- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Feb 2003, p. 293-303
- Birgeneau, Professor Robert J., Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The year of University of Toronto's 175th anniversary. Some of the speaker's views on the current state of the University of Toronto. The role of public research universities in the nation's future. The special place of service of such universities. A discussion of what a leading research university is, and does. Canada's public university system and what it strives to provide. Research universities as a principal source for the creation of new knowledge in modern societies. Their role in stimulating economic growth. The goverments in the United States that recognize and support this role through funding levels and public policy initiatives that facilitate the transfer of knowledge for development in both the commercial and non-profit sectors. The speaker as advocate for the need for Canadians to increase their investment in higher education. Evidence that supports the speaker's views. Facing added challenges in Ontario. Criticl commitment. Equity and accessibiity as the cornerstones of Canada's public system and how universities remain somewhat hampered by outdated perceptions of what constitutes equity - with discussion. Differing mandates amongst universitites and what that means from a practical perspective. The need for Canadians to be prepared to help support Canada's best research-intensive universities and why. The concern of student debt. What the University of Toronto is doing. OSAP guarantees and limits of eligibility. The University of Toronto Green Papers in the consultation process of academic planning. Feedback and engagement requested from the audience. Re-imagining Canada's intellectual and knowledge-producing landscape.
- Date of Original
- 6 Feb 2003
- Language of Item
- Copyright Statement
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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- Full Text
- Professor Robert J. Birgeneau President, The University of TorontoHead Table Guests
A UNIVERSITY EDUCATION THAT CANADIANS DESERVE
Chairman: Ann Curran
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Edward P. Badovinac, Chairman, The Good Neighbours' Club and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Craig Kielburger, Freshman Student, Trinity College, University of Toronto, Founder, "Free the Children," Nominee, Nobel Peace Prize and Author; The Reverend Vic Reigel, Christ Church, Brampton; Professor Michael Bliss, Department of History, University of Toronto; David A. Edmison, President, Martin Lucas & Seagram Independent Investment Counsel, Chairman, The Empire Club Foundation and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Dr. Reginald Stackhouse, MA, LTh, BD, DD, Principal Emeritus, Wycliffe College, University of Toronto and Past President, The Empire Club of Canada; Mary Catherine Birgeneau, Wife of the President of the University of Toronto; Dr. Claude Lajeunesse, President and Vice-Chancellor, Ryerson Polytechnic University; Heather Ferguson, Director, Development and Alumni Relations, Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Dr. William Forde Thompson, Director, Communication, Culture and Information Technology, University of Toronto at Mississauga; Dr. Richard Alway, Principal, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto; Dr. John Polanyi, PC, CC, FRS, Professor of Chemistry, Nobel Laureate 1986, University of Toronto; Warren Goldring. Chairman, AGE Management Limited and Director, The Empire Club Foundation; and The Hon. Henry N.R. Jackman, OC, KSCJ, OONT. CD, LLD, Chairman and President, E-L Financial Corporation Ltd., Former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, Chancellor, University of Toronto, Past President and Honorary Chairman, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by Ann Curran
I now have the pleasure of introducing to you our guest speaker, Professor Robert Birgeneau, President, University of Toronto.
A Toronto native, Professor Robert Birgeneau received his BSc in Mathematics from the University of Toronto in 1963 and his PhD in physics from Yale in 1966.
He was on the faculty of Yale for one year and then spent one year at Oxford University through the National Research Council of Canada.
He was a member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories from 1968 to 1975 and then joined Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a professor of physics. In 1982 he was named Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics. Then, in 1988 he became Chair of the Physics Department and in 1991 was appointed MIT's Dean of Science.
On July I, 2000, he was named the 14th President of the University of Toronto, Canada's leading research university. U of T is currently celebrating its 175th anniversary.
Prof. Birgeneau has received many honours for his research. In 1987 he was awarded the O.E. Buckley prize of the American Physical Society and in 2000, the J.E. Lilienfeld prize of the American Physical Society.
Birgeneau, who is one of the most highly-cited physicists in the world, was elected to the Royal Society of London in 2001 and the Royal Society of Canada in 2002.
During his installation address, President Birgeneau said the University of Toronto would within the next 10 years position itself among the world's top public universities through the pursuit of excellence in research and education, equity in its recruitment of faculty and staff and outreach through greater voluntarism.
In his view, a research university offers the best possible education that one can obtain. Great researchers bring to the classroom a depth of understanding and a passion for the subject, which is simply not obtainable otherwise. U of T must have a faculty who both play a leadership role internationally in research and scholarship and who are committed educators.
Today, President Birgeneau will speak about "A University Education that Canadians Deserve."
Canada's leading public research universities have a special role in serving the education needs of our country. As public institutions, they have at the heart of their mandate the goal to provide the best in higher education to as large and diverse a segment of the population as possible. It is essential therefore, that our leading public research universities engage the strong support of the public and private sectors so as to ensure a place of strength for Canada globally.
