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Caribbean food security during COVID-19 can only be ensured through debt relief

International border closures, which prompted the near-total shutdown of air and cruise travel to curb the spread of COVID-19, dealt a catastrophic blow to the Caribbean's tourism industry.

A woman shops in the produce section of a Caribbean grocery store
People visit fruit section of a grocery store on Guadeloupe, an island group in the southern Caribbean Sea. (Shutterstock)

The pandemic and global trade disruptions have highlighted the growing vulnerability of Caribbean states when it comes to importing food items. Annually, Caribbean states import food items valued at nearly US$5 billion for food security.

International border closures to curb the spread of COVID-19 meant restricted access to these imported food items which make up more than 80 per cent of the region’s food system.

A household survey commissioned by Caribbean governments in April 2020 to explore the impact of the pandemic on regional food security revealed that global border closures increased barriers to food security by augmenting food prices and decreasing income and employment levels. The survey data also revealed that more than half of all respondents experienced income or job loss.

The impact of international border closures on food security

Tourism supports a large percentage of economic activity in the Caribbean. International border closures, which prompted the near-total shutdown of air and cruise travel to curb the spread of COVID-19, dealt a catastrophic blow to the Caribbean’s tourism industry.

The decline in tourism led to decreased spending by tourists, hotel and associated tourism service closures and job losses for community members. Such outcomes translated to higher levels of indebtedness, unemployment and psychological stress, disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations throughout the Caribbean.

All of these factors made many residents anxious about their ability to ensure food security in the coming months, because without money they cannot afford to buy food.

Shopping centre
Pictured is the largest grocery store in San Jose De Ocoa, Dominican Republic. (Shutterstock)

The downward economic spiral

Downward growth spirals across vital economic sectors like tourism prompted Caribbean states to turn to international development institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Funds (IMF) for emergency loans during the pandemic.

Alicia Bárcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, highlighted concerns back in April, 2020 about the emergency loans stating “borrowing is not the answer to confront this crisis. Caribbean countries need grant support fast. There is need for urgent intervention to ensure liquidity.”

According to Bárcena, Caribbean countries are spending between one per cent and four per cent of GDP to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. Growing external debt burdens to replace income and ensure social outcomes, like food security, worsened the Caribbean’s debt to GDP ratio, which averaged 68.5 per cent in 2019.

The growing debt problem

The rising debt burden facing Caribbean states is largely because most hotels and restaurants in the region’s tourism sector import bulk supplies of low-priced food items. The priority for cheap imported food for tourist consumption means that as much as 80 cents from every dollar generated in the Caribbean’s tourism sector leaves the region each year.

While the pandemic disrupted tourism growth, the extreme external debt levels facing Caribbean states are increasing. And governments are becoming more responsible for social outcomes like food security.

Over the past 12 months, the IMF provided more than US$1 billion to Caribbean countries.

Relative to annual foreign exchange earnings in a thriving island economy, US$1 billion in emergency loans seems immaterial. However, in just paying the interest on external debt accumulated on emergency loans offered by development institutions like the IMF, some Caribbean island states allocate up to 54 per cent of their annual budgets to external debt servicing.

Small islands, like the Bahamas are spending up to US$ 1 million each week on food assistance programs — all while increasing financial support on health spending for COVID tests, treatment, vaccinations, surveillance and protective equipment.

In shifting the responsibility for social welfare from people to the state, COVID-19 is worsening the growing external debt problem across small Caribbean states.

Shopping centre with cars
Coki Point Plaza, a shopping centre in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. (Shutterstock)

Food security in the post-Covid-19 economy

In April 2020, Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, issued a call to international development institutes, like the IMF, for alternative development approaches, he said:

“The economic burden for our countries has been unsustainable because of the high levels of debt. We don’t have the capacity for printing money and our policy instruments are very limited. What is required at this point is some level of support from international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”

Debt relief would improve Caribbean states response to global crises. Less debt means that governments can increase spending on social services that would improve economic conditions to ensure food security. It really is the only solution.

A post-pandemic recovery pathway to ensure Caribbean food security involves the IMF and other development entities recognizing the unsustainable debt situation across Caribbean island states and including the region in considerations extended to other developing countries for debt relief.The Conversation

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Kasmine Forbes, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography and Planning, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Ghana needs to rethink its small-scale mining strategy

The devolution of small-scale mining decisions to municipal and district assemblies working in collaboration with traditional authorities is key to saving the industry in Ghana.

