Opening Address at the Conference of the Americas on International Education
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, April 26, 2012
It feels wonderful to be among so many colleagues again. I consider you all peers because I spent much of my career—nearly 45 years—as a university professor and administrator. And while I have a new job now, I’ll always remain a teacher at heart.
I still rely heavily on the skills I honed in my teaching career, as I carry out many of the same duties—speaking to large and hopefully attentive audiences, sharing my advice with young people and recognizing notable achievements. Though I now recognize achievements with the red and white ribbon of the Order of Canada instead of the red pen I used for marking tests and papers.
Before I go any further, let me extend my thanks to those who worked so hard to put this conference together. I’m speaking specifically of the men and women of the Inter-American Organization for Higher Education, the Canadian Bureau for International Education and the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration, the founding partners of the Conference of the Americas on International Education in cooperation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade of Canada
I’d also like to say a special thank you to our new partners in the 2012 edition of this great initiative and our hosts here in Rio de Janeiro: the Board of Brazilian University Rectors, the Association of Brazilian Higher Education Institution’s Offices for International Relation, and the Universidade Federal Fluminense.
As many of you may remember, the Conference of the Americas was launched in Calgary, Canada in 2010. One of the best successes of the inaugural Conference was the news that Brazil would carry the event forward and be the host of the second Conference of the Americas in 2012. And here we are today.
This is my second visit to Brazil. What an extraordinary country! Rich in history. Full of warm, generous people. Alive with the sights, sounds and tastes of a vibrant country on the rise.
These are exciting times for Brazil. Your country is becoming incredibly prosperous. It’s using trade to reach out to the world like never before. And it’s deep into preparing for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. These two prestigious international sporting events will surely shine a brilliant light on your extraordinary country.
I didn’t come here alone either. I’m truly honoured to be leading a delegation of 30 presidents from universities across Canada who are participating in this special conference.
On behalf of my Canadian colleagues, I want to thank officials from Brazil’s universities for welcoming us so warmly to your country and to this conference. I find great comfort being here with so many people from universities.
I share the thoughts of John Masefield, for many years the poet laureate of Great Britain. He wrote that, “There are few earthly things more beautiful than a university—a place where those who hate ignorance may strive to know, where those who perceive truth may strive to make others see.”
It’s the spirit of seeking to know and helping others see the truth that brings me to Rio de Janeiro. Seeking to know and helping others see the truth is obviously not a modern concept. Aristotle stated that, “All men, by nature, desire to know.”
More than two thousand years have passed since he uttered that brief sentence. I believe we should recast his statement so that it more properly reflects our needs and aspirations in the 21st century: All men and women in all nations must be not only eager to know, but also eager to share what they know widely to create a smart and caring world.
I use those words—smart and caring—deliberately. On the day of my installation a year and a half ago, I made clear that I would answer my country’s call to service by bringing Canadians of all backgrounds and ages together to create a smart and caring nation.
A smart and caring nation is one that supports families and children, encourages philanthropy and volunteerism, and reinforces learning and innovation.
Being here with you is a perfect way for all of us to take action to fulfil that mission in all our nations—specifically, to find ways to reinforce learning and innovation. The best way I know to achieve that is by practicing something I call the diplomacy of knowledge.
What is the diplomacy of knowledge? It’s our ability and willingness to work together and share the knowledge we uncover and refine across disciplines and across borders to improve the human condition together.
Let’s dig a little deeper into that definition. I want to stress two aspects of it—across disciplines and across borders. Any action we take as educators, teachers, researchers and innovators should be designed to promote close contact and interaction across disciplines. As a student of history, I know that civilization’s greatest advances often came not wholly from within certain disciplines but at the intersections of different disciplines.
The most inventive practitioner of working across disciplines was Leonardo da Vinci. The Renaissance genius was truly ahead of his time in his ability to fuse the several disciplines of the arts with those of the sciences to reveal and interpret knowledge and thereby advance human understanding.
Few men or women today have the extraordinary insights and talents of Leonardo. But we can surely learn from his example and cultivate much closer contacts and interactions across disciplines.
And not merely related disciplines. We must share and interpret existing knowledge and spur the discovery of new knowledge by making it possible for anthropologists and computer scientists to work together. Or psychologists and engineers. Or historians and urban planners.
