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Queen's University

Whig Standard Opinion Piece

Queen's expands global ties

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

 At Queen's, as at most other Canadian universities today, teaching, learning and research take place in a far more international context than existed a generation or even a decade ago. Increasingly, students and professors are gaining the opportunities and benefits that result from working in and studying other countries and cultures.

This is a critical shift, and one that we should do everything we can to support. The more opportunities we can provide our students to spend time abroad on exchanges or internships, or even to engage globally, the better. Similarly, the more we can diversify our campus population, the richer the quality of education that all Queen's students will receive. The potential effects on our students, our professors, our staff, our home community of Kingston and the province are considerable.

One current example of positive community impact is the Queen's School of English Business Internship program, which gives international students a taste of the Canadian work environment and a chance to improve their language skills through placements on campus and in the city. Local employers -- including hotels, a bakery and several municipal departments -- have given us very positive feedback about the program and the energy and initiative the students bring to their work place. The students are equally enthusiastic. According to Masato Ueno, a second-year business student from Kwansei Gakuin University who worked at KEYS Job Centre: "I wanted to learn the differences between Japanese and Canadian work places. I improved my English and I have confidence now to do presentations." It's a "win-win".

Queen's international efforts -- which will need to increase in coming years -- help strengthen Canada's talent pool, particularly in specialized sectors, by attracting highly qualified people here from around the world. Some of these talented individuals, including doctoral graduates and post-doctoral fellows, choose to spend more time in Canada -- with a gradually growing number opting to settle in Kingston -- and they can supply labour in key areas at a time when the demographic data show we are going to fall short if we rely exclusively on domestic enrolment.

Others who come to Queen's from abroad will return home, bringing their acquired skills and knowledge with them, furthering the university's impact as a global -- not just a national -- player in the education of civic leaders, scientists and engineers, entrepreneurs, teachers, lawyers, doctors, artists, musicians, public servants and well-educated, responsible citizens with an ambitious spirit, who are making a difference in their communities.

Our research, similarly, is global, involving teams of scholars from countries that may be half a world apart geographically. We need to ensure that we make Queen's a destination of choice for visiting academics in all disciplines and that our faculty and graduate students have opportunities to spend time in their international colleagues' institutions.

In February I will be travelling to China to develop new relationships with some of that country's leading universities and to enhance our existing ties, including our longstanding partnership with Fudan University, where we have jointly established a Network for Environment and Sustainability Research.

We continue to expand our connections and interactions with our six partner institutions in the Matariki Network, an international network of research-intensive, medium-sized residential universities that focus on the quality of the student experience and a commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. (I like to think of this as a "Star Alliance" type of partnership -- appropriate as "Matariki" is a Maori word to denote the Pleiades star cluster.) At a recent Matariki student experience forum, Queen's Director of Health, Counselling and Disability Services Mike Condra led discussions on ways to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness, and all participants shared ideas aboutimproving access to mental health supports and services on campus.

Global engagement will also help attract investments in our research programs and in local and regional industry. Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and Innovation Park Director Janice Mady recently returned from a trip to Germany, France and the UK. Dr. Liss attended a network research workshop on bioethics and met with companies in all three countries that are interested in partnering with Queen's, right here in Kingston. I'll be heading to Germany in March, with heads of other research-intensive Canadian universities to participate in a Presidents' Roundtable on developing and enhancing research relationships in that country.

Why is this important? The results of innovation are not limited by geography. For example, workers whose jobs include lifting and bending are benefiting from a wearable device that transfers the strains of these actions to stronger parts of the body. The device was developed by a graduate student from Iran who came to Queen's to pursue his research into back and shoulder strain in the dental profession. Working with a Queen's researcher, and with the assistance of Queen's technology transfer office, PARTEQ Innovations, this student has now transformed his inspiration into a product being brought to market by a Torontoarea safety equipment company.

Queen's is also exporting its innovation potential by way of spinoff companies. Qubit Systems Inc. is a Kingston-based designer and manufacturer of state-of-the-art analytical instruments for teaching and research in the biological sciences. Qubit provides research and instrumentation systems to more than 500 educational and research institutes around the world. The company's equipment enhances hands-on learning while enabling advanced research in a wide range of sectors, from plant science and exercise physiology to pharmaceutical development.

In these and many other ways, Queen's is reaching out globally to increase our international ties. Building these relationships is essential to our vitality -- as a university and as a contributing member of the Kingston and regional communities -- and to our collective future success.

Daniel Woolf
Principal and Vice-Chancellor and Professor in the Department of History

Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000