In today’s knowledge economy, post-secondary institutions have a more important public role to play than ever before, not just in developing highly-skilled workers but in conducting research that can address some of our most pressing issues. However, the contribution of higher education to social and economic development is often overlooked.
A recent international study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) examined the role of universities and colleges in fostering regional development. Atlantic Canada was one of the 14 regions in the world included in the study.
The project included an in-depth self-evaluation by higher education institutions (HEIs) in Atlantic Canada, followed by an assessment by external reviewers from Australia, Japan, the United States and Montreal. A wide mix of stakeholders participated in focus group studies that explored the role of higher education, especially in rural and peripheral areas, the commercialization of research, and collaboration between universities and community colleges.
According to Memorial economist Dr. Wade Locke, who served as the regional co-ordinator and principal investigator on the project for Atlantic Canada, the primary goal was to increase the extent to which HEIs utilize their intellectual capital to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development within their regions.
“Although universities and colleges possess tremendous intellectual and research capital and have done a reasonably good job engaging the community, there has not been the level of collaboration and co-operation that I believe needs to exist between them and the private sector to optimize their potential contribution to the communities, provinces and regions in which they exist,” Dr. Locke said.
The resources, knowledge and expertise within HEIs can offer essential benefits to the wider community.
“If we do the research locally, for example, we have the ability to adapt ideas or technology to our specific, local needs,” he explained. “But we need to make our resources more accessible to the public and that public includes business, government, NGOs, and the cultural, scientific and social communities.”
Stronger relationships, he noted, will also benefit the institutions by providing them with improved opportunities for funding and other partnerships.
The study was done in conjunction with the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC), the Atlantic Provinces Community College Consortium (APCCC), the Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU), the Council of Atlantic Premiers and representatives of the provinces. Funding was also received from Memorial's Leslie Harris Centre. Participants at Memorial included Dr. Stephen Tomblin, Political Science department, and Dr. Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Centre.
Communication with a broad audience is the next stage of the project, which has been described as “the beginning of a discussion.”
To allow community members to learn more and to weigh in on this important topic, the Harris Centre will host a Memorial Presents event on Monday, Jan. 14. Dr. Locke will be accompanied by three panellists: Elizabeth Beale, president and CEO of APEC; Cyril Farrell, executive director of APCCC; and Graham Letto, the mayor of Labrador City, president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, and a long-time practitioner of regional development.
“The purpose of this particular session is to promote the value of Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic in helping to solve the social and economic problems facing Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Michael Clair, associate director, public policy, Harris Centre.
Mr. Clair said participants should walk away with a comprehensive understanding of the role that colleges and universities play in “enhancing the quality of life and developing the economy of their home regions.”
From Ivory Tower to Regional Power: The role of universities and colleges in development will take place on Monday, Jan. 14, at 7:30 p.m., in room 2001 in the Inco Innovation Centre on Memorial’s St. John’s campus.
All are welcome to attend and contribute to the discussion. Admission is free and there is no registration; parking available in Area 18. Reception to follow.
As well, the session will be simultaneously Webcast beginning at 7:30 p.m.; this can accessed via www.mun.ca/harriscentre. Viewers will be able to submit questions or comments to the speakers by e-mail.