Who knows what advances might arise in genetics out of a greater understanding of quantum physics? What might a deeper appreciation of ecology teach us about global communications networks? We won’t know what sort of breakthrough discoveries, revolutionary inventions and innovative approaches we’ll uncover until we move across disciplines and take greater advantage of the diplomacy of knowledge.
Innovation is a word that gets bandied about quite a bit. So much so that it’s no longer anchored in any universal meaning. What truly is innovation? It’s neither about discovering nor inventing, as many people believe—though making discoveries and inventing new products and services, methods and machines are vital to human progress.
Innovation is making changes in something already established, in taking an existing idea or concept or product and approaching it from a different perspective, or combining it with a seemingly unrelated idea, concept or product to improve a product or service, or sometimes even create something wholly, radically new.
When we look at the true meaning of innovation, we realize that its lifeblood is working across disciplines; the lifeblood of innovation is practising the diplomacy of knowledge. And if we’re going to build individual countries and an entire world with economies and people that innovate, we’re going to need to promote and practise the diplomacy of knowledge. It’s just that simple—and, of course, that complicated.
The diplomacy of knowledge also requires us to take action across borders. While the diplomacy of knowledge operates on many geographic levels—local, regional and national—I believe it’s particularly potent when we cross international borders and cultivate closer contacts and interactions among teachers, researchers, students and schools from different countries.
Rapid advances in communications technologies have made it easier for us to make those initial connections. But once those initial connections are made, we must fully take advantage of the diplomacy of knowledge by bringing people closely together. We must study together—face-to-face. Research together. Travel together. Socialize together. Talk informally together. Only then can we unleash the true power of the diplomacy of knowledge.
It only makes sense that we adopt this kind of transnational approach. For the biggest challenges we face as individual nations are either global in origin or global in scale. Challenges such as ensuring all people can access quality healthcare services, and adequate supplies of healthy food and clean water; guaranteeing people and industries in rapidly developing countries can obtain clean, renewable sources of fuel; and making sure all nations can prosper economically and yet preserve their lands and waters, and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.
Our willingness and capacity to practise the diplomacy of knowledge will determine whether we can effectively tackle these challenges—some of the biggest that human civilization has ever faced.
The scale of these problems leads me to ask—pointedly—my next question: Why must we engage in the diplomacy of knowledge? The global scale of our challenges compels us to learn together. But let’s delve a bit deeper into that thought. We must engage in the diplomacy of knowledge for the following reasons.
First, to enhance the wellbeing of our fellow citizens in each of our countries. Quite simply, with each passing day, the quality of life of our fellow citizens rests on our ability as nations to help individual citizens develop and advance their knowledge. It’s knowledge—and not military strength or GDP or any other measure—that’s the truest gauge of a country’s international success and the most important determinant in a citizen’s personal success.
We need only look to my country for proof. During the economic downturn that began in 2008, Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 who lacked a high school diploma were more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their peers who graduated from high school. That’s a straightforward example. Yet the importance of helping our citizens develop and advance their knowledge goes beyond getting and keeping a job. Creating a nation that focuses keenly on cultivating and sharing knowledge is a nation that enables its citizens to learn how to live truly fulfilling, rewarding, meaningful lives. Is there any goal in any country more desirable and profound than that?
The second reason is to foster harmony between people in different countries. It’s a fact of history that when nations work, trade and learn together they are much less likely to fight one another. Now is the perfect time to use learning and knowledge sharing to generate closer, more productive ties among nations.
Information and ideas flow more freely, quickly and inexpensively around the world to virtually all parts of the world than at any time in human history. No one is out of the loop. Let’s use the ubiquity of information and ideas to open up even more relationships between peoples of different countries.
The third reason is to make more informed choices. The speed and ease of communications that I just spoke of comes with a corollary: the risks we face and the opportunities open to us are now bigger than ever. The best way for us to mitigate these risks and seize these opportunities is to share the abundant evidence—especially scientific evidence—that exists to different challenges in different places throughout the world. In other words, the best way for us to navigate our way and inform our choices is to practise the diplomacy of knowledge.
The fourth and fifth reasons flow out of using the diplomacy of knowledge to make more informed choices. Fourth, we must engage in the diplomacy of knowledge to improve existing ideas. Creating a world in which we freely share knowledge makes it possible for people to improve their ideas by enabling other people to test those ideas through action. That’s not a competition or an effort to debunk the achievements of others. It’s using the diplomacy of knowledge to enlighten us all.
