Global research, global affairs

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Canada’s research universities have been top contributors to research, innovation, science, and technology around the world. We have more than earned a strong voice in the leading global councils on higher education.

This thinking is rooted in a justified hope that our sector’s impact and influence will continue to grow internationally.

Alas, hope, as they say, is not a strategy. Canada’s research-intensives deserve to help lead the way in the 21st century, and part of the U15’s mission must be to actively make that happen.

Now is an absolutely crucial time in the evolution of internationalized education in two ways: the development of an international education sector with its own regime of best practices, councils, and norms; and the multidimensionality of inter-national relationships in the 21st century.

To the first point, take the case of the Global Research Council. This organization emerged from the Global Summit on Merit Review in the United States in 2012, when the heads of nearly 50 national research councils developed a framework for international research co-operation. The result was the fledgling growth of “a more unified approach to the scientific process,” to quote the then National Science Foundation director Dr. Subra Suresh.

This signals a meaningful internationalization of the research funding policy environment, which U15 member institutions have a deep interest in shaping.

That’s what this week’s announcement that the U15 will join the Global Network is all about.

The Global Network is an international meta-network of research intensive university groupings, including LERU from Europe, AAU from the United States, C9 from China, Go8 from Australia, Russell Group from Britain, and now, the U15 from Canada.

The network was conceived in 2012 as a means to establish common ground on what constitutes a research-intensive university, to balance the Global Research Council’s agenda, and to begin closing compatibility gaps between leading groups of research-intensives.

It’s strategically important to the U15 that we are included in this significant opportunity to shape the future international operating environment for research intensive institutions. On behalf of the U15, I was very pleased to negotiate the broad terms of our inclusion to the group during my recent work in Europe.

During my trip, I also found it enormously valuable to survey several leading institutions in Europe and France in particular. Tightening our alignment and co-operation with LERU as well as other Global Network partners can’t help but make our university research environment stronger.

But the Global Network isn’t the whole answer. Canada’s research universities also need to find new ways of leveraging Canada’s broader international engagement strategy for the benefit of our sector, and indeed for the country as a whole.

At present, we have only the very beginnings of such an approach.

On January 15 of this year, the Government of Canada released “Canada’s International Education Strategy: Harnessing Our Global Advantage to Drive Innovation and Prosperity.”

The core features of the strategy are a goal to attract more than 450,000 international researchers and students to Canada by 2022 without displacing students, and establishing new funding for marketing and innovation.

Our vision as a globally-engaged, integrated network of research universities should be expanded across a much broader horizon.

Part of our strategy of shaping the global research environment should be to work Canada’s diplomatic and trade efforts to our advantage, underlining that research intensive universities are powerful elements of the national interest.

There is a recent case in point, where Canadian diplomatic activity aligned with high value Canadian research interests.

In March I led Waterloo’s delegation to Israel’s Technion University, where our two institutions signed a substantive research partnership agreement in the areas of quantum information science, nanotechnology and water research.

This came on the heels of the Government of Canada’s delegation to Israel, during which time Dalhousie president Richard Florizone established a strong partnership with Ben-Gurion University in Ocean Studies research.

These research agreements have an important commonality: they were made more possible due to the contours of the Government of Canada’s broader international affairs strategy, and indeed they enrich that strategy by adding an additional layer to it.

The U15’s connection to the Global Network, and these U15 successes in leveraging Canadian diplomatic activity, are important signposts for the way ahead.

Canada’s university sector needs to hone a sharp new set of instincts: for aggressively shaping the global research operating environment, and recognizing our sector as a national strategic asset.  Now more than ever, Canada’s research intensive universities can add new depth and dimension to Canada’s international and economic relationships.