From the Ivory Tower to the Corporate Tower
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Oct 1985, p. 59-70
Connell, Dr. George, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Some opening remarks about National Universities Week to begin in two day's time, and universities in general. The audience and general public as beneficiaries of university research, with examples. How universities are important to individuals and to business and industry. A major transformation in business-university relationships in Canada. Address focusses on one aspect of university-industry relationships: the flow of new graduates who go from universities each year to jobs in Canadian companies (more than half). A brief history of how universities have always prepared graduates for employment. The question of quality—how well are the universities doing today? Some positive signals, as well as anecdotal evidence. The Corporate-Higher Education Forum. A Forum Task Force on Human Resource Management: how the study was undertaken, by the speaker and a colleague. Major findings and conclusions from the study. Some personal observations. The work of the Corporate-Higher Education Forum and how it can assist not only universities and corporations, but governments, to choose appropriate strategies and policies.
Date of Original
17 Oct 1985
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Full Text
Dr. George Connell, B.A., Ph.D. President, The University of Toronto
October 17, 1985
The President, Harry T. Seymour, Chairman

Mr. Seymour

Distinguished guests, members and friends of The Empire Club of Canada: It is my pleasure to welcome as our guest speaker today Dr. George Connell, President of the University of Toronto.

A distinguished student, teacher, researcher, administrator and author of more than 50 scientific articles, George Connell resigned as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Western Ontario to become the 12th President of the University of Toronto, effective September 1, 1984.

John Whitten, Director of the Presidential Search Committee, was quoted in the June 18, 1984, issue of The Globe and Mail as saying:

"He was chosen on the basis of his personal qualities-his integrity, knowledge of U of T where he has spent 28 years, strong academic background and his demonstrated communicative skills."

After graduating from Upper Canada College in 1947, George Connell moved to the University of Toronto, where he received an Honours Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry in 1951 and a Ph.D. in 1955. The same year he married Sheila Horan, whom we are pleased to have with us today.

In 1957 he returned from postdoctoral fellowships at the

National Research Council in Ottawa and at New York University to become Assistant Professor of Biochemistry. Assuming ever-increasing levels of responsibility, George Connell was appointed Chairman of the Department of Biochemistry in 1965, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in 1972, and Vice-President Research and Planning two years later.

Of his seven-year presidency, William Jenkins, Chairman of Western's board of directors, said:

"He has been an outstanding President of this University and has shown great skill and leadership in this period of financial restraint."

Known for his love of whitewater canoeing, skiing and tennis, George Connell has been preparing himself, both physically and mentally, for several years for the perilous task that lies ahead of him.

Suffering from underfinancing, overcrowding, somewhat inadequate facilities, and disillusionment among some faculty members and students, the University of Toronto is struggling to maintain standards of scholastic excellence, including an international reputation in the humanities, in an increasingly hostile environment. In short, it is a situation that calls for "inspired leadership."

Two somewhat sensitive issues on the university agenda today that require inspired leadership are (1) divestment-and should the U of T dispose of its holdings in companies with business activities in South Africa? and (2) technology transfer-and should the U of T succumb to the increasing pressure from society to translate science into economy, into jobs?

On divestment, sir, you concluded your remarks in the September/ October, 1985, issue of The Graduate by saying: "Whatever course the governing council chooses, the university will continue to be an arena in which opinions are strongly held and thoroughly tested in debate, and in which individuals are given the conviction and competence to pursue their ideals in the wider world."

On technology transfer, the open debate continues unabated, as most Canadian universities have always functioned on the premise they are not the handmaidens of industry. With the new economic realities the world faces today, however, university administrations are re-examining their operating mandates.

This issue poses particularly difficult questions for the university community, but I know that you, sir, are equal to the challenge, as I am certain your remarks today will appropriately address some of these questions. Francis Bacon in his essay entitled "Of Studies" wrote: "Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man." I propose, sir, that your 38 years in the university community have prepared you well in all respects.

Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me particular pleasure as a '62 graduate of "the school of practical science" to introduce Dr. George Connell, President of the University of Toronto, who will address us on the subject...... From the Ivory Tower to the Corporate Tower."

George Connell

National Universities Week begins on October 19. 1 believe that each one of you in this distinguished audience has something to celebrate during that week. Many of you are graduates of Canadian universities, or of universities elsewhere, and have had your lives changed by your experiences as students. Many of you are parents of students of the present day and are sharing the ups and downs of their academic careers.