Ladies and gentlemen, Professor Birgeneau.
I am delighted to be here today, and to share the spotlight with the Amici chamber ensemble. Amici is an ensemble-in-residence at the University of Toronto, and on behalf of the university, I would like to congratulate this uniquely talented group on their 15th season.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this year in which we celebrate the University of Toronto's 175th anniversary, I am honoured that you have given me this opportunity to speak at today's meeting of the Empire Club.
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 work force 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.
In modern societies, research universities are the principal sources for the creation of new knowledge, and as such, they have a disproportionate impact on the economy. By inference, universities are critical in an environment that prizes and nurtures innovation.
Evidence of the centrality of the modern research institution to the wealth of nations comes to us from the United States, Europe and Japan. In particular, the health and vigour of the American economy in recent decades owe much to the dynamic and innovative research enterprise in that country, which includes both basic and applied research. Universities are at the heart of this research activity. Governments in the United States, in particular, have long recognized the vital role research plays in stimulating economic growth; funding levels and public policy initiatives have facilitated the transfer of knowledge for development in both the commercial and non-profit sectors.
Since returning home to Toronto almost three years ago, I have been advocating a need for Canadians, and in particular, Ontarians, to increase their investment in higher education in line with what I had observed taking place during my years as a researcher and professor in the United States. My views are now being supported by hard data on the economic and social impact of such investments on various states in the United States, including Massachusetts and New Jersey where I have lived.
Such evidence has appeared in the first annual report of the Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress that was charged by the Ontario government to measure Ontario's competitiveness. Chaired by Dean Roger Martin of U of T's Rotman School of Management, the Task Force includes the likes of Gordon Homer of Scotia Capital and Belinda Stronach of Magna International. Some of you may have been in the audience at the Canadian Club last week when Roger Martin gave an eloquent and compelling talk on the "first round" conclusions of his Task Force.
Their investigation found that, while Ontario's economy fares well in international comparisons, it ranks 14th among a peer group of 14 U.S. states and Quebec, finishing only ahead of Florida and Quebec on the list, when GDP per capita is measured. This peer group was drawn from states that are Ontario's leading trading partners and similar in profile to this province.
Their report suggests that one of the key factors in the prosperity gap that places Ontario's living standards behind these other jurisdictions is Ontario's much lower total investment per student in university education. As the report indicates, the U.S. spends twice as much as Ontario on higher education as a percentage of GDP. Moreover, the U.S. peer group continues the investment further into the master's and doctoral levels of graduate education than does Ontario. Apart from government spending, the report also notes that there is a much larger investment in post-secondary education and research in the U.S. than in Ontario by individuals (students, their families, alumni and friends).
We are facing added challenges in Ontario with dramatic enrolment growth and the already unfavourable faculty student ratios at U of T as compared to our peer institutions in the U.S. (1/29.1 vs. 1/22.7 for the U.S. mean) are bound to worsen. Greater financial support is needed to preserve and enhance excellence in our programs.
The concerted and renewed support of the public and private sectors in the United States in helping shape that
environment is also vitally important to us in Ontario and Canada if our country is to emulate and indeed surpass the economic success of the world's leading economies.
We must be committed to renewing, energizing and providing increased financial support to the research environment in this country. This is critical because our success in the global economy will not be secured by "borrowing" knowledge from other places and centres of intensive research activity.
A handful of our leading research universities, such as the University of Toronto, aspire to join the ranks of the very best public research universities in the world--the University of London, ETH Zurich, the University of Tokyo, the University of Michigan, University of California at Berkeley, and others. Such universities have teachers and professors who are deeply committed to education and simultaneously provide international leadership in scholarship and research. Clearly, Ontario and Canada deserve, and are capable of having, a number of research universities that rank with the best in the world.
Among the cornerstones of Canada's public system are equity and accessibility. Having said that, Canadian universities remain somewhat hampered by outdated perceptions of what constitutes equity.
One of these is the commonly held Canadian view that somehow equity can only be achieved if every institution is treated the same, especially under provincial and federal funding regimes. This is equity for "institutions" rather than equity for "people." In our current system the well-to-do can go to Oxford, the Sorbonne, or UC Berkeley. Poor and middle-class Canadians, however, do not have these options. Thus for true equity, we must have institutions in Canada comparable to the best universities abroad. In trying to treat all institutions the same way, governments have sought to allocate funds under a system of "rough justice." But these approaches have, in fact, done an injustice to our institutions of higher education.
Excellence is not given an opportunity to flourish when our strengths are not differently nurtured and supported. This traditional Canadian aversion to what many of us call "differentiation" is an additional impediment to a healthy, vibrant and internationally competitive Canadian system of higher education.
