There was a piece in the Globe and Mail this week that found its way into our inboxes at our little institution. If you missed it, or have exceeded your free article count for the month, the President of Brock University made an important case that universities shouldn’t be held to an Ivory Tower stereotype and as the title of the piece suggests, universities play an important role in the community.
Perspectives like this one are important and I found it to be an interesting summary of some of the things that are happening in the university sector in Ontario. However, there is some irony in the ‘we are not an ivory tower’ pitch that the community college and institute sector is left unrecognized for what it has been doing all along. Seeing as how we are all part of the public post-secondary ecosystem, this unfortunately reinforces an elitist perspective.
I recognize that there may be some structural barriers but I continue to be surprised at what I perceive as a lack of understanding of how universities and the college/institute sector can work together and even leverage each other.
Here are what I see as a few underexploited opportunities from my own perch at a small institute specializing in public safety education. These address some of the What if? questions asked in the article in support of a proposition for community-university collaborations.
1. Funding opportunities: Many of us (colleges and institutes) qualify for Tri-council and other funding pockets. Research and project funding is increasingly asking us to look for other institutional partners. Some of this funding has specifically targeted the college and institute sector. You have PhD grad students that we don’t have. We can provide you with funding opportunities that you wouldn’t normally be able to access. Win-win.
2. Strong community connections: Due to our histories of how we came to be (community college) we usually have strong connections with our geographic or disciplinary communities and these relationships have evolved over a long period of time. By partnering with us, you gain access to those communities.
3. Strong networks of expertise: In some cases, our highly specialized mandate allows us to be what I like to call small institutions with long tentacles. For example, at JIBC, an institute that specializes in public safety, our network of professionals isn’t just local, but extends internationally on many levels.
Consider, for example, a 3.6 million dollar research project being conducted at JIBC with Royal Roads University. The SIMTEC project brings together an international community of researchers and expert working group members , leverages JIBC’s expertise and connections to a broad Emergency Management and public safety network, and has already resulted in tangible open artefacts that benefit the community at large.
There’s less to gain in our higher education sector by subscribing to a view that forgets that while we might be teams playing different games, we are definitely all playing the same sport.