Gold is key to the economic survival of millions of Ghanaians. Knut-Erik Helle/FlickrCC BY-NC

Ghana is among the top two gold producers in Africa. What has caught little attention, however, is the fact that more than 35 per cent of total gold output in Ghana comes from artisanal and small-scale miners. Artisanal and small-scale mining is estimated to support the livelihoods of some 4.5 million Ghanaians, about 12 per cent of the population. They account for more than 60 per cent of the country’s mining sector labour force.

Artisanal and small-scale mining is a low-tech, indigenous and often informal. It occurs in over 80 mineral-rich developing countries. Up to 100 million people globally work in this sector.

Artisanal and small-scale mining has a long history in Ghana. It was only in 1989, however, that government recognised its legitimacy through the Small-scale Mining Act (PNDCL 218), later integrated into the current Mining Act 703 (2006). The act provides a blueprint for its formalisation. It also reserves small-scale mining for Ghanaians. The law requires prospective local miners to apply for a licence to mine up to 25 acres of land in designated areas.

Government’s intention to formalise the sector has had very little success. More than 85 per cent of all small-scale mining operations in Ghana are carried out by unlicensed operators.

Due to the sector’s evolving nature, the distinction between artisanal and small-scale mining has become contentious and blurred. To avoid any complications, most scholars now use them interchangeably. Some use the level of sophistication employed to make a distinction. But in Ghana today one sees rudimentary tools (traditional artisanal mining) and modern tools (small-scale mining) being used on a single mining site.

Jackboot approach

Government’s response to illegal mining has been to use the military to raid small-scale miners. There is a long history to such a combative approach in Ghana. It dates as far back as the British colonial administration which enacted the Mercury Ordinance of 1933 to ban and criminalise native miners.

In 2013, the then president John Mahama formed the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce to “flush out” illegal miners, which led to many arrests and the expulsion of illegal Chinese miners. The use of force intensified under the current president, Nana Akufo-Addo, who vowed in 2017 to put his presidency on the line to fight illegal mining in Ghana. This culminated in the setting up of Operation Vanguard, the largest centralised military-police joint taskforce to combat illegal mining in Ghana.

The real problem, however, is government’s failure to implement its legislative framework for the formalisation of small-scale miners.

Barriers to formalisation

Government first introduced a framework for the formalisation of small-scale miners more than 30 years ago. But it has very little to show for it. Less than 15 per cent of small-scale mining operators have been able to acquire the requisite mining licences. Many don’t bother to apply due to the tedious and cumbersome nature of the regulatory process.

To gain a better understanding of why the formalisation process has not achieved much, an aspect of my PhD research sought to unearth local perspectives on the underlying conditions for the creation of these informal local mines. It examines how these underpin persistent informality.

There are two problems. The first is that the current formalisation blueprints fail to adapt to the conditions of the majority of local miners. The second is that the blueprints make it very difficult or too costly for small-scale miners to comply. They are therefore a disincentive to formalise.

Only a small segment of small-scale miners can raise the amount of money required to become formal operators. The costs include application fees as well as the money required for the preparation and processing of the application. Then there are costs for environmental permits, the hiring of surveyors and for the acquisition of business documents. A prospective small-scale mining licensee could spend at least US$4,000 to secure the requisite legal status.

When unofficial payments (bribes) are included, according to small-scale miners, the costs of getting a licence to mine 25 acres can balloon to as much as US$7,000. A burgeoning body of research has shown that artisanal and small-scale miners in Ghana are driven to mining by poverty.

The second challenge revolves around a centralised bureaucracy and lack of effective engagement with all stakeholders. Despite the administration of small-scale mining being decentralised into nine mining districts across the country, only the national head office can issue a small-scale mining licence. Key local stakeholders like municipal and district assemblies with better understanding of the complexities play no effective role in the licensing process.

Again, the creation of a centralised taskforce to address a localised problem runs parallel to existing local structures. This undermines effective policing, monitoring and accountability.

Finding solutions

President Akufo-Addo’s call for a dialogue on illegal mining in his January 2021 state of the nation address portends a potential shift.

To create the enabling policy environment for a blooming artisanal and small-scale mining industry that is environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial to the state and citizens, greater engagement with local actors is the path to chart.

