The Montréal community concerned about losing its status as a university metropolis

February 11, 2013

Collective text*

Nearly 500 cultural, social, economic, academic and political decision-makers came together on February 4th for the Montréal, métropole universitaire forum. Organized for the first time by the city's nine universities in collaboration with the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, this event was meant to add to the debate surrounding the Sommet sur l'enseignement supérieur.

This forum was also an opportunity to emphasize the significant contribution that our educational institutions make to the city. The numbers speak volumes: 184,000 students, or 65% of all Quebec university students; 43,500 degrees awarded annually; 36,400 employees. The contribution of our educational institutions to the economic, social and cultural vitality of the metropolis needs no further explanation: Montréal is Canada's top city for university research funding and a hub of higher learning that attracts up to 25,000 international students—in other words, it is a true source of pride.

Companies, cultural organizations and community agencies are the daily beneficiaries of this vibrancy, as attested to by the leaders who attended the forum. Everyone recognized that our institutions are seriously underfunded and that when one is weakened, all are weakened. People forget the essential role that universities play for both existing companies and future start-ups, for immigrant families looking to call our city home, or even for community agencies that need our services. We also cannot forget the essential ties that universities maintain with private and public organizations, particularly in terms of research.

This event allowed the Montréal community to express its desire to maintain if not reinforce this status, which the city has gained through determination and placed us in an exclusive circle of major North American university cities such as Boston, Washington and San Francisco. The envy of many urban centres, this status makes Montréal a place where innovation, creativity, community engagement and prosperity go hand in hand. Is this status currently at risk? Yes. We are stating this loud and clear, and we have the numbers to back it up. Jacques St-Laurent, President and Chief Executive Officer of Montréal International, showed on that our city's average annual growth in terms of total university students, international university students and university research funding is on a downward trend compared with Toronto and Vancouver. In other words, the decline has already begun. At a time when university funding is constantly being eroded compared with what is available to other Canadian institutions, and when governments are slashing operating and research budgets—which cover bursaries and research assistantships for young researchers during their studies—there is cause for concern.

The current debate on university funding must address a decisive question for our future: how can we ensure that our universities continue to fulfill their mission and progress—not regress—when it comes to teaching, research and the creation of community services?

If university funding is “everyone's responsibility,” as said by Rio Tinto Alcan CEO Jacynthe Côté, how can we ensure that everyone feels concerned by this issue and agrees to do what is necessary?

Are these questions easy to answer? Certainly not. Are they relevant? More than ever. Our universities will continue to do their part, but society must make a concrete commitment to support them.

The Montréal, métropole universitaire forum clearly delineated the expectations of business people, community and cultural leaders, and heads of public institutions—expectations that we endorse and that we quickly want to communicate to the Government of Quebec and the public, particularly thanks to Canal Savoir, so that these issues get the attention they deserve.

As part of this highly topical public debate, we, as the heads of these institutions, would like to reaffirm our determination to remain a hub of quality university education that measures up to the best in the world and that benefits not only Montréal but also Quebec as a whole. However, we must rise to this challenge together as a unified force that is determined to work relentlessly to achieve excellence.

*Yves Beauchamp, Chief Executive Officer, École de technologie supérieure; Guy Breton, Rector, Université de Montréal; Daniel Coderre, Director General, Institut national de recherche scientifique; Christophe Guy, Chief Executive Officer, Polytechnique Montréal; Michel Leblanc, President and CEO, Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, and cospokesperson of Montréal, métropole universitaire; Nelson Michaud, Director General, École nationale d’administration publique; Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University; Michel Patry, Director, HEC Montréal; Robert Proulx, Rector, Université du Québec à Montréal; Louise Roy, Chancellor and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Université de Montréal, and cospokesperson of Montréal, métropole universitaire; Alan Shepard, President and Vice-Chancellor, Concordia University

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