21st Century Education

Notes for Remarks by Feridun Hamdullahpur, President and Vice-Chancellor to the Economic Club of Canada in March 2016.

Check against delivery.

Thank you, and good afternoon everyone.

Pat (Horgan of IBM), thank you for the kind introduction.

And thank you also for IBM’s outstanding partnership with the University of Waterloo.

IBM is an innovation leader, and our partnership is a great example of what we’re discussing today.

Let me acknowledge some other valued partners:

  • Sheldon Levy, Deputy Minister
  • Daiene Vernile, MPP for Kitchener Centre
  • Members of the University of Waterloo Board of Governors, John Lounds and Ted Scott
  • Waterloo alumni and members of our Alumni Council
  • Industry partners, including some employers of our more than 8,000 UWaterloo co-op students in the GTA per year
  • We have some of those very co-op students with us today in fact, and I’m thrilled you’re here
  • Federal, provincial and municipal government partners
  • And my friends and colleagues from the Council of Ontario Universities, and several of Ontario’s excellent post-secondary institutions.

Thank you all for joining in today’s discussion.

This is a conversation I’m glad we’re having in Ontario and in Canada.

The Opportunity

Working together, our universities can give our students, our communities, our industries, and our country a sustainable competitive advantage.

A competitive advantage designed for the 4th industrial revolution — the new knowledge economy.

We’re building on strong foundations.

Our existing innovation capacity continues to be world class.

The quality of the talent we are producing is world class.

The demand from local industry to access both of these Ontario resources is high, but with significant room for growth.

And we are seeing political leaders at all levels converging on an important point.

They are eager to work together with universities and industry to secure Canada’s position as one of the elite global destinations for talent and capital.

Last week federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau promised to invest $800 million dollars to support innovation networks designed to increase collaboration and create value through innovation.

He said this:

“We need to connect people and their ideas. These clusters are where innovation will happen — innovation that will ensure Canada is at the forefront of technological advancement in the 21st Century.”

And as you know — there is a very encouraging development taking place right in the heart of this region.

It is led by some outstanding civic leaders — starting with Toronto Mayor John Tory as well as mayors Berry Vrbanovic of Kitchener, Dave Jaworsky of Waterloo, Doug Craig of Cambridge and Waterloo Region Chair Ken Seiling.

Their shared vision — and ours, at the University of Waterloo — is to develop the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor as a global hub of innovation, growth and prosperity.

Mayor Tory visited the Waterloo region last week and told us that he believes we are much stronger working together to take on the world.

He said, “We are in a position to take Canadian innovations, talent, ideas and research and transform them to create jobs and create wealth.”

But to help us achieve this for our region and our country — and for universities to reassert ourselves as the strongest sources of innovation — our university system must keep evolving.

The University Model

Our students, their parents, our industry partners and the public sector have very high expectations of us.

At the University of Waterloo, we have a model that holds part of the answer to where I believe higher education needs to go.

Now, Waterloo has no monopoly on a vision for the way forward.

But we do have a model that may be the most adaptable to today’s changing economic and social environment.

And we hold it up both as an example for our peers, and as an opportunity for constant improvement and innovation.

Earlier this month Canada’s Minister of Science, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, visited the University of Waterloo.

We were proud to take the minister on a tour of some of our excellent research facilities, including the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre on campus.

She said: “I thought I knew Waterloo. This is so inspiring. Such a different philosophy.”

Such a different philosophy.

The 21st century requires a different philosophy of how a university engages with the world.

To do so is a challenge, but not a new one.

Higher education has been transformed several times before.

Writing in the 1960s, university scholar and administrator Clark Kerr articulated the concept of the modern university we know today.

He was writing on the cusp of the 3rd industrial revolution.

He saw that knowledge had never before been so central to national prosperity.

He saw that virtually all fields were starting to require advanced study of their workers.

And he saw, that as the economy came to rely upon universities for this advanced talent — and universities sought to accommodate — they became larger and more complex.

They became “multi-versities”, he argued.

What Kerr described is, basically, still the dominant university model today.

But as Prime Minster Trudeau reminded us at the World Economic Forum, we stand on the cusp of the 4th industrial revolution.

Technology, connection and complexity are defining this 4th industrial revolution – ultimately the new knowledge economy.

I must say that the traditional university model hasn’t kept up with this pace of change.

We have elements of a new system emerging across the country, and a high concentration of that activity bubbling up at the University of Waterloo.

But we haven’t yet fully redefined what the 21st Century University ought to look like.

Employers today are rightly questioning the ability of universities to generate the kind of talent and new discoveries they need to fuel their organizations for 21st century success.

Traditional universities take kids from high school, bolt even more knowledge onto them, and then – in the hope they’ve matured by graduation day – let industry sort them out as they start their careers.

This process is replicable; it’s linear; and it takes too long.

As universities, we need to pick up where Clark Kerr left off and innovate the next model of higher education.

21st Century Education

It starts with being deliberate about talent formation.

Instead of just presuming that our students will take our raw knowledge and turn themselves into savvy, conscientious, communicative, team-oriented, entrepreneurial professionals, we need to prepare them that way.

On purpose.

