Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor

[Principal and Vice Chancellor]
[Principal and Vice Chancellor]

State of the University

Queen’s, Kingston, and the world

Remarks at the Principal’s Community Breakfast by Daniel R. Woolf, Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Where: Fort Henry Discovery Centre, Kingston, Ontario
When: November 13, 2014

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Good morning, everyone.

Thank you all for getting up early to be here for my annual community breakfast.

It’s great to see such a large group of familiar faces, including:

  • Our mayor, Mark Gerretsen;
  • Current and incoming members of city council;
  • Community leaders;
  • Students leaders and student entrepreneurs;
  • My colleagues from St. Lawrence College and RMC, Glenn Vollebregt and Harry Kowal;
  • And members of the business community.

I want to add my thanks to Fort Henry and Jessup Foods, for their generosity in sponsoring this event.

Queen’s is very fortunate to have so many community partners and supporters represented here today, particularly as many of you are alumni.

This event is part of a national series of events called “Open Doors, Open Knowledge"—events taking place across the country to connect universities and their broader communities.

It gives me the opportunity to acknowledge and strengthen these bonds of partnership, friendship, kinship, and community.

And I take the bond between Queen’s and Kingston very seriously.

Let me be clear right at the outset – how our priorities and activities affect the city and community is a constant topic around various meeting tables at Queen’s.

And because of the significance of this relationship – for all of us – members of my senior administrative team are increasingly engaged in how Queen’s interacts with residents, neighbours, city officials, community organizations, and industry partners.

I am pleased that most of my team are here today:

  • Steven Liss, Vice-Principal (Research), takes a leading role in economic development, with his oversight of Innovation Park and the Industry Partnerships portfolio;
  • Michael Fraser, Vice-Principal (University Relations), provides leadership on community relations;
  • ;Caroline Davis, Vice-Principal (Finance and Administration), oversees our facilities and infrastructure portfolio;
  • Tom Harris, Vice-Principal (Advancement), leads our fundraising and alumni relations team;
  • And Laeeque Daneshmend, Deputy Provost, holds responsibility for campus master planning and renewal;
  • The other key member of our team, Provost Alan Harrison, is out of the country and was unable to join us this morning.

This fall marks the start of my second term as principal and I’d like to share with you my plans for the next five years.

What follows are my priorities, and some reflections about working together to move Queen’s and Kingston forward.

I have titled this morning’s talk, “State of the University: Queen’s, Kingston, and the world”.

Making the link between the global and the local is increasingly at the core of what it takes to get noticed on the world stage.

And, at Queen’s, we are consciously forging those links.

For example, as we approach our 175th anniversary – to be celebrated in 2016-2017 – one of our objectives is to strengthen relationships in the city and the community.

At the same time, our other objectives for 175th celebrations:

  • To identify and enhance our role as a nation builder;
  • To highlight excellence in people, innovation, discovery, and leadership;
  • To enhance the national and international profile of the university;
  • Will also enhance Kingston in the eyes of Canada and the world.

So, I will focus my talk on three things this morning:

  • Internationalization and the global-local linkage;
  • Growth;
  • And economic impact. 

This fall marks thirty years since I made my first foray into teaching – which just so happens to have been at Queen’s.

Queen’s has certainly changed in 30 years – but what’s at our heart remains the same.

We are bigger than we were back then – with more students and a great deal more diversity.

A far cry from our modest beginnings in Kingston 173 years ago, when Queen’s first got its start as a Presbyterian College with two professors and 15 students in a little house on Colborne Street.

From those humble beginnings, we are now a dynamic national institution – renowned equally for our exceptional student learning experience and our prominence as one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities.

It was hard work and perseverance that allowed Queen’s to grow and thrive, but it hasn’t always been easy.

Where some universities in this country have chosen to define themselves as being primarily focused on research or undergraduate education, we have chosen to go down a more difficult path.

There is a tension inherent in wanting to balance the student learning experience with research excellence.

But we have chosen to be “the balanced academy” because we think that both the student learning experience and research excellence are fundamental to who we are as an institution.

As I mentioned earlier, Queen’s is a great national institution – but we need it to be a great international institution.

Why is this a priority for me?  And what does this mean for Kingston?

I am convinced that, as global competition among universities increases over the next decade, it will not be enough for Queen’s to be known simply just in our own country.

The value of our degrees will be tied to our international reputation.

And let me be honest – we are coming from behind on growing our international presence.

Other schools have pursued internationalization more aggressively. That’s why we are now working hard to get ahead.

This year, we have students on campus representing 51 different countries – from Australia to Yemen.

But we have to be strategic about where we place our efforts.

We have targeted three regional hubs around the world to attract international students, build research partnerships, and engage alumni in helping to tell our story. 

One of those hubs is east Asia, and right now, Provost Alan Harrison is leading a mission to China to visit a number of universities, high schools, and consulates.

And we recently launched a Chinese-language web site. It features information about the City of Kingston plus video snippets featuring skating behind City Hall, sailing on Lake Ontario, and local farmers’ markets.

We have partnered with the Limestone District School Board to provide a pathway between high school and university for international students – a pathway that emphasizes quality education at both levels.

It is an important focus of mine to increase the number of our international students because it will bring diversity, increase cultural awareness, and deepen the richness of the education that we offer.

We are also focused on establishing more international collaborations and partnerships.

