in Halifax. And so, first thing you have to do is focus on accepting that that's the, that's the context in which you work and how do you make the best of that context? So that's, you know, here, for example, we have built something world-leading in the oceans area. That's our ecosystem, right? We are among the global leaders in oceans research and development, and with huge number of companies connected with Dalhousie through our Ocean Frontiers Institute, through our Creative Destruction Lab, Atlantic and so on. So that's one thing.
But there is also that, you know, the national boundaries are not quite what they used to be. And we can cross those boundaries, but if you have the right people and they're willing to go across those boundaries, it can happen. An example would be Dalhousie and Tesla, for example. Dalhousie's the only university in the world that Tesla collaborates with. And it's not minor collaboration. They have sunken literally tens of millions of dollars into work here. And, you know, technology produced here at Dalhousie is fuelling the revolution in in lithium-ion batteries around the world. And, and not just us alone, but there are others involved. But we have actually been, we are very major part of that global ecosystem. And that has led to Tesla actually investing in the, in the production here in our spin- working with the spin offs from working with Dalhousie and so on. So that's the other thing.
And the second part of it is, though, that while we are working at it, we have the responsibility to gradually change our own ecosystem. So, it's like a drop of, you know, a crystal of a dye dropping, and sorry- a crystal of a dye dropped in a glass of water. The crystal changes, and so does the water and that process of change, I think that universities can be the catalyst along with industry in that. And I think we can, over time, we can change the ecosystem in this country. And we, you know, because of that, change is slow. You don't notice it, it doesn't happen overnight. But I, from the time I arrived in Canada and today, there's a huge difference. There's a huge evolution that has happened.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah. And I really love that advice and that, that kind of exhortation to kind of pick your ecosystem because picking, just replicating, you know, what they're doing in Waterloo or what they're doing in Toronto or what they're doing in UBC, if it doesn't make sense for your ecosystem, it won't make sense. It won't be productive. It will just be kind of a replicative failure. And then you kind of look back and go, "How come it didn't work here? It worked in Vancouver. It didn't work here." But it seems to me that that touches on a very kind of anti-Canadian point, which is you have to kind of say, "Alright, you're going to be really world class in this thing, and you're going to be really world class in this other thing. And you're going to be the best in Canada at this, and you're going to be the best in Canada in this fourth thing." And it's this, it's a hard Canadian thing to say, you know, "We're not going to distribute the money equally. You're not all going to get, I don't know, pick the thing. AI accelerators, ocean accelerators, robotic accelerators, whatever the case may be."
Is it the universities that kind of have to more kind of get together and say, "Okay, guys, you know, we're going to be the best X in the world. We're going to be the best. We're going to aspire to be the best Y in the world. We're going to aspire to be the best Z in the world." And then we're going to come collectively to the government of Canada and say, "You know, I'm never going to bother you again, University X, on oceans, because that's like Dalhousie's thing." And "I'm never going to bother you again on this other thing, because that's like, you know, some other university's thing." Maybe I'd open that and I'll, maybe I'll invite you, Suzanne, because there is some politics here, right? And I don't want to talk about politics, but what the politics infringes on the policy.
Suzanne Fortier: We may not be as far as you think. There's something called the Canada First Research Excellence program and they invest big monies. They invested at Dalhousie in the ocean area. They're the best in that. They're not investing that kind of money at McGill. But we can, of course, collaborate with Dalhousie, particularly since we have a VP research who came from there. We have great opportunities, but they're in the lead because they're the best. And McGill, they're invested in the brain. We have a fantastic, very large group of researchers in brain research, whether it's cognitive, neurodegenerative, or psychiatric. So, they invested in the brain. We invite other people to work with us, but there's, and it was our choice, by the way. We came with the area where we thought we could be best in the world. So, we're already there. Also, as Canada Excellence Research Chair, I've done the same thing. The one small thing I would say, though, is that these are great processes. There's been some grumbling people, "I didn't get my share, didn't get my share," but they're really focused on what are you the best at? Give us, show us that you can do well, and we'll invest.