The solution is the devolution of small-scale mining decisions to municipal and district assemblies working in collaboration with traditional authorities.

This will facilitate greater recognition and inclusion of local actors in the licensing process. It will also open dialogue with local miners since municipal and district assemblies are the local development agents. This will bring decision making processes closer to small-scale miners and enhance the effective policing and monitoring of the sector.

The reform of the licence regime for small-scale mining should be driven by the need to match the costs of formalisation with the complex socio-economic dynamics of the majority of operators. This is attainable when policy treats small-scale mining as a survivalist sector rather than a platform for wealth creation. Artisanal and small-scale mining has also suffered because of its portrayal by the media and public misrepresentation as a vehicle for “quick money”.The Conversation

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Richard Kwaku Kumah, PhD Candidate, School of Environmental Studies, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Queen’s professor co-curates National Gallery of Canada’s first major Rembrandt exhibition

Stephanie Dickey plays lead role in developing Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition which features works by the world-famous artist and his contemporaries.

Rembrandt van Rijn's painting called The Blinding of Samson, 1636
Rembrandt van Rijn's painting The Blinding of Samson, created in 1636. (Photo provided by: Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main)

The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) will soon present its first-ever exhibition of masterpieces by the world-renowned artist Rembrandt van Rijn, marking the country’s first major loan exhibition focused on Rembrandt since 1969. Co-curated by Queen’s Professor Stephanie Dickey, Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition charts the central decades of the artist's career within the context of the thriving Amsterdam art market, bringing Rembrandt’s art into context alongside works by other artists who were his friends, followers, and rivals in Amsterdam.

“I am really excited to introduce Canadian viewers to remarkable artworks that have never been shown here before,” says Dr. Dickey, the Bader Chair in Northern Baroque Art. “This exhibition picks up perfectly from Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges, which debuted at Queen’s Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 2019. The Agnes show, curated by Jacquelyn N. Coutré, former Bader Curator and Researcher of European Art, examined Rembrandt’s early years as an emerging artist in his hometown of Leiden. In 1632, he made the decision to move to Amsterdam, a larger city that was fast becoming the commercial and cultural capital of Northern Europe. The National Gallery exhibition explores how Amsterdam’s stimulating creative environment inspired Rembrandt to reach his full potential as an artist, teacher, and entrepreneur.”

Thirty lenders from across Canada, the U.S., and Europe have contributed to the works on display. Three paintings from Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s Bader Collection – one each by Rembrandt and his associates Govert Flinck and Nicolaes Maes – will join the installation, which features 21 paintings, eight drawings, and dozens of prints by Rembrandt and works by 20 of his contemporaries.

Notably, the exhibition also integrates newly-commissioned and acquired works by contemporary Indigenous and Black artists based in Canada that reflect on the impact of colonialism in Rembrandt’s time and beyond.

“Exhibiting European art of the colonial period is something we can no longer take for granted,” Dr. Dickey says. “The global trade empire that fueled Dutch – and European – prosperity was part of a culture of colonialism that created much suffering, including the exploitation and enslavement of Indigenous peoples in Africa, Indonesia, and North America. We have added new dimensions to this show by including contributions by Black and Indigenous scholars and contemporary artists, and we hope to present one of only 11 preserved examples of the Two-Row Wampum, a sacred Indigenous record of the first treaty between the Haudenosaunee people and Dutch settlers.”

The treaty marks the first diplomatic contact between Dutch settlers and Indigenous peoples in the area around what is now Albany, New York. It dates to 1613, during Rembrandt’s lifetime, creating a powerful link that prompts reflection on the role of North America within the global story of European colonialism.

A major exhibition like this one takes several years to come together. Dr. Dickey was involved at all stages of the project, from researching and selecting the works to be featured, to contributing to and co-editing the exhibit’s accompanying catalogue. She also worked together with the NGC and Städel teams on exhibit design, programming, and marketing.

“The theme for this exhibition grew out of my own research and teaching here at Queen’s, and I am delighted that it captured the interest of my colleagues at the National Gallery and the Städel,” Dr. Dickey says. “A major museum project like this involves a lot of people and an extraordinary level of teamwork that is quite different from my usual, rather solitary, life as a scholar. It has been an exciting process that gives me great respect for the complicated work done by museum professionals.”

While Dr. Dickey is an internationally-recognized expert in Dutch art, she is also a professor deeply committed to sharing her passion for the history of visual culture with Queen’s students.

