Message from the CEO: Nobina Robinson
CEO, Polytechnics Canada
Ten Years of Advocacy lead to the Polytechnic Moment
Our 10th annual conference opened in Toronto on an auspicious note. That morning’s Globe and Mail featured a front-page story illustrating the economic importance of applied research—a hallmark of our Polytechnics Canada member institutions—when describing the federal government’s overhaul of the National Research Council. As Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear so aptly put it: “The day is past when a researcher could hit a home run simply by publishing a paper on some new discovery. The home run is when somebody utilizes the knowledge that was discovered for social or economic gain.” (http://news.gc.ca/web/article-eng.do?nid=739219)
Exactly. That’s the message we at Polytechnics Canada have been driving home for a decade. Applied research, helping small and medium-sized enterprises bring new products, technologies and services to market, is what we do. It is in our DNA. And according to our industry partners, several of whom attended our annual conference, we perform that role better than ever.
I am happy to say that our one-day annual policy discussion - our largest ever with more than 120 delegates - included many positive comments about the valuable, often vital, contribution made by polytechnics, and especially the now eleven members of Polytechnics Canada. (http://polytechnicscanada.ca/).
We began with words of welcome from Brad Duguid, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. Minister Duguid highlighted one issue that we are also accentuating – stating that one reason Canada faces a skills shortage is that our culture belittles certain types of work. “We have created the perception that anything other than professional careers are second choice,” he said. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxEnAft3ZqY&list=UUzG-bAvljqgtDZ3SxJu2dAw&index=1)
Our members’ role prepare graduates for the rapidly changing jobs of today. Just ask. In delivering our keynote speech, Dr. Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan made it clear that Canada’s economic growth depends on graduating more students who have benefited from the polytechnic model of applied education. A widely respected university academic and administrator, he praised our members for the practical training and education we provide our students. “It’s first rate,” Dr. Coates said. “You know what you are doing.”
Indeed, Dr. Coates went on to declare: “It’s the polytechnics moment. Yours are exactly the institutions Canada needs for the future.”
However, he did outline several future forces we will have to contend with. For one, he noted that the West has lost its post-secondary advantage as developing nations such as China and India churn out tens of thousands of graduates from their new universities while economic powerhouses such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan produce similar numbers of qualified professionals. These graduates now provide stiff competition for jobs that once were filled routinely by workers from the developed economies of the West.
Dr. Coates also bemoaned the lack of co-operation between the college and university sectors. And he put the onus on the universities, saying “If the universities were smart, they would join more with colleges.” Take a look at the video of his entire keynote speech here: http://youtu.be/aQoTwhuS9fs.
Breaking down barriers between colleges and universities is also a key Polytechnics Canada objective, but progress has been slow. One way we hope to win allies is to demonstrate that we offer a different route to the same end—that we are not competing in a zero sum game, but rather collaboration between basic science and applied research, between university researchers and college applied research expertise will help increase Canada’s poor innovation record. Seamless cooperation between the university and college/polytechnic sector is still a faraway goal, but we can get there through concrete action that demonstrates and de-risks this collaboration.
Meanwhile, two panel discussions dealt with some issues faced by all our members. In the morning, we heard from European experts, one from Germany and another from Finland, and an American College President about their success and challenges in polytechnic and applied education. While we are envious of the commitment among European businesses and governments to skills training and their greater social acceptance of a skills career, we can take pride that we are going down similar successful paths. At the same time, the European experience demonstrates that we have a long way to go in improving credit transfers and student mobility in Canada. See the powerpoints from this panel here: Finland - http://www.polytechnicscanada.ca/sites/default/files/Finland.pdf; Germany - http://www.polytechnicscanada.ca/sites/default/files/Germany.pdf; USA - http://www.polytechnicscanada.ca/sites/default/files/USA.pdf.
Our afternoon session on applied research in action focused on members’ successes in working with local businesses to achieve breakthroughs in the emerging green building sector. Building Green. The panel’s business representative, Tridel Chief Information Officer Ted Maulucci, praised the George Brown students he has worked with over the years, singling out the importance of practical experience to a comprehensive education. “When students get connected with industry on real problems, they light up,” Maulucci said. Thoughtful presentations on the link between applied R&D and trades training were made by our very accomplished green building and applied research experts from BCIT, SAIT Polytechnic, Algonquin and George Brown. Slides and presentations are here: http://www.polytechnicscanada.ca/sites/default/files/David.pdf; http://www.polytechnicscanada.ca/sites/default/files/Ted.pdf. Full video to the panel is here: (video to come).
All of our discussions were invigorated by the spectacular George Brown Waterfront Campus. Home to the College’s interdisciplinary Health Sciences school, the stunning structure boasts state-of-the-art labs and classrooms overlooking Lake Ontario. Many of the delegates enjoyed an eye-opening building tour that included visits to the school’s dental and nursing-practice labs and simulated environments where students receive hands-on training.
I want to thank Anne Sado, George Brown’s President and Chair of Polytechnics Canada, and her team, for hosting our Annual Conference. In the evening, we experienced practical education in action at a reception and sumptuous dinner produced by George Brown’s leading-edge Hospitality and Culinary Arts program. Afterwards, Cisco Canada Vice President for Industry and Business Transformation, and Executive-in-Residence at George Brown, Rick Huijbregts outlined his company’s approach to training and post-secondary collaboration through its Networking Academy, explaining his own polytechnic roots having been educated at a polytechnic school in the Netherlands. A link to his remarks is here: www.rickhuijbregts.com/talking-with-polytechnics-canada-may-8th/
Cisco clearly understands the benefits of a polytechnic education. Our job now is to persuade more Ciscos and Tridels that they have much to gain from reaching out to our 11 member colleges across the country. Given the increasing federal government recognition of our messages around applied education and applied research, the time has never been better to use, prove, and leverage these opportunities at the federal level … and we at Polytechnics Canada look forward to carrying that message on our members’ behalf.
As you will see in the photos of the day, especially the delicious and gorgeous birthday cake to commemorate our 10 years, happy 10th anniversary Polytechnics Canada! There is more work to do, but much to celebrate too! (http://www.flickr.com/photos/90617926@N02/sets/72157633511972736/with/8745342094/)