Many universities in Ontario fulfil quite different mandates than the University of Toronto. For instance, if a student entering university wishes to study Agriculture, he or she will attend Guelph; if the student wants to go into a professional Forestry program, he or she may choose Lakehead; for Journalism, Ryerson, Western or Carleton; and so on.
It is simply not practical or even possible that every university in Ontario and Canada be everything to everyone. Canadian universities must find strength in their unique set of traits and experiences.
I believe however that Canadians must, above all, be prepared to help support Canada's best research-intensive universities. It is essential that our leading public research-intensive universities engage the strongest possible support from both the public and private sectors so as to ensure a place of strength for Canada in the global enterprise, for the benefit of building both our financial and intellectual capital. I believe that proper support for our leading research universities is the surest way to ensure future prosperity for our citizens, and strong and diversified support is the hallmark of the best public research universities in the world.
Let me re-emphasize that by this I do not just mean government support. Our high-end educational institutions need major support from the private sector. Further, although it is currently not very popular, I believe that students who can afford it, should pay their fair share of the total cost of their education. Some have said that there has been an unreasonable rise in tuition rates at Ontario universities. In response, I would like to point out
that at the University of Toronto, arts and science and medical students currently pay less than 25 per cent of the real cost of their education compared with 35 per cent historically.
Student debt is another area of current concern. At the University of Toronto, the average debt for students leaving first entry programs is $7,000. Less than two per cent of our students have OSAP debts of $28,000 or more at graduation. For our part, we are currently trying to construct a loan-forgiveness program to help reduce this burden for deserving students.
The accessibility of our Canadian universities is another facet of their greatness that must be strengthened. To meet the social responsibilities of the University of Toronto, in particular, we must be accessible to all segments of our society. In order to achieve this, we provide all qualified students with a financial aid structure that enables them to attend the University of Toronto with as small a financial burden as possible before and after graduation. Furthermore, we guarantee that financial resources, or a lack therefore, should prevent no student from either beginning or concluding their University of Toronto education. We were the first university in Canada to adopt this policy and make this commitment, something of which we are particularly proud.
The University of Toronto has also committed a minimum of at least $12,000 plus tuition and fees to eligible doctoral stream students. We are the first Canadian university to offer a guaranteed level of financial support for PhD students who will now be on a more equal footing with their counterparts in other countries. Several leading Canadian universities have already announced their intentions to follow our lead.
Currently the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) guarantees accessibility for people from financially disadvantaged circumstances. Ironically, we now find that middle class families face the biggest challenge since most are now ineligible tinder OSAP rules. The University of Toronto administration and students are calling on the province to modernize OSAP so that it will minimize the financial burden of middle-class Ontario families who are disadvantaged by the present system.
We are currently trying to communicate this message to both the federal and provincial governments at every possible opportunity. Additionally, I am delighted, if not a little surprised, to report that the university and our various student governments are seeing eye-to-eye on these matters and that we are working in concert on the issue of student-aid reform.
Perhaps the most effective and obvious way of seeing how the University of Toronto sees itself and its aspirations is to watch and listen to us as we engage in our latest round of academic planning.
This process is coincident with the arrival of Shirley Neuman as the University of Toronto's new Provost. A stellar academic who grew up on a farm in northern Alberta, Professor Neuman has returned to Canada after three years as Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts at the University of Michigan. Under her leadership we have launched a very exciting academic planning exercise which will provide a pathway for the university to the highest levels. We are currently in the first stage of the consultation process and, if you would like to participate, I invited you to visit our Web site at www.utoronto.ca. You can read the planning guidelines, or Green Papers, and even let us know what you think.
It is at this time, after extensive consultation with our many stakeholders (including faculty, staff, students, and alumni), that we, as an academic community, have the chance to ask ourselves where we want to be 10 years from now and how do we get there.
In fact, your feedback and your engagement are crucial. Our biggest challenge in the current climate is to secure the commitment of the public, governments and
industry to our public research universities so that everyone can truly appreciate their importance as contributors to education and cultural knowledge.
Our ultimate goal in securing your engagement is to help you re-imagine Canada's intellectual and knowledge-producing landscape, one which will be dotted with a handful of truly great universities, each of which will attract the interest of all deserving students regardless of their financial means. Such universities will allow our brightest students and best faculty to seek the highest-quality education right here in our own country. Such universities will also attract the best minds from abroad to study, teach and pursue research in Canada to the benefit of all Canadians. Such universities, and the complete educational experience that they will offer, will allow our citizens to achieve the university education that Canadians deserve.
I want to thank the Empire Club and all of you for allowing me to speak today. Good afternoon.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by The Hon. Henry N.R. Jackman, OC, KSt.J, OONT. CD, LLD, Chairman and President, E-L Financial Corporation Ltd., Former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, Chancellor, University of Toronto, Past President and Honorary Chairman, The Empire Club of Canada.