“Students in Canada rarely have a chance to learn in such close proximity to major masterworks from the European historical tradition, so exhibitions like this, and the work leading up to them, provide unique opportunities for our students to engage with important artworks,” says Norman Vorano, Head of Queen’s Department of Art History and Art Conservation. “Professor Dickey is not only an internationally-recognized expert, but she has a wonderful gift in being able to connect with students and to make these 400-year-old paintings ‘relatable’ and relevant to new and diverse audiences. I want to congratulate her and the National Gallery of Canada.”

During the years spent developing the exhibit, many of Dr. Dickey’s students assisted with research that informed its creation through class assignments and independent projects.

“There are many ways to approach art history, from theory and cultural context to technical examination, and putting together a museum exhibition requires developing all of those skills,” Dr. Dickey says. “Most of all, a project like this one, with broad public appeal, shows students the real-world applications of what we do.”

Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Germany, Rembrandt in Amsterdam: Creativity and Competition is scheduled to run in Ottawa from mid-May to Sept. 6, 2021. The original opening date of May 14 has been delayed by Ontario’s current public health guidelines in response to COVID-19. A new opening date will be announced as soon as it is available.

For more information on the exhibition, related public programs, and on-line resources, visit the National Gallery of Canada website.

Canada should embrace Quebec’s simple incorporation system for small businesses

With some minor refinements, Quebec’s regime can and should be deployed across the country.

Ouverts sign in green with white lettering
Canada should take cues from Québec on how it incorporates small businesses. (François Gha/Unsplash)

The federal government’s 2021 budget is significant in at least two respects.

First, it affirms that small businesses are “the vital heart of our economy.” Government support in times of extreme economic stress is therefore critical.

Second, the budget looks to policy innovation at the provincial level as inspiration for nationwide reform — Québec’s universal child-care system being the latest example.

While parliamentarians and provincial legislatures debate unprecedented fiscal measures to support Canada’s small businesses, they should also consider how to embrace another Québec innovation: its simplified incorporation model for small businesses. With some minor refinements, Québec’s system of incorporating businesses can and should be deployed across the country.

The pandemic has reinforced the need to advance reform in an area where we lag behind the United States and many other members of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Small businesses employ two-thirds of Canadian workers and account for about half of Canada’s private sector economy. Yet some neglect to incorporate due to concerns about costs and paperwork, even though constant regeneration of small business is critical to long-term prosperity.

Access to capital

Incorporation helps with this process. When businesses legally become corporate entities or companies, they increase their access to capital because they separate assets in a way that is attractive to those who finance early stage businesses. Business assets are set apart from personal assets that can be subject to claims from other creditors.

Incorporation also encourages entrepreneurs to keep creating new businesses. The limited liability that comes with incorporation caps a founding shareholder’s losses to the amount they invested in the business. This better enables a founder to manage insolvency risks.

Importantly, some of the newest providers of capital to small businesses now rely on algorithms to evaluate credit risk. They’re also increasingly prepared to invest in a corporation without asking for personal guarantees. The ability to contain losses to what was already invested is critical to an entrepreneur’s ability to build other businesses.

But more than that, the pandemic has taught many small businesses that there are advantages to moving from the informal to formal economy. Incorporation can greatly assist in getting access to government support.

Demonstrating that a business satisfies eligibility criteria is easier when it is a distinct legal entity with financial statements. Government delivery of funds is also facilitated when dealing with corporations that already have business numbers and business bank accounts.

Québec was especially focused on helping small business when it adopted a new Business Corporations Act (QBCA) in 2010. To this day, the QBCA’s simplified incorporation structure remains highly innovative, allowing a sole shareholder to dispense with:

• Establishing a board of directors

• Adopting by-laws (for example, rules about internal governance)

• Appointing an auditor

• Holding shareholder meetings

• Keeping records of board and shareholder meetings

Reduces costs

More than 25 years as a business lawyer taught me that removing redundant administrative burdens would simplify incorporation for many small businesses. It would also reduce costs that can serve as a barrier to incorporating.

But it is one thing to innovate, and another for innovation to be embraced. To date, only a few hundred companies have opted into Québec’s simplified regime. In contrast, several OAS countries have adopted simplified incorporation systems, many of which have met with extraordinary success. Colombia alone has seen the creation of hundreds of thousands of simplified corporations.