All of you are the beneficiaries of university research in one way or another - you may have dined at one time on Pablum (devised by Dr. Frederick Tisdall, a professor of the University of Toronto at the Hospital for Sick Children), or more recently watched the launching of a satellite by the Canadarm, which was developed by Spar Aerospace with research support from U of T faculty. You have undoubtedly received professional advice from a variety of university graduates in practice as physicians, lawyers, nurses, engineers, pharmacists and architects.

Universities are important to you as individuals; they are also important to business and industry-to the innumerable corporations and enterprises of Canada, large and small, which are the economic engine of this country.

There are many signs that we are in the midst of a major transformation in business-university relationships in Canada. The ivory towers and the corporate towers are no longer remote from each other and intellectually isolated. The traffic between them is now very busy indeed. The joint enterprises are too numerous now even to count. The reason? Both sides see very clear benefits from these associations-the sharing of physical and intellectual resources can be as advantageous to universities as to corporations.

I want today to speak to you about only one aspect of university-industry relationships, but it is without any question the most important aspect. This is the flow of new graduates who go from universities each year to jobs in Canadian companies. More than half of all our graduates are employed in Canadian business and industry. What happens to them is extremely important to us. It is even more important to their employers. Most Canadian companies that are successful will succeed because Canadian graduates perform well in the roles that are assigned to them and the roles that they create for themselves.

Sometimes you will hear from educators the proposition that university experience is not intended to prepare graduates for jobs. You will not hear that from me. Universities have always prepared students for jobs. In the very beginning, the original ivory towers, the universities of Italy, France and England in the 12th and 13th centuries, educated their graduates for work as lawyers, physicians and clergy. In the late 20th century, we still educate lawyers, physicians and clergy, but we also educate many others, both specialists and generalists, whom we expect to earn their livelihood in the world of business.

I might have chosen to speak to you about the quantitative issues, supply and demand for highly qualified personnel. These are difficult and important issues that have been spotlighted once again in the public arena by the Macdonald Commission. But I have chosen instead to address the issue of quality-how well are we doing? Are Canadian university graduates as well qualified as we would hope and expect them to be for their future employment?

These are critically important questions for the future of Canada. In recent years in the manufacturing sector, there has been a renewed interest in quality control-recognition that quality is the essence of effective marketing and competition. If quality is important in manufactured goods, how much more important it is for the development of intellectual ability and professional skills for the next generation of Canadians.

So how are we doing? There are some positive signals. Every major campus in Canada is host to corporate recruiters, literally by the hundreds. They evidently find what they are looking for. Many thousands of graduating students are placed in jobs each year and the recruiters keep coming back. We are encouraged, too, that the unemployment rate for university graduates remains low-lower, in fact, than for any other educational level. In 1984, unemployment for university graduates was 5.4 per cent compared to 13 per cent for those with only high-school education. _

We also have an abundance of anecdotal evidence. Here is a typical example. A few days ago, David Whiteside, the President of Lanpar, a leading Canadian computer company, told me about a young man who had assumed responsibility for several major customers for computer networks only a few days after he started his job. When asked how he acquired all the information and technical know-how, he said:

"I'm straight out of computer science at the U of T." While such experiences are reassuring, I believe that we have a serious need for a more systematic ongoing assessment of the preparation of university graduates for corporate employment.

Fortunately, that view was shared by the board of the Corporate-Higher Education Forum. The Forum is a new and potentially very important instrument for universitycorporate dialogue. Founded in 1983, the Forum brings together 27 university presidents and 35 corporate chief executive officers. Under the chairmanship of Lloyd Barber, President of the University of Regina, and with corporate leadership from Allan Taylor of the Royal Bank of Canada, John Panabaker of Mutual Life, James Black of Molson's, and David McCamus of Xerox Canada, the Forum has already proved its usefulness. Two publications illuminating university-corporate relations in research have already appeared: Partnership For Growth in 1984 and Spending Smarter, published only last month.

