In her inaugural address as the new chair of the board of directors of Universities Canada, Université Laval rector Sophie D’Amours spoke of the challenges facing postsecondary education in the years ahead, and of the bonds that unite Canadian universities. Her speech to association members took place on October 30.
Dr. D’Amours identified “reconciliation and inclusion in the broadest sense,” along with the internationalization of universities, as top priorities for the next few years. On the subject of inclusion and reconciliation, she spoke about the extensive efforts being made on this important issue.
She acknowledged that these priorities are daunting due to the “lack of resources enabling our universities to offer the full range of services needed to facilitate inclusion and to adapt our programs and services.” In her opinion, sharing best practices between universities is one way to provide institutional leaders with better tools to make more effective use of their resources in this area. “Sometimes, we’d like things to go faster, but doing this work thoroughly will help us achieve greater success,” she noted.
Dr. D’Amours alternated between French and English over the course of her speech. “For me, it’s important to speak French with my colleagues, as well as English.” Although “it requires knowing and understanding the language, there’s a cultural effect that comes with expressing ideas in French that enriches the discussion,” she explained.
As for internationalization, Dr. D’Amours argued that not only is it “now part of our reality, but also that the international experience is fundamental.” Besides expanding students’ horizons, Dr. D’Amours also cited increased resilience and appreciation of diversity as further advantages of exploring international experiences during their studies. “It’s important for students of all ages at Canadian universities to have the chance to have an international experience. If we want them to be the leaders of tomorrow, they’ll have to be aware of global issues.”
Dr. D’Amours also talked about the ability of universities to prepare students for careers that, in some cases, don’t even exist yet. “We’ve done this in the past, and we’ll continue doing it, because professions evolve — and they can change too.” She pointed to professions that are likely to flourish in the future and which will rely “on the non-artificial intelligence of human beings to solve more complex problems. There are certain skills that are going to be quite important in the future, so we focus on those skills, and we enhance our programs as much as we can with new educational approaches.”
She also emphasized the importance of talking with students about their aspirations. “Students’ ideals always end up defining major changes in our societies, so by properly understanding those ideals and integrating them into our educational discussion, we’ll be able to prepare our students for the tremendous responsibilities that will fall to them in the future.”
As someone who views education as a powerful tool, Dr. D’Amours sees her new role as chair of the board of directors as a reflection of her greatest motivation: “to ensure that everyone who wants to study, and who has the talent to do so, can do so — and to ensure that they have access to the best education we can offer them, because that can change the world.”
During her two-year term, she also hopes to contribute to what she referred to as an “overarching goal,” namely for “the leadership, talent and unique character of Canadian universities to be recognized at the international level.” Dr. D’Amours proudly acknowledges that her own university education helped make her who she is today, and she believes that Canadian universities “are among the world’s best, if not the very best.” The rector reminded her audience that “we can be proud of the unique characteristic that Canadian university communities aren’t afraid to go the extra mile when it comes to making knowledge more accessible.”