The benefits have been significant and include increased employment and social security contributions and benefits and enhanced tax revenue for governments.

What accounts for the difference in uptake? Québec’s approach could certainly be more user-friendly. For example, it could give a founder the option to dispense with a board and other formalities by ticking a box when incorporating, rather than the current practice of requiring more legal documents to be filed after incorporation.

Efforts need to be publicized

But the OAS and countries like Colombia have also put substantial effort into ensuring that the option is well known and its use actively encouraged. In contrast, Québec has done little to publicize its regime. Unfortunately, a strategy that relies on word of mouth is no strategy.

What is required is a sustained government communications plan that alerts small businesses to the system’s advantages, encouraging them to embrace it from the moment they go online to incorporate.

The QBCA’s adoption marked an important step in recognizing the value inherent in simplified incorporation processes. But more needs to be done for that value to be fully realized.

Other jurisdictions in Canada need to follow Québec’s lead, adjusting and perfecting its model. They then need to deploy communications strategies that will resonate with small businesses — all inexpensive but consequential steps that would help drive economic recovery for small businesses in the post-pandemic era.The Conversation

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Robert Yalden, Stephen Sigurdson Professor in Corporate Law & Finance, Queen's University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

What are the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings?

Looking at the social impacts post-secondary institutions are creating locally and abroad.

The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings are the only global performance tables that assess universities against the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through their research, teaching, outreach, and stewardship efforts.

Over 1,000 institutions based around the globe were assessed in this year's rankings, and you can view their performance toward each of the 17 SDGs on the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings website. Find out how universities are moving toward eradicating poverty and hunger, increasing health and wellbeing, achieving gender equality, advancing climate action and clean energy, stimulating economic growth and innovation, and improving education. You can also explore Queen's University's Times Higher Education profile.

 

Queen’s ranks first in Canada and fifth in the world in global impact rankings

Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings illustrate Queen’s role in advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Queen's ranks first in Canada and fifth in the world in global impact rankings

Today, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings revealed that Queen’s University has placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in its global ranking of universities that are advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within and beyond their local communities. The rankings measured more than 1,200 post-secondary institutions and focused on the impact made in 17 categories measuring sustainability.

Established in 2019, THE Impact Rankings assess a university’s societal impact based on the UN’s SDGs, a set of goals outlining a universal call to action to protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, everywhere. Using carefully calibrated indicators across four broad areas – research, outreach, teaching, and stewardship – THE Impact Rankings are a recognition of those who are working today to build a better tomorrow.

“At Queen’s we believe our community – our people – will help solve the world’s most significant and urgent challenges through our intellectual curiosity, passion to achieve, and commitment to collaboration,” says Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor. “We are humbled to be recognized in this way for the impact we’re having in our local and global communities, but we recognize how much still needs to be done. We are, however, pleased to know we are on the right track, and have our eyes set even more firmly on the future.”

Queen's University’s community of students, researchers, staff, and alumni all contribute to making a positive impact as measured by the UN’s 17 SDG criteria. THE Impact Rankings acknowledged Queen’s as:

  • 1st worldwide for SDG 1 ‘No Poverty,’ and SDG 16 ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’. This was exemplified by Promise Scholars, a program designed to reduce financial barriers and increase access to Queen’s for local, first-generation students. The university also helps the next generation of policy makers through programs and research led by the School of Policy Studies, in addition to significant collaboration with all levels of government.
     
  • A leader in advancing programs that promote equal access, equity, and diversity, because of initiatives like: the Queen’s Equity Locator App, a map of accessible and gender neutral spaces, and specialized pathway programs for Indigenous and Black students.
     
  • Queen’s supports air, land and water ecosystems through initiatives such as Queen’s Climate Action Plan, which is committed to climate neutrality by 2040;  the Queen’s University Biological Station, one of Canada’s premier scientific field stations; and the Beaty Water Research Centre, which fosters interdisciplinary research and outreach in water governance, sustainability, and protection.

Queen’s scored highly across a number of SDGs, including in SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities), and SDG 15 (Life on Land), where Queen’s placed in the top 10 worldwide. For both SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), Queen's ranks first in the world.

These impressive results reflect the cross-university collaboration and partnership of over 70 units across faculties, portfolios, and departments that contributed to or were represented in the evidence.