On November 10, we announced that the NCIC Clinical Trials Group will be leading an international clinical trial for a new class of cancer drug aimed at curing lung cancer.

Our group of researchers will work alongside researchers across Canada, in France and Spain, as well as in other parts of Europe and Asia.

The outcome of this trial has the potential to improve patients’ immune systems so they can better fight forms of lung cancer that are often fatal.

So together, this means making Kingston a destination for international students and researchers who want to come here because of the excellent quality of life, the cultural amenities, and the great natural and built environment.

So you can see that enriching Queen’s educational mission and research excellence through internationalization is a key priority for the next five years.

The other strategic priorities that are driving our efforts are:

  • Enhancing the student learning experience;
  • Increasing research prominence;
  • And ensuring financial sustainability.

The last – ensuring financial sustainability – is where I’d like now to spend a few minutes.

Key to financial sustainability is continuing to attract top students.

Fortunately for us, that is not a challenge at the moment.

In fact, when compared with other institutions, Queen’s is doing very well.

We are actually outpacing the provincial trend – at least for the time being.

This year, as we start to see the demographic cohort of university-aged students decline, the number of students who accepted an offer of admission from Queen’s was up, whereas enrolment levels were down on average in the rest of the province.

But solid enrolment numbers don’t guarantee financial sustainability.

It could be easy to point to enrolment and think – wait a minute… all those students are paying tuition… what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that tuition accounts for less than half of our operating costs.

The government’s portion of our funding has shrunk so much in the last 30 years that whereas we used to say we were publicly funded – we now say we are publicly assisted.

The per-student funding we get from the government continues to fall, and they have imposed caps on tuition increases.  

For those of you in business: imagine if the government controlled half of your income, and that you couldn’t grow beyond what they had allocated for you.

So, we are thinking more creatively and strategically to diversify our revenue sources and contain costs as the keys to financial sustainability. 

Many of these creative ideas will generate new programs, courses, certificates, and credentials that will attract more students.

There is clear demand for our offerings, and that’s something we feel good about.

At the same time, I am very conscious that there is plenty of interest from the community in whether, how much, and how soon Queen’s enrolment might expand.

But let me be clear: a new student for Queen’s does not necessarily mean a new undergraduate student here in Kingston for four years.

A new student could be an adult learner, working on a professional master’s degree mostly online while spending only a few weeks on campus.

A new student could be a student at another Ontario university taking one of the province-wide online courses that our teaching and learning experts are developing.

Or an international student who spends two years in a home country and finishes his or her degree program in Kingston.

So that context behind our enrolment plans is extremely important, and that’s why I wanted you to hear it from me.

I do appreciate what enrolment growth means for the City – it affects decisions about bus routes and traffic patterns, the vitality of living and shopping downtown, infrastructure development and land use planning, policing and emergency response.

And I appreciate that our neighbours and Kingston residents are concerned about the impact of our growth on their quality of life.

As I stated earlier – we are keenly aware of these considerations and are earnestly trying to achieve a balance among all these interests.

But, I admit, we do not always get this balance right.

However, you have my commitment that we will continue to make community relations a priority, and collaborate with neighbours and the city.

At the same time, I ask you to consider this:

  • On any given evening, our Athletic Centre is crowded with local children attending swimming lessons;
  • Our Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts provides a space for world-class musicians to perform in our community;
  • Our playing fields see lots of action from community groups and schools;
  • We have a new bursary program, thanks to a $5 million donation from the Joyce Foundation, specifically for students from Kingston and the surrounding area who need a financial boost to take advantage of the great education that we offer;
  • And students contribute to the community in a wide variety of ways, including through volunteer activities and community-based course work.

I also want to mention that we have started initial public consultations on the proposed revitalization of Richardson Stadium, which is pending further fundraising and university approvals.

Once revitalized, Richardson Stadium will be an asset for the entire community. It will support active lifestyles, and will draw tourists into our hotels and restaurants.

Richardson Stadium has been a hub of activity on our West Campus for more than 40 years, and a revitalized stadium will serve Queen’s and Kingston for years to come.

I mentioned earlier that economic development is an important area of focus for us.

Perhaps we haven’t done enough to communicate how we are working with community partners to bring jobs, prosperity, and economic vitality to Kingston – which will, in turn, enhance the quality of life for all.

Programs like the Queen’s Summer Innovation Initiative allow Queen’s and St. Lawrence College students to flex their entrepreneurial muscles – they now have businesses creating everything from cell phone charging devices for restaurants, to cameras that can help the mining industry take better photos underground.

These are products that will be—indeed, that are being—manufactured right here in Kingston.

Today’s student entrepreneurs are tomorrow’s small business owners, and a number of those entrepreneurs are with us this morning.

Our hope for the future of the city, is that these students will see Kingston as a place to put down roots, and that they will stay in the community, maybe even creating jobs down the road.

We have partnered with community organizations such as KEDCO and Launch Lab, plus PARTEQ Innovations, to garner over $2 million to strengthen innovation in Eastern Ontario with a focus on emerging entrepreneurs.

I hope you will agree that this is very exciting and promising news!

And so: I will leave things there.  In closing, and in the interest of leaving you with a sense of the overall challenge that the whole university sector faces, I will leave you with this thought from a keen observer of higher education in North America, who noted that our university model was created in the 11th century, operates on a 19th century agrarian calendar, and prepares our students for life in the 21st century.

Thank you for listening.