Thomas Jefferson’s brilliant metaphor of a burning candle illustrates this point. The burning candle symbolizes not only enlightenment but also the transmission of learning from one person or country to another. When you light your candle from the flame of mine, my light is not diminished. On the contrary. The light from both our candles shines an even more powerful light on all about us.
The fifth reason we must engage in the diplomacy of knowledge is to promote and spread proven practices. Working together and sharing the knowledge we uncover and refine across disciplines and across borders is much like the scientific method.
One of the truly great approaches to learning and discovery in human history, the scientific method has propelled human understanding ahead by leaps and bounds. The increasingly interconnectedness of our world—bolstered by a willingness and ability to share knowledge—has the potential to promote and spread proven practices like never before—especially to countries in which the benefits of the scientific method have yet to truly take hold.
Few countries are as well placed as Canada to practise the diplomacy of knowledge. Why is my country such a valuable partner in the diplomacy of knowledge?
We Canadians have several things going in our favour. First and foremost, we believe deeply in the intrinsic value of learning from one another and sharing knowledge widely. We’ve come by this belief honestly. The very survival of the first European settlers to Canada stemmed from their willingness to learn from our country’s Aboriginal peoples.
This early example would inform the way future Canadians would approach knowledge. The most vivid expression of that approach is our education system. Education in Canada is—and has always been—a great social and economic up-lifter and equalizer.
That didn’t just happen by chance. No nation has worked harder than Canada to make equality of opportunity possible by making high-quality education widely and freely accessible. By doing so, we have made it possible for generations of Canadians to overcome barriers that exist in all countries—racism, ageism, poverty, class immobility, glass ceilings—and achieve their true potential as individuals.
Hugh MacLennan, one of my country’s great novelists, once called Canada a nation of losers. He didn’t mean it in a derogatory sense. He meant that many of us came to Canada from abroad—most fleeing oppression or hunger or war in their homelands—to make better lives for themselves and for their children. And the single most important avenue for advancement and success for generations of Canadians has been accessible quality education.
Fulfilling the promise to improve peoples’ lives transforms our country continually. And the characteristics that these changes have brought about in my country make Canada such a valuable partner in the diplomacy of knowledge.
Today, Canada is made up of people from around the world—more so than any other country in the world. That’s because we not only attract more immigrants per capita than any other nation, but we also encourage new Canadians to retain and celebrate those aspects of their heritages that don’t conflict with the time-honoured values that have made our country such a success. This balanced approach enriches Canadian culture by incorporating the best that others bring.
That approach has also made Canada a land not only of two official languages but also many unofficial languages. In fact, 11 languages are officially recognized in the legislative assembly of one of our smallest territories. While learning a new language or adapting to the changes that a multicultural society brings about may have posed some difficulties for Canadians of my generation, not so for Canadians of my children’s and grandchildren’s generations.
Our young people are living and embracing this reality in their classrooms everyday. Canada’s young people are the very embodiment of the diplomacy of knowledge.
But that reality doesn’t mean we in Canada are content. We know that if we are to improve the quality of our condition at home we must reach out to the world—and do it like never before. That’s why Canada’s universities are expanding relationships with international partners; and why we seek to collaborate throughout the Americas in research, innovation and higher education.
The fact that there are 30 university presidents from across Canada in this room right now attests to our country’s willingness to be partners, work together and find and share knowledge.
Need more proof? At this very moment, Canadian researchers are working with their colleagues across borders to determine the socio-economic impacts of aging, prevent the spread of disease, ensure the supply of safe water and food, increase energy security, and maximize the potential and benefit of digital and information technologies. Indeed, Canada’s research facilities attract thousands of foreign researchers each year, making Canada a hub for international research collaboration. According to the most recent figures, 6,500 researchers from around the world made use of state-of-the-art research facilities funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation at Canadian universities and research hospitals.
More than 900 projects at these centres are linked with a total of 73 countries—including Brazil.
We in Canada and Brazil are advancing the diplomacy of knowledge. It’s only natural that we do. Our two countries share a number of key industries and areas of interest, including aerospace, biotechnology, nanotechnology and renewable energy to name just four. This collaboration has borne fruit. Here are two vivid examples.