“Canada’s universities are actively demonstrating the fundamental role they will play in helping solve some of the world’s greatest challenges as outlined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” says Phil Baty, Chief Knowledge Officer, Times Higher Education. “In a year that has seen record levels of participation in the Impact Rankings, with 1,240 universities from 98 countries and regions, it is wonderful to see the success of Queen’s University in helping to ensure a sustainable future for global society.”

Other highlights from the more than 600 pieces of evidence submitted illustrate Queen’s contributions to an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable future, including:

“Building on this track record of sustainability, while accelerating development and partnerships at home and abroad, Queen’s will stay focused on developing the leaders of tomorrow to advance global initiatives and make a lasting imprint on our communities,” says Principal Deane, who wrote on how the SDGs can help inform and shape the future of the global academy.

Transforming the global academy

Principal Patrick Deane on how the SDGs are helping break down silos, provoke dialogue, and unite us all in a common global purpose.

[Photo of Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane]
Patrick Deane, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Queen's University

As a member of the international group tasked with updating the Magna Charta Universitatum – the declaration of university freedoms and principles that was first signed in Bologna in 1988 – I am struck by the extent to which the intervening three decades have altered the global consensus about the nature and function of universities. Where the original document spoke eloquently to the fundamental values of the academy, the new Magna Charta Universitatum 2020 reaffirms those values but also expands upon their social function and utility. I would summarise the shift this way: we have moved from an understanding of universities as defined primarily by their ability to transcend historical contingency to a more complicated view, which asserts that timeless principles such as academic freedom and institutional autonomy are the platform from which the academy must engage with history.

If the situation in Europe and around the world in 1988 made it important to speak up for the freedoms without which teaching and research would be impoverished, by 2020 it had become equally important to speak of the responsibilities incumbent on institutions by virtue of the privileges accorded to them. The reality of rapid climate change has brought urgency and authority to this new view of universities, as have parallel trends in the social, cultural, and political climate, and “education for sustainable development” has emerged as the increasingly dominant model for global higher education – one which fuses the concerns of environment, society, and economy.  

Recent columns in Times Higher Education have admirably described the diverse ways in which the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been intrinsic to this reorientation of the global academy: as a rallying point for students and staff, as an accountability framework, and as a global language for political action, for example. Here at Queen’s University, the SDGs have been an important frame for our current planning process, and in all of those ways have influenced the manner in which we understand and wish to articulate our mission.

At one point in the process, an influential and valued friend of the university expressed some irritation to me about the way in which the SDGs had come to dominate and disrupt the university’s normally untroubled and inwardly-focused dialogue with itself about mission and values. “And in any case,” came the throwaway dismissal, “there’s nothing original or new about aligning with the SDGs.” Of course, that is true in 2021, but is it relevant? If a university is able to maximise its global impact, does the inherent originality or novelty of its planning parameters matter? In such exchanges – still occurring, I’m certain, on campuses everywhere – we can see that the changing consensus about which I wrote at the start is not yet complete.

It seems to me, in fact, that much of the value of the SDGs as an organising framework for universities resides in their not being proprietary or “original” to one institution, or to an exclusive group of institutions. It has often been pointed out that they now provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research. Adoption of the SDGs, however variously that is done from institution to institution, is turning the “global academy” from a rhetorical to a real construct, and I can’t imagine why it would be in the interests of any university to hold itself aloof from that transformation. Having watched our planning process unfold at Queen’s over the last two years, I can confirm that what the SDGs do at the global level, they do also at the level of the individual institution, providing a common language that provokes and sustains dialogue – not only between disciplines, but between the academic and non-academic parts of the operation.

I want to end by commenting on the excitement generated when siloes are broken open and when people and units understand how they are united with others in a common purpose and in service to the greater good. To cultivate that understanding has been the primary objective of planning at Queen’s for the last two years, and preparing our first submission to the Impact Rankings has been an intrinsic part of that process of learning and self-discovery. Naturally, we are delighted and excited by where we find ourselves in the rankings, but we are energised in a more profound way by the knowledge of what synergies and collaborations exist or appear possible both within our university and in the global academy.

The first 16 SDGs point to the areas in which we want to have impact. The 17th tells us what the whole project is really all about: acting in community for the communal good.

This op-ed was originally published in the Times Higher Education supplement.  