About a year ago, John Panabaker and I were asked by the Forum to set up a Task Force on Human Resource Management. The other members of our task force are Robert Bandeen of Crown Life, James Downey of the University of New Brunswick, Walter Light of Northern Telecom, Burton Matthews of the University of Guelph, Jean-Guy Paquet of University Laval, Robert Purves of Inter-Ocean Grain and William Stinson of Canadian Pacific.

We were given the task of examining the experience of university graduates moving into their first jobs in Canadian corporations. We decided to find out in some detail what managers in companies thought of the ability of their new employees, what the graduates themselves thought of their preparation for their jobs, and what, if any, were the problem areas.

As the first step, we recruited two able consultants, James Rush, Professor of Business at the University of Western Ontario, and Fred Evers, Professor of Sociology, now at the University of Guelph. With the advice of the task force, Rush and Evers designed a questionnaire that we believed

would elicit the information we were seeking.

We decided to make use of the companies that are members of the forum as the target of our survey. The Forum is an excellent representative group of large Canadian corporations. Twenty of the companies actually took part in our study. Among them were financial institutions and companies in each of the resource, service and manufacturing sectors. Most of them have operations in all parts of Canada and have recruits from many different Canadian universities.

Questionnaires were distributed to recent graduates in the companies, to managers supervising these graduates, and to more senior officers of the companies. The managers and senior officers were asked to assess the performance of graduates according to thirteen distinct categories of jobrelated skills: general administrative skills, quantitative and mathematical skills, decision-making ability, organizing and planning skills, innovation, oral communication, adaptability, leadership, written communication, ability to initiate, technical skills, problem-solving ability, and ability to work independently.

The graduates were asked to assess themselves in the same thirteen categories, but they were asked to say how well their university experience had prepared them in each category.

There were 655 replies, of which two thirds came from the graduate group and one third from the managerial-executive group.

The managerial-executive rating of the graduates was consistently good. On a five-point scale, the lowest average rating in any category was 3.4. Overall, the performance rating was well above the midpoint in all thirteen categories. The ratings were particularly high (over four on the five-point scale) for quantitative-mathematical and technical skills, for problem-solving and capacity for independent work. The least-developed skills appeared to be in leadership ability, general administration and written communication.

It was interesting to find that the graduates' assessment of their university experience confirmed in most respects the

judgements that the managers had made. On average, the graduates judged themselves to be particularly well-prepared for quantitative-mathematical work and for independent effort. These scores were over 4.5 on the five-point scale. The weakest areas of preparation, in the opinion of the graduates, were general administration, leadership and oral communication.

It should be noted that the graduates in the survey were drawn from a wide variety of university programmes. There were approximately equal numbers from each of four sectors-business schools, engineering, science faculties, and humanities and social sciences.

While graduates in each group received comparable ratings overall, there were quite distinct differences in the rating of particular skills. For example, engineering graduates were rated relatively well on technical skills and poorly on written communication. Exactly the reverse was true for graduates in the humanities and social sciences.

What are the major findings and conclusions from our study?

(1) In general, among the graduates of Canadian universities, Canadian corporations are finding recruits who are capable of serving their companies well.

(2) Graduates, particularly those with science and engineering degrees, are relatively well-prepared for mathematical and technical aspects of their jobs, but less well-prepared with regard to broader managerial skills.

(3) Among the problems that have been identified, one that stands out is the relative weakness in communication skills, or, to use the old-fashioned terms, writing well and speaking well. It seems to me imperative that university graduates, whatever the nature of their programmes, should have the ability to use at least one of our national languages at a level commensurate with their other educational achievements. This is not a goal that the universities can achieve on their own.

Effective writing, speaking and comprehension should be identified as the foremost general objective for all levels of the educational system-primary, secondary and tertiary. I believe strongly that universities should affirm their dedication to this proposition and should work in close collaboration with Ministries of Education, with school boards, and with practising teachers to bring about a dramatic improvement. Corporate support for this goal is exemplified in the brief from Northern Telecom to the Macdonald Commission.

"Canada's educational system must emphasize the development of a literate population armed with the tools needed to communicate in a world increasingly dependent on the production and transfer of information." (4) Corporations themselves are a highly significant part of our educational system. A study in the United States sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation (N.P. Eurich & E.L. Boyer Corporate Classrooms, Carnegie Corporation for the Advancement of Teaching, Princeton, N.J. 1985) estimated that (in 1981-82) the cost of education and training in corporations was $60 billion, an amount comparable to the total spending of all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S.