These processes are good, but they're very slow often. And it's always hard because, you know, we've got other people out there, particularly other countries, who are ready to take the best person in battery from Dalhousie or in ocean and bring them to their country with huge amount of investment in their research. So, our processes are generally, I would say, not agile and not fast enough. And that's sometimes, I really mean that we lose some great talents to other country.
Deep Saini: Suzanne said it so well, I mean, particularly, let's talk focused on science. I mean, we both have science backgrounds, so it's easy to focus on science, but it applies to other areas, too. But particularly in science, big science requires big money. You can't do big science on shoestring. And, and as you know, looking at the size of our economy and so on, we just don't have enough resources to create big science in every discipline, in every university in the country. And, and I think this approach of organically allowing certain ideas to bubble up to the top in certain locations, particularly when the ecosystem there, the exterior ecosystem is also conducive to that growth, I think it's a brilliant idea. And, and the one thing that I would make a pitch for is this idea that Suzanne said, touched, that we need as a country, we need to actually make a play for creating conditions to bring some of those big mega brains from elsewhere into the country and plant them in the right places, where they would make a difference. We need to have more Nobel laureates coming out of this country, and the way to do that is to be very methodical about it.
Taki Sarantakis: Yeah, and we've come a long, long way, even just, of course, in my career over the last 25 years. The relationship between universities and the government of Canada has just dramatically different. So, now I'm going to do something. I'm going to do something really, really interesting, and I can only do this because we're doing it virtually. I'm going to give each of you a virtual magic wand and you're going to tell me how the one thing that the government of Canada can be better at to be better in the university sector. But you're not going to say money, because money's pretty boring. And we all know that it's, you know, money, money, money is the lazy thing. But what's one thing if I give you a virtual magic wand, where the federal government can make your life a little better, a little easier, a little kind of more strategic? What would it be? I'll start with you, Suzanne.
Suzanne Fortier: I'm going to give you two, if you allow me, agility and flexibility--
Taki Sarantakis: Aww, you're cheating already! Okay, go ahead.
I mean, the two go hand in hand. They're joined at the hip. Agility, and flexibility. We've already talked about this. Let's not do in Halifax, something that is not good for them, it's not something they can excel in, but it comes from Toronto and that's important there. The flexibility that we need so that we build on the strength of various ecosystem. That's what I'd like to see.
Taki Sarantakis: Deep.
Deep Saini: That's great. And I'm going to take it in a slightly different direction. I think it's, the evidence mindset in our national governance, I think that is one thing that that our government can do, and that, that can happen at both federal and provincial levels. I think we have a unique opportunity again, historically unique opportunity that we are coming out of the pandemic. And if you look at the evidence from around the world, the jurisdictions that have based their decisions on science and evidence and the advice of experts, they have done much, much, much better than those jurisdictions that have politicized the issues or have not taken the scientific and evidence-based approach to managing the problem.
I think this is a moment for when the world, perhaps even without talking about, is realizing the value of evidence-based scientific approach to management of our societies. And this pandemic is really, you know, sad as it has been, and we've lost around close to five million people around the world, at least, official figures say, is that it's very sad, but it is a Sunday school picnic compared to what is coming with some of the other big wicked, wicked problems like climate change, for example. And I think there's an opportunity for our governments to put greater emphasis on evidence and expertise in decision making as we are dealing with these big problems. And that's the- and if the government did that, the universities in this country collectively have everything we need as a country to deliver.
Taki Sarantakis: And I like that a lot, Deep, because as you said, unfortunately, this isn't the only storm we're going to face in the years ahead, and the storms are going to come faster and harder and with less warning and with more intensity. And we have to collectively get ready, whether you work in the university or in a government or anywhere else to start facing those storms. We're going to close on, on Deep's earlier point about the pandemic and kind of looking ahead. So, the pandemic, it's going to change a lot of things. It's, it's inevitable that it won't at least touch on universities going forward. Deep, what do you see if you do make a prediction or a projection? What will the pandemic mean ten years from now for Canada's university sector? Or even what would you want it to mean for Canada's university sector, when, when COVID is behind us, but the aftermath is still there?