Queen’s community comes together to illustrate social impact

THE Impact Rankings submission measures the university’s overall contribution to global sustainability.

[Graphic image with a "Q" of the Queen's community]

Times Higher Education (THE), the organization best known for its World University Rankings, sees universities as representing the greatest hope of solving the most urgent global challenges. In 2019, they moved to create the Impact Rankings – an inclusive evaluation of post-secondary institutions’ commitments to positive social and economic impact measured against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year, out of more than 1,200 participating institutions worldwide, Queen’s placed first in Canada and fifth globally in the 2021 Impact Rankings. It is the first time Queen’s has participated in this ranking exercise, and our performance is a result of the campus community’s united effort to create a comprehensive submission package for Impact Rankings adjudicators.

THE Impact Rankings

While many traditional ranking processes are designed with research-intensive universities in mind, the Impact Rankings are open to any institution teaching at the undergraduate or post-graduate level. Using the SDGs as a means of gauging a university’s performance, THE developed a methodology involving 105 metrics and 220 measurements, carefully calibrated to provide comprehensive and balanced comparisons between institutions across four broad areas: research, stewardship, outreach, and teaching.

“The Impact Rankings are unlike any other ranking. They offer a global platform to acknowledge and celebrate the partnerships integral to advancing international initiatives, developing the leaders of tomorrow, and working towards an inclusive, diverse, and sustainable future,” says Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations) and co-chair of the Queen’s Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “On behalf of the Steering Committee, thank you to the community for your support and collaboration in advancing this initiative.”

In their submissions, universities must demonstrate progress toward meeting at least three SDGs, as well as toward SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. THE evaluates each institution’s submission, drawing on the quantitative and qualitative data provided, as well as bibliometric research datasets provided by Elsevier, a data and analytics company.

The Queen’s Submission – A Community Effort

“Participating in the Impact Rankings requires self-reflection. We are asked to contemplate our current impact and think about what we want to achieve for the future,” says Sandra den Otter, Vice-Provost (International) and co-chair of the Queen's Impact Rankings Steering Committee. “These results testify to the work we have done together. I hope this is a moment for recognizing the progress we have made, and to furthering our aspirations as a university and as members of a global community committed to change.”

To lead its submission process, Queen’s established a Steering Committee, Project Team, and Working Group, comprised of leadership, staff, and faculty from across the university. This team set about gathering over 600 unique pieces of evidence, representing the efforts of over 70 departments and portfolios. Queen’s chose to submit evidence in support of all 17 SDGs – a decision that led to top-100 rankings in 14 of 17 SDGs, including top-10 in three categories (Zero Hunger, Sustainable Cities, and Life on Land) and being ranked first – globally – for SDG 1: No Poverty and SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. 

Metrics and measurements were unique for each SDG, with each goal requiring a specific combination of quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative evidence integrated research bibliometric data and key words that measured number of publications, co-authors, and field-weighted citations. Other quantitative measurements looked at water consumption per capita, energy and food waste measurements, university expenditure on arts and culture, the number of first-generation university students, and number of employees from equity-seeking groups.

Qualitative evidence spanned institutional policies and individual courses, to the missions of research centres and institutes, community volunteer initiatives, and strategic plans, all demonstrating how we are advancing the SDGs. Metrics often required evidence of local, national, and global-reaching initiatives to illustrate full impact.

More than 400 internal links pointing to Queen’s websites were supplied as publicly accessible evidence of Queen’s research, outreach, teaching, and stewardship efforts. Additionally, nearly 100 external links were included in the submission, each reflecting the university’s extensive partnerships: internally with student-led clubs, locally with Sustainable Kingston and United Way KFL&A, nationally with the Government of Canada, and globally with the Matariki Network of Universities.

Learn more about Queen’s performance in the Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings.

What are the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

Universities draw upon global framework to boost social impact of learning, research, and outreach.

[Graphic image: "Q" Sustainable Development Goals]

For universities, research and teaching excellence have traditionally been the key measures of success, however the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings provide a new and complementary opportunity to look at the social impacts post-secondary institutions are creating locally and abroad. At the heart of these rankings are the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are a set of 17 wide-ranging goals adopted in 2015 by UN member states – including Canada – as central to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. They cover an array of objectives including, but not limited to, eradicating poverty and hunger, increasing health and wellbeing, achieving gender equality, advancing climate action and clean energy, stimulating economic growth and innovation, and improving education. While distinct, the goals are interdependent. True progress requires committed action on each and every one.