Professors Rush and Evers have suggested that we think of the first phase of higher education as a six-toeight-year process, co-managed by the universities and the organizations that employ their graduates. Some parts of the total educational task can be done well and efficiently by corporations. It would be undesirable to assign responsibilities for such tasks to the universities.

What is desirable is to have comprehensive mutual understanding among all parties as to the educational goals of each, and the division of responsibility. I hope that the Corporate-Higher Education Forum will make a significant contribution to the evolution of this understanding.

(5) The Forum survey has deliberately illuminated the experience of relatively new recruits to Canadian corporations. They have been recruited to assume specific responsibilities and we have examined their educational preparation in relation to those responsibilities. We must assume, however, that most graduates will change jobs, perhaps many times, in the course of their working lives. In a sense, the most important part of their university education is the part that remains important to them throughout their careers. It is for this reason that Rush and Evers recommend that: "Technical programmes such as engineering and computer science should not sacrifice general liberal-arts requirements as the fields grow more complex." The same point was expressed by the Macdonald Commission in a different language: ". . many, if not most, Canadians will have to undertake considerable retraining during their lives. These realities led the Commissioners to emphasize the value of a solid general education-of learning how to learn-so that Canadians may be well equipped to adapt quickly and efficiently to the changing realities of the labour market."

Finally, I should like to add two personal observations. The first is that universities, corporations and indeed, the public should find solid reasons for satisfaction in the survey I have described to you today. The conclusion is clear: That a representative group of large Canadian corporations consistently finds capable, well-prepared employees among the graduates of Canadian universities. We should be satisfied, but we should not be complacent. There are also several reasons for vigilance:

(1) The world is changing rapidly, not only in science and technology, but also in many other ways that will reshape our private sector-design and production techniques, patterns of trade, financial strategies. What is appropriate education for the graduate of today may be obsolete in part in as little as five years. Just one example: A number of senior corporate executives have brought to my attention the growing importance of mastery of foreign languages on the part of their employees.

(2) A related point is that some of the companies in our survey may have recorded their satisfaction with graduates in the context of the status quo-that is, they may not have perceived a need for a major change of company strategy or style. If and when such changes do come, the need for corresponding change in university programmes will become more pressing.

(3) A third and by far the most urgent cause for concern is the health of our universities. The state of public support for higher education in Canada is critical. During the last five to ten years, I believe that every university in Canada has actually lost ground in the struggle for quality in education and research. The cold fact is that quality in education costs money. If we are to meet the demand for quality in the highly educated work force, there will have to be a radical change in public policy for universities, both in Queen's Park and in Ottawa.

The fact is that no university in Canada, including my own, has resources that come close to those of the major universities of the United States. Our performance has been reasonably good in the circumstances. That cannot last.

In closing, let me return to my main theme. The work of the Corporate-Higher Education Forum that I have reported to you today is ground-breaking. It should be regarded as a first attempt to obtain dependable information that can help not only universities and corporations, but also governments, to choose appropriate strategies and policies.

There are innumerable ways in which the approach developed by our task force can be extended to examine assimilation of graduates by other sectors, to focus on employment practices of individual companies, to illuminate the performance of particular universities.

I am convinced that the example of the Forum will stimulate much more interest and activity. I am convinced, too, that the spirit of cooperation between ivory towers and corporate towers, which has animated the work of the Forum, will continue to prevail in the future.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Dr. Reg Stackhouse, a Past President of The Club.

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From the Ivory Tower to the Corporate Tower

Some opening remarks about National Universities Week to begin in two day's time, and universities in general. The audience and general public as beneficiaries of university research, with examples. How universities are important to individuals and to business and industry. A major transformation in business-university relationships in Canada. Address focusses on one aspect of university-industry relationships: the flow of new graduates who go from universities each year to jobs in Canadian companies (more than half). A brief history of how universities have always prepared graduates for employment. The question of quality—how well are the universities doing today? Some positive signals, as well as anecdotal evidence. The Corporate-Higher Education Forum. A Forum Task Force on Human Resource Management: how the study was undertaken, by the speaker and a colleague. Major findings and conclusions from the study. Some personal observations. The work of the Corporate-Higher Education Forum and how it can assist not only universities and corporations, but governments, to choose appropriate strategies and policies.