To do that, our approach at Waterloo is to wrap the student experience in three enriching layers: entrepreneurship, exposure to research, and co-operative education.

First, we provide entrepreneurial development through programming, incubation, and start-up acceleration.

The demand for this kind of education is immense. 46% of incoming students tell us they want to start their own business.

And they know how to get it done.

Our student and alumni entrepreneurs have now attracted a quarter billion dollars in venture capital investment.

A second element of 21st century education is a research focus on strategic frontier disciplines.

In our case, this includes quantum science, water science and aging, among others.   We need to ensure that our highly relevant research is also connected to its enormous potential for social and economic uses.

And we’ve created a culture of mobilizing our research through commercialization and industrial collaboration.

Our policy — that the creator owns their intellectual property — has allowed us to attract top researchers, as well as highly entrepreneurial grad and undergrad students who are looking to get their discoveries into the marketplace.

The third element of student experience at the University of Waterloo is what has made us different from the start: experiential education.

Co-op helps students develop business skills, mature faster, and challenge their classroom knowledge in real-world experiences.

It also builds a deep institutional connection to industry, expanding the university’s role as an instrument for social and economic growth.

Through almost 19,000 co-op placements, our students earned more than $250M in the 2014-15 academic year.

If this sounds like a complex system, that’s because it is.

Co-op and entrepreneurship and research intensity don’t co-exist…

They inter-react with one another to create a university environment uniquely capable of developing exceptional talent.

That sounds great, but how does it actually work?

Impact and Action

I have three examples to share.

Christina Marchand was on a co-op term in Uganda.

As a student in our Applied Health Sciences faculty, she was working at a maternity hospital.

She watched a young mother lose her life during childbirth because of a lack of basic medical supplies.

She decided to do something about it.

When Christina finished her term and got back to Waterloo, she founded FullSoul, a high-end fashion firm that drives its profits into maternal medical kits.

Christina saves lives.

She is a social entrepreneur, like all those working at our social entrepreneurship incubator, the Green House, at St. Paul’s University College on campus.

A 21st Century University needs to create experiences and opportunities like this… to make innovation more likely.

Let’s look at four other Waterloo students: Alroy Almeida, James Pickard, Katarina Ilic and Jesús Zozaya.

These four co-op students in mechatronic and nanotechnology engineering were frustrated.

They found that the process of creating circuit board prototypes took way too long.

They saw that it cost businesses hundreds of dollars to have them manufactured, and then weeks of waiting while they were being shipped.

So they thought, ‘OK, we’ll just have to invent a better way.’

They moved into our Velocity entrepreneurship space and created a 3-D printer that can produce a circuit board prototype in less than 60 minutes.

Just months ago, their Voltera V-One printer was named a Top 10 Innovation by Popular Science, and they received the $60,000 James Dyson Award for design engineering.

In our world — and I say this as an Engineer — that’s a really big deal.

And, for one last example, take Varden Labs.

On August 19, Alex Rodrigues and Mike Skupien, founders of Varden Labs and University of Waterloo Velocity students, put the first autonomous vehicle on a Canadian road.

It was Ring Road at the University of Waterloo, and — I don’t want to brag, but — I rode shotgun. And it was awesome.

In part, because they were second-year students at the time.

These are the kinds of innovators we need to attract, develop, and retain in our innovation corridor.

At the University of Waterloo, we find that – if you set the right culture – our students can achieve absolutely anything they set their minds to.

We call it the spirit of “Why Not?”

Our goal is to create the conditions that make innovation and entrepreneurship much more likely, and much more systemic.

That’s what we do by combining co-op, entrepreneurship, and research-intensity into an enhanced student experience.

Sam Altman, head of Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator, says that “There is something about Waterloo students that makes them think like founders.”

Yes, that’s the idea.

And those entrepreneurial talents don’t just translate into startups: they also attract firms who want to be where the talent is.

Magnetize the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor

A few weeks ago, General Motors Canada established its 2908 innovation lab in Waterloo.

GM Canada president and Waterloo alumnus Steve Carlisle says the emphasis will be on disrupting the entire auto industry by expanding from auto manufacturing to “urban mobility” using infrastructure that is “electric, connected, and autonomous.”

They need University of Waterloo talent to do it.

Google recently opened a massive new facility in the Waterloo region: a 185,000 square foot space to lead its Engineering efforts in Canada.

They need University of Waterloo talent to do it.

Our universities can help our region attract both the best minds and the most innovative businesses.

Let me wrap up with this.

Like many sectors in our economy the traditional university model is at risk of disruption.

I suggest we take the advantage and disrupt ourselves.

And the demand for this reform — especially among students — is real.

Students know the world is changing. They want to be relevant not just today, but 20, 30, 40 years from now.

They know they’re inheriting an economy — and career prospects — defined by volatility and technology.

If universities adopt a 21st Century University model, rooted in academic excellence, entrepreneurship, experiential education, and research intensity, we become disruption-proof…

… and if we gear our universities to produce 4th Industrial Revolution alumni, our entire region will be very successful.

Let’s continue to collaborate, connect and evolve.

Together, we can make the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor a magnet for talent and investment from around the world.

Thanks very much.