In reflection of its UN commitment, Canada has asked every segment of society to contribute to advancing the SDGs, calling for leadership, engagement, accountability, and investment on all fronts. The country’s post-secondary institutions are uniquely positioned to help accelerate this progress in all categories.

The THE Impact Rankings measure a school’s performance against the SDGs. This year, Queen’s, in its first-ever submission to THE Impact Rankings, demonstrated notable progress on all 17 SDGs, including on the eradication of poverty and hunger, improvement of local urban sustainability and ecosystems, and promotion of peace and inclusivity. Queen’s placed first in Canada and fifth in the world in these global rankings.

More broadly, a concerted, strategic approach to advancing the SDGs aligns all participating universities in Canada and abroad toward a common vision. As Queen’s Principal Patrick Deane writes: “[The SDGs] provide a shared language which helps universities in diverse geographical, political, and socio-economic locations understand and build upon the commonality of their work in both teaching and research.”

The SDGs also align with Queen’s emerging strategic framework which, through Principal Deane’s ongoing consultations with the university community, underscores Queen’s efforts to champion equity, diversity, inclusivity, and Indigeneity, as well as grow local, national, and international partnerships that increase the impact of its education, research, and social contributions.

Visit the United Nations website to learn more about the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and read about Queen’s stand-out performance in the Times Higher Education 2021 Impact Rankings.

Science Rendezvous Kingston – At home

Science Rendezvous Kingston has gone virtual this year, inspiring STEM curiosity and discovery from the nature around us to the far-reaches of outer space.

[Promotion graphic - Science Rendezvous Kingston May 1 - 16, 2021 - Virtual Expo @STEMYGK]

Science Rendezvous Kingston is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year and marking it with the largest event to date.

For nine years, Science Rendezvous Kingston has been an exceedingly popular community event, drawing about 17,000 people from across the region to engage with local STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) experts and Queen’s researchers. While the 2020 event was cancelled due to COVID-19, organizers set their sights on developing the first virtual Science Rendezvous Kingston to mark its return. The enthusiastic response from the STEM community and Queen’s researchers has turned the 10th anniversary event into the largest program offering yet, with live virtual activities from May 1-16, 2021.

“We are very proud of the Science Rendezvous Kingston virtual venue and are excited to know that our activities will have a wider reach than ever because there are no geographical limitations to participation,” says co-coordinator Lynda Colgan (Education). “We expect to have visitors from around the city, province, country, and world joining us — learning and loving it!”

Inspired by the theme of “STEAM Green,” integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, and math with stewardship for the flora, fauna and water systems of our planet, this family-friendly event will combine online experiences with outdoor and “kitchen-table” activities for at-home learning. All programs will be housed on the Science Rendezvous Kingston website where visitors will find both a huge selection of content and special events rolled out during the two-week period. Some of the programs available will be a virtual tour through the Museum of Nature’s Canadian Wildlife Photography of the Year exhibit, demonstrations from Queen’s researchers, STEM@Home learning activities, and the Exploratorium, an online STEM gaming environment designed to take users out of this world. Some additional activities added throughout the event will be videos featuring women STEM innovators and influencers, and STEM challenges, such as the Canada-wide Science Chase scavenger hunt and the Million Tree Project.

Organizers have also planned virtual live Q&A sessions meant to further Science Rendezvous Kingston’s mission to inspire curiosity in STEM among students and provide opportunities for them to engage with researchers as role models. Queen’s researchers participating in the live sessions include John Smol, Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change, and Connor Stone, PhD candidate in astrophysics and co-coordinator of the Queen’s Observatory. Keynotes will also be delivered by James Raffan, famous Canadian explorer, Jasveen Brar, conservationist and STEM literacy advocate, and Lindsey Carmichael, award-winning author and Faculty of Education’s Science Literacy Week Author-in-Residence.

Science Rendezvous Kingston is part of NSERC’s Science Odyssey’s national program, supporting free science outreach events across the country. Kingston’s last event in 2019 was honoured with the national STEAM Big! Award and co-coordinator Dr. Colgan was awarded the 2020 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Science Promotion Award, in part, for Science Rendezvous Kingston’s success in promoting STEM among the community.

To learn more about the schedule of events and how to participate, visit the Science Rendezvous Kingston website.

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