Montreal business community shows support, concern, for city’s universities

Posted on Tuesday, February 5, 2013

To close the event, the nine leaders of Montreal's university institutions, pictured here with forum co-spokespersons Louise Roy and Michel Leblanc, thanked the participants for their support. They also made a commitment to keep a dialogue open with the community. / Photo: Christine Bourgier

By Jim Hynes

In Montreal, universities are the lifeblood of economic and cultural development, and they need more support, not less. That was the message delivered by the organizers of a forum on education funding to an audience of nearly 500 business and political leaders at the Centre Mont-Royal Monday.

The Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the City’s nine universities teamed up to present “Montréal, métropole universitaire,” a platform for discussing the importance of Montreal’s universities and to better understand their contribution to the socioeconomic and cultural development of the city in the context of last year’s Quebec tuition battle and recent cuts to education funding.

Montréal’s nine universities include the École de technologie supérieure, École nationale d’administration publique, Polytechnique Montréal, HEC Montréal, Institut national de la recherche scientifique, Concordia University, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, and McGill. The leaders of all nine universities, including McGill Principal Heather Munroe-Blum, were on hand for the forum. It marked the first time that the nine schools have jointly hosted such an event.

Montreal: university city

Sixty-five per cent of all Québec university students, more than 184,000 in total, including some 25,000 international students, are enrolled at a Montreal university. The nine Montreal schools award over 43,000 degrees each year, which gives the city the largest pool of graduates in the country.

“We have a moral duty to make Montreal a university city, and we must firmly support the universities here,” said Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum, on hand to help open the event. “And we must raise the graduation rate, maintain and improve quality and ensure the international recognition of our universities.”

The event consisted of three panel discussions addressing the questions: “What do universities contribute to the socio-economic and cultural development of a metropolis like Montreal?”; “What does the community expect from universities?”; and “What is our vision for the future of our city, the most important university city in Canada?”

“Our universities are part of Montreal’s DNA. They contribute a great deal to its prosperity, international reputation and cultural vitality,” said Louise Roy, Chancellor and Chair of the Board of Directors of Université de Montréal and co-spokesperson for the event. “Today’s forum has allowed leaders from different sectors of the Montreal community to share their expectations and show their commitment to the city’s universities. However, these institutions are also concerned that Montreal may lose its status as a university metropolis and that they may no longer be getting the support they need.”

“Although people often forget this, Montreal is the university capital of Canada,” said Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and co-spokesperson for the forum. “Nearly two-thirds of all university students in Quebec go to school here, and Montreal receives the largest share of the country’s research funding. We cannot take this strength for granted. We must preserve these assets. Without strong universities, we will lose out on innovation, talent, a highly qualified and competitive labour force, and scientific discoveries.”

Jacques St-Laurent, President and CEO, Montreal International, was the final speaker in the last of the three panels. While Montreal has long been a world knowledge leader, others are starting to catch up, and are now “stepping on the accelerator,” he said. “For our society’s future, which pedal will we choose to use: the brake or the accelerator?”

The event also attracted a number of prominent local political figures, including Denis Coderre, Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Bourassa, and Liberal MNA Raymond Bachand, the former Quebec Finance and Revenue Minister who is in the running to succeed Jean Charest as Liberal leader. Both expressed a desire to see stronger leadership emerge to ensure the voice of the universities will be heard.

The Board of Trade’s Leblanc had one of the more direct of messages to decision-makers in Quebec City during his closing remarks.

“If we do not adequately support the financing of our universities, we are impoverishing Montreal,” he said. “And if we do not adequately support university research, we keep Montreal and Quebec in ignorance.”

Follow the discussion on Twitter at #u9mtl

Videos of the panel sessions will be available online shortly.

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