In a globalized world where emerging countries aim to become major players in scientific research, universities across Canada would benefit greatly from more exchanges with these countries, said Paul Davidson at a workshop during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, B.C.
Mr. Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, noted that “the Canadian government is developing an educational strategy at the moment and we are hopeful that it will underscore the importance of student-to-student international exchanges.”
The workshop focused on the opportunities and challenges of research partnerships with India and Brazil. “Canada has lagged behind in these kinds of exchanges, and we are trying to correct that,” Mr. Davidson said.
Mario Pinto, vice-president, research, at Simon Fraser University who has led several missions to India, said during the workshop that learning from other countries enriches research and has the potential to train a new class of “universal researchers.”
India is a country that brings a “rich and ancient culture” that has a lot to offer in science research, said Dr. Pinto. “We should approach our partners in a humble way because they bring other ways of thinking and the potential to enrich scientific findings.”
He cited bioinformatics as a priority area for international research projects, to track diseases like tuberculosis and malaria and help with early detection of bacterial infections. He pointed out that beneficial partnerships with emerging countries have to be a two-way street. “This cannot be a brain drain. We have to expect that some students will return to their respective countries once we have trained them here,” said Dr. Pinto.
Meanwhile, Brazil, another strong, emerging economy, is very much on Canada’s radar as potential partner as well. Brazil recently said it will create 100,000 scholarships for students to study abroad and Canada wants to attract some of those students.
“We know that Canada is not the premier choice at the moment, so we have to do more to entice the bright minds from Brazil to choose Canada,” said Marco Prado, a neuroscientist who came from Brazil to Canada four years ago. He now runs a laboratory at the Robarts Research Institute at Western University in London, Ontario.
Dr. Prado said that insufficient funding and a lack of coordination for such partnerships leaves Canada lagging far behind other countries. “We need to encourage more ‘meet and greet’ meetings between faculties in Brazil and Canada to establish trust and real research partnerships,” he said.
AUCC is planning to lead 35 university presidents on a mission to Brazil in April, accompanying the Governor General David Johnston for part of the trip. “Canada is now a global player in research and, to maintain that course, we [universities and colleges] have to stay engaged by including emerging countries as well,” said Mr. Davidson.