Deep Saini: Well, I think the aftermath of COVID is going to bring two things. One is, you know, trillions of dollars have been borrowed and spent, printed, borrowed or spent, and spent. And our society is going to have to pay that back somehow. We're going to have to deal with the economic consequences. So, there's another pandemic coming after this pandemic and that's going to be the economic one. And how we handle that is going to be critical. And I think the universities are going to have a very key role to play in that. But they are also going to be playing that key role in a very different economic climate than we have been used to in the past. So that's one thing that we have to get ready for.
The other one, and it's been there festering in the societies, but some of the inequities in the society have been brought to the surface by the pandemic, or coincidently during the pandemic. Right? For example, the Floyd case and so on. Those things came, they didn't happen because of pandemic, but they happened during the pandemic or close to it. And inequities in our societies have become a big issue. And I don't think it's going away, and it shouldn't go away. I think it is an issue that we have to address collectively, and I believe universities are uniquely positioned today to, to play a very major role in that. First, because we have our own problems that we need to solve. And I think we have history that we need to deal with, and we are dealing with that.
But second, this is a problem that has been at least 400 years in the making in our part of the world, and we're not going to solve it overnight. It's not- anybody who's looking for a solution over the next 24 hours is going to be disappointed. It is going to take time to solve this and it's going to take thoughtful approach because the pipeline has been constrained for so long that it's going to take us time to solve this problem in an intelligent way, over time. There's a risk that under those circumstances, and there are forces that are pressuring us to do that, that we could fall into the trap of checking boxes. But universities can help us avoid that trap and accelerate the enrichment of that pipeline that would actually help us solve the problem over a reasonable period of time. And we are best placed as institutions in the society, to be honest brokers in the society for issues of this nature, the complex issues. There's no other institution in our society that is better positioned to be honest brokers. And we have to take that responsibility seriously and step up to that.
Taki Sarantakis: Suzanne, I'm sorry, but it's going to be hard for you to top that but give it a shot.
Suzanne Fortier: Well, I think there's two things that I think the pandemic has taught us, and that is the importance of thinking about what it means to be human. Our humanity. And it's very important and very practical aspect, because we're talking about AI, AI, AI. It's great, machines can do a lot of things for us, but our humanity is what will really cause the future of our world, our country and our world. That's important. It's also taught us humility. We don't know it all, so we better get at thinking that we need to increase knowledge everywhere. We need to be ahead of these curves. I'm so happy that mRNA, I mean, one of our great researchers at McGill, was doing that research 30 years ago, educating a person who's now at Moderna, this is great, but we need to remember that.
But as institutions of learning, we need to bring those perspectives to our students. We do live in Canada; we do live in our own community. We do live in the community of the planet. And what happens on another part of the world has an impact on us. A young woman who cannot get education in a country right now, let's say Afghanistan, that has an impact on us, on the world. We're not isolated anymore. We all live on the same planet. We see viruses, of course, across borders impact on our climate change across borders, and the economy, but also on the whole aspect of us human beings living together on the same planet. And I think that is something that we, as a university, not only can do, but have a responsibility to do. To bring a learning experience to, particularly, younger people so that they have, going forward, the ability to cause- I call it building forward better with great values and great commitment to their community, but to the world.
Taki Sarantakis: Dr. Suzanne Fortier. Dr. Deep Saini, Thank you so much for your time. Thank you so much for your insight, for your energy. But most of all, thank you for being friends of Canada's Public Service. I wish you all the best and I hope you had as much fun as we did here. Thank you so very much.
Suzanne Fortier: Thank you.
Deep Saini: Thank you, Taki. It's been a joy and an honour.
Suzanne Fortier: Thank you.
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