Reaching out to the world

Principal’s Perspective
McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum and Imperial College London rector Sir Keith O’Nions sign a partnership agreement between their two institutions.

McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum and Imperial College London rector Sir Keith O’Nions sign a partnership agreement between their two institutions.

In recent months, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum accompanied Premier Jean Charest to India as part of a Quebec delegation that explored possible new partnerships between Quebec and India, and she travelled to England to sign an official accord between McGill and Imperial College London that paves the way for future collaborations in neuroscience. She recently spoke to McGill News contributor Jake Brennan about why McGill’s international connections are so crucial.


McGill has a strong international reputation – it has ranked in the Top 25 universities in the Times Higher-QS World University Rankings for the past six years. But what makes McGill an “international university?”

We’ve always had a very big international student population—from more than 160 countries in any one year—and a very international faculty. And our community extends to our 200,000 (and growing) living alumni in virtually every country in the world. It’s also the sense that we understand our distinctive ability to contribute as a research-intensive, student-centered university, not only locally, which is important, but according to the highest international standards. Our academic plan is written off that, our recruitment strategies are driven off that, our measures of our own performance include this international character. It’s part of our mission.

You’ve talked about making McGill an even more international university. What else do we need to do?
I think we could work towards having international experience become a hallmark of an undergraduate education at McGill. We already do a lot of that, but we could do more. Otherwise, I would say our focus needs to be on nurturing our international distinctiveness— maintaining programs that rank with the very best in the world, continuing to attract outstanding students and faculty from around the world, and ensuring that our efforts have the greatest impact possible through international partnerships and networks.

Can you offer some examples of what you mean by international networks?
Our professors are already engaged in collaborations all over the world. Where we can add value to this is to say, “Are there partnerships that we can create that would give us a strategic lift by contributing to the domains we are leaders in?” Our neuroscience partnerships with Oxford and now Imperial College London would be one example. Another is our recent collaboration with the Energy and Resources Institute in India. That partnership helps puts Quebec right at the heart of climate-change research.

So we’ll be seeing more of these partnerships in the years to come?
In the seventies, we talked about internationalization being important, but it didn’t really affect the way universities ran or the way economies developed. It was at the margins. We are now in the middle of a globalized world.

Let’s take global health as an example. Global health wasn’t as meaningful a field 30 years ago. Yes, we cared about the health of people on other continents, but it was viewed as a social value. But now what happens in Africa or Asia can affect us profoundly. So if universities want to be part of a solution for a positive societal future, we’ve got to be part of the globalization process and help to shape it in ways that will be constructive.

One of the tremendous assets that McGill brings to Quebec and Canada, by having such an international group of students, professors and alumni, is that when events happen quickly that require international mobilization—something like a disease outbreak, or a tsunami in Malaysia—we’ve got people in those places who we can interact with and who have the expertise and confidence needed to make a difference.

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