The U15: A Global Gateway

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In most corners of our great nation, it is well-recognized that Canada’s research-intensive universities conduct a tremendous amount of fascinating – and, in many cases, world-leading – scholarship. In fact, in 2014 alone, scholars at U15 institutions authored over 61,000 publications in peer-reviewed journals. Moreover, these publications covered a marvellous breadth of fields and disciplines: from English and French literature to engineering, economics, epidemiology, equity studies, environmental science, entrepreneurship, ethics, and more.

What is less well recognized, I believe, is the degree to which U15 faculty and students collaborate with colleagues across Canada and internationally. Those 61,000 publications involved a simply staggering 240,000 collaborations. And those collaborations are distributed among more than 700 institutions around the world.

Why does this matter?

Quite obviously, Canada’s present and future prosperity, as in every other country on earth, depends on our ability to access and use knowledge – not just the knowledge we produce locally, of course, but also ideas and innovations from other leading centres of research and scholarship around the world. The U15 universities are vital gateways to that knowledge.

Here is a map that makes the point dramatically. Each yellow line represents 20 or more collaborations between scholars at a U15 university and another institution, in 2014 alone. Each dot shows the location of collaborating institutions by municipality — the larger and darker the dot, the greater the number of collaborations.


A recent editorial in Nature highlighted the importance of such collaboration:

“Today, we are entering a fourth age of research, driven by international collaborations between elite research groups. … Institutions that do not form international collaborations risk progressive disenfranchisement, and countries that do not nurture their talent will lose out entirely.”

The U15 represents Canada’s premier group of research institutions. Together, they comprise a portal to global knowledge networks and bring important benefits to Canada, even as, I hope, collaboration with Canada brings important benefits to our international partners.

To the readers of this blog, of course, this is all familiar territory. But I hope we can celebrate our successes together more vocally – and bring to a wider audience the vital role Canada’s research-intensive universities play in our nation’s future prosperity.