As recent university graduates, we are grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about Universities Canada–and from none other than an OLIP alumnus.
Today, Paul Davidson is the President of Universities Canada, a federal organization representing the interests of 96 participating institutions from across the country. However, in 1988-89, Davidson was an OLIP intern. He had placements with Peter Adams, the Liberal MPP from Peterborough, and Richard Johnson, the NDP MPP from Scarborough West.
His post-OLIP career has been wide-ranging, and includes working for the Ministry of Finance, leading a stakeholder relations firm, and serving as the executive director of both the Association of Canadian Publishers and the World University Service of Canada.
In his current role, Davidson is responsible for advocating on behalf of three major policy areas. First, Universities Canada is a perennial advocate on behalf of investment in research and innovation.
Second, there is a need – given the economic realities of globalization – for Canada to seize its international moment. For degree-granting institutions, this includes welcoming international students, recruiting faculty with international experience, and encouraging Canadian students to take advantage of opportunities to study abroad. Recent global events are changing the demographics of international students attending Canadian universities: Brexit in the United Kingdom and hardline immigration rhetoric in the United States have, respectively, contributed to increased application numbers from India and Mexico.
Lastly, Universities Canada is dedicated to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. Davidson observed that excellence is not possible without diversity, and that sexism is real and persistent in Canada, post-secondary education sector included. For example, relatively few – only 25% – of university presidents in Canada are women. Yet, even that number is a testament to progress, as it is also the highest-ever proportion of female presidents.
These issues coexist in a context of ongoing change for universities in Canada. Funding levels remain an ongoing issue of concern; according to Davidson, per capita funding in Ontario today is less than it was 20 years ago. Also, recent emphasis on STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) corresponds to reduced in enrollment in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Davidson observed that the liberal arts teach valuable critical thinking and communication skills, and that programs teaching those disciplines will need to work hard to share their virtues with prospective students.
We want to thank Davidson for giving us a window into the issues facing universities in Canada, and for encouraging us to challenge ourselves and pursue adventurous careers.