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Universities 100: High enrolments, high quality

The second in a series of columns in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), Paul Davidson, president of the association, says focusing on excellence at the undergraduate level will ensure national success.

Between now and 2017 – the 150th anniversary of Confederation – one million more students will graduate with an undergraduate degree in Canada. And this fall, universities across Canada are reporting record-breaking enrolment numbers.

With growing enrolments, students and parents are increasingly focused on quality in undergraduate education. They can be reassured that Canada's university presidents have made excellence in undergraduate education a priority and are taking action to strengthen the learning experience and outcomes.

In March, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada led a national workshop, Transforming Undergraduate Education, in Halifax for university presidents, other university leaders and student leaders. This workshop reflected a growing consensus that we must focus on what is arguably the university's central role: offering a quality teaching and learning environment to undergraduate students.

University leaders are actively searching for new techniques, programs and ideas to ensure that Canadian universities are equipped to make sure the next generation of graduates is the best educated and the best prepared to meet the challenges Canada is facing. There are already many excellent examples of innovative teaching and learning at Canadian universities, including interactive courses, international experiences and the use of new technologies. These efforts need to be encouraged, built upon and made sustainable.

Today Canada's universities' commitment to strengthening undergraduate education is being supported by a new online resource, entitled Great Beginnings: Enhancing Quality and Innovation in Undergraduate Education. Launched at McMaster University on Sept. 14, this resource includes a full report on the Transforming Undergraduate Education workshop, case studies on best practices in undergraduate education, a bibliography of publications and articles, as well as current news items related to enhancing undergraduate education.

The examples in Great Beginnings demonstrate how innovative programming and techniques at the undergraduate level help students achieve their potential, develop as global citizens and prepare for rewarding careers. Meaningful research experiences at the undergraduate level are an example of how this happens. Engagement in research expands students' knowledge, nurtures their critical thinking and analytical skills, and inspires new ideas and creativity. Research-enriched learning gives students a greater understanding about how our environment, communities, businesses, governments and healthcare systems work.

Making undergraduate education the best it can be in Canada is about realizing our country's potential. Because of the commitment of our university presidents and broader university communities to the enhancement of the undergraduate experience, Canadians can be confident that our universities will continue to produce the leaders of tomorrow and meet the needs of our country in the years ahead.