Marco Prado, a Brazilian native recruited by the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario, leads a team of Canadian and Brazilian scientists that uncovered a new treatment for heart failure while researching Alzheimer’s disease. The success of the team’s work has prompted Dr. Prado to promote even greater collaboration between our two country’s scientists on other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
Dalhousie University’s Jinyu Sheng spearheads an international team of researchers from his school and the University of Sao Paulo, as well as from universities in Australia and the United Kingdom. This diverse group of professionals is working together to devise methods to more accurately forecast the onset and consequences of tropical storms and hurricanes.
Those are two revealing examples of our success in bringing to life the diplomacy of knowledge. But we’ve just begun to scratch the surface in terms of what our two countries can do together. Here’s one way we can really boost things.
Just last year, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff announced Science Without Borders, a new program to provide university scholarships to more than 100,000 Brazilian undergraduates and PhD students. I would love to have Canada host them all. And there are 30 university presidents from Canada in this room who agree with me.
I’m serious, ladies and gentlemen. Canada is ready and willing to take bold steps to advance the diplomacy of knowledge. Our federal government recently formed a panel of experts to advise it on developing and implementing an international education strategy. The panel will set down the steps the government must take to attract the best and brightest international students to Canada, strengthen Canada’s engagement with emerging nations, expand the delivery of Canadian expertise, knowledge and education services abroad, and promote partnerships between Canadian and international education institutions.
Our government also used its most recent budget—made public just last month—to set aside money that will enable our country to take action on those priorities. Canada is investing more than $200 million to attract the world’s best researchers and top doctoral students to collaborate with our country’s best. We’re also using additional resources to encourage stronger ties between schools and businesses through more internships, research partnerships and business-led centres of excellence in key industries such as forestry, pharmaceuticals, health care and sustainable energy.
This conference and your participation in it shows me that all of you share my and Canada’s desire to take action to advance the diplomacy of knowledge. And that leads me to ask my final question: How should all nations advance the diplomacy of knowledge?
I have several suggestions:
One, we must take action to make greater connections at the undergraduate level. Most of our collaborations occur at advanced levels. Let’s get many more of our youngest university and college students—the 18, 19, 20 year olds—studying, training, learning and sharing as soon as possible. I would even suggest we take steps to encourage formal exchanges between high schools and summer camps.
Two, we must focus renewed attention on working individually as countries and together as partners to help more people learn foreign languages. It doesn’t so much matter if those languages are English, Portuguese, French, Spanish or Mandarin. What does matter is equipping more of our citizens—especially our young people—with skills they can use to overcome persistent obstacles among our countries and deepen our knowledge sharing.
Three, we must find ways to encourage professors to take sabbatical leaves in other countries.
Four, we must forge enduring links between laboratories in different countries.
Five, we must make academic exchanges more attractive and rewarding by holding open opportunities for students to work and perform internships as well as study. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself on this one. Let’s start by making sure all our universities and colleges—at the highest levels of their operations—support international education and exchange programs.
Every university and college in our countries should have offices devoted to international education. Not only that. These offices should be given secure long-term funding that enables these offices to hire smart, skilled, energetic men and women who can then forge close ties with foreign partners. That way, every student who wants to study abroad can have multiple opportunities to choose from to study abroad.
Six and perhaps most significantly, we must develop a process of inter-certification between schools and countries so that students can earn degrees by completing courses at universities in different countries. Students should be in a much better position to use the semesters and even years they spend at foreign schools to count toward their degrees.
This conference is of course an excellent way to explore these suggestions and a wealth of others.
Just looking at the conference program shows me that you have a keen desire and a shrewd sense of how to propel the diplomacy of knowledge. This conference itself is a vivid expression of the diplomacy of knowledge.
In the spirit of knowledge, and with all the talent and wherewithal in this room, I am sure you agree that it is our desire and responsibility to see the Conference of the Americas on International Education continue, as it is intended, every 18 months, and as I understand in Mexico next year. This is great news. You can count on Canada being a strong ally in this endeavour.
I urge you to make the most of the 2012 Conference. Use the connections you forge here to cultivate even closer, more rewarding collaborations in the weeks, months and years to come.
Let’s show our ability and willingness to work together and share the knowledge we uncover and refine; let’s use the principles of the diplomacy of knowledge to advance the diplomacy of knowledge and create a smarter, more caring world.
Thank you very much for listening.
I have had much to say, yet there is so much more for us to do.