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‘A moral and economic imperative’: University presidents discuss Aboriginal education, preparing students for changing world

April 10, 2014 — 

President David Barnard and other heads of Canada’s universities met this week in Winnipeg to reflect on how best to ensure graduates’ readiness for an increasingly complex and dynamic world.

Under the theme “The New West, the New Canada,” nearly 60 university presidents participated in the spring membership meeting of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), April 8-9. Presidents discussed how universities and their graduates can contribute to a diverse, integrated and globally-connected Canada.

As part of an ongoing strategic partnership between Canada’s universities and the Assembly of First Nations to improve Aboriginal access to higher education, AFN’s National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo delivered a milestone keynote address. Speaking to university presidents on April 8, Chief Atleo emphasized the collaboration between universities and First Nations communities, and applauded universities’ increasing efforts to enhance access and support success for Aboriginal students.

“Education is incredibly transformative for individuals’ lives and it has the power to sustain entire communities and cultures,” said President Barnard, who is also chair of AUCC.

“As university presidents, we can help ensure that all Indigenous students achieve educational success and realize their goals. We have both a moral and an economic imperative to do so.”

Atleo added: “University presidents play a central role in generating the greater understanding and action required for reconciliation among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. I am honoured to be part of this gathering and look forward to continuing our dialogue about key issues that matter to our people and how we can address these together in full partnership.”

A champion of the power of education in building brighter futures for Aboriginal people, Chief Atleo is chancellor of Vancouver Island University and in February reached a landmark agreement with the federal government to transform the K-12 on-reserve education system.

The role of universities in preparing students for Canada’s changing economy was also the focus of a talk by Paul Soubry, president and CEO of New Flyer, North America’s largest bus manufacturer and parts-supply company. A Winnipeg industry and community leader, Soubry shared his thoughts on what skills Canada’s employers need and the role of universities in driving Canadian and global innovation.

“About half of today’s undergraduates have a co-op or internship experience and I can tell you as an employer, that is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “I urge you to go from half to all students having some kind of ‘game’ experience before we put them out looking for jobs.”

The membership meeting was an opportunity for Canada’s university presidents to build upon recent collective achievements, most notably the exceptional federal government investments in university research announced in Budget 2014.

AUCC is the voice of Canada’s universities at home and abroad, representing the interests of 97 Canadian public and private not-for-profit universities and university degree-level colleges.

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