Straight Talk: Bonnie M. Patterson Challenges Universities, Businesses and Government to Do More

Today, our President and CEO Bonnie M. Patterson was joined by Sheldon Levy, President of Ryerson University for the last decade, and soon to be Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, at the Economic Club of Canada where they addressed a room filled with government, business and university leaders with some “straight talk” about universities and their contribution to prosperity.

They had a frank conversation about the transformative power of postsecondary education, discussed the most fundamental contributions of universities today, and pointed out the tremendous power each person in the room wields in our mission to propel the benefits of a postsecondary education to even higher levels.

Now transitioning out of her role after nine years at the helm of the Council of Ontario Universities, Bonnie had a lot to say. Particularly compelling were the moments in Bonnie’s speech where she posed challenges to those in the room – a call for change.

Here are a few key excerpts from her speech:

“To universities: I challenge you to move forward with change.

  • Accelerate through the processes deeply valued by you, your engagement in wealth creation through partnerships and activities you prioritize.
  • Create a benchmark for the innovation ecosystem at your university – in teaching, research, entrepreneurship, incubators, curriculum or co-curriculars. Set a new integrated target, and aim even higher.
  • Find new ways for business and community organizations to engage students in internships, co-ops, and various other types of work placements. Make it attractive for them!
  • Seek more partnerships to do more research to solve today’s problems. You cannot do it alone, and, as I look to the future you won’t always be able to rely on accelerated government support to invest at the level needed. Solving today’s problems will secure investments to work on tomorrow’s issues.
  • Ask business and community leaders what skills they need in the next generation of graduates, and then seek to provide those.
  • Unleash the constraints on leadership in your institutions (however you define that) to be more creative. I guarantee it will make a difference.
  • Create room to fail – not student failure, as all learning is success – but innovation failure. That’s how we move forward. Experiment.”

“To the business community – here’s a challenge for you. Remember, I said there is a symbiotic relationship between universities, business and government and that the success of each depends on the success of the other?

  • Well, we need business to be good partners in this knowledge economy. Invest in Ontario innovation and our entrepreneurs.
  • Recognize that investing in the training of our recent graduates is a benefit for you, as well as the economy, society and cultural cohesiveness – not just a cost centre but it’s also cost avoidance.
  • It is not unusual to have a career today that stretches 50 or 60 years, particularly for women. As the Ontario Chamber of Commerce put it, it’s time for the private sector to recognize its role in ‘upskilling’ the workforce for the 21st
  • Instead of a downturn in business training investment, we need you to do more of it – whether independently or in collaboration with others.”

“To government – I challenge you to recognize universities and colleges as key economic drivers. What does that mean to me?

  • Unleash flexibility in public policy to give universities the room to do things in new ways and build a university culture that is less dependent. If your “stewardship” means control and rules, I fear we will lose enormous opportunity.
  • Enact policy that provides access to seed money, unencumbered, but certainly with accountability for outcomes.
  • Demonstrate good partnership by collaborating on relevant decisions before the “cake is fully baked” – this also implies investing in a cultural fix.
  • Even as you seek to deliver significant savings to meet your commitment to balance the budget by 2017-18, remember that there is a difference between investment in feeding the pipeline and investment in consumption.
  • Spending on postsecondary education is investing in knowledge – and that kind of competitive spending is the kind that fuels the economy and creates long-term wealth.
  • We need new investment not simply in access, but in quality to meet increasing demands for creativity and innovation. Challenge yourselves and postsecondary leaders to reinvent their engagement strategies with each other and with you, and be open to difference not just chasing sameness.”

Click here for the full speech.

See the infographic below for a visual summary of Bonnie’s speech.

Straight Talk Infographic