Carleton University played host last Friday to the launch of this year’s Open Doors, Open Knowledge series of events, which runs through much of November. Organized by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Open Doors initiative provides an opportunity for universities across Canada to throw open their doors “and shine a spotlight on the extraordinary things happening on campuses every day,” said AUCC president Paul Davidson at the Carleton event.
Last year’s Open Doors events focused on campuses’ community engagement, while this year’s events showcase universities’ partnerships with the private sector, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses. Entrepreneurship is also in the spotlight this year, a point highlighted by Carleton president Roseann O’Reilly Runte at the launch event. She mentioned such initiatives as the 1125@Carleton “living laboratory” that connects university researchers with the community, both locally and globally, and the Carleton Entrepreneurs venture accelerator. Dr. Runte also noted that Carleton has launched more than 185 start-ups since 2010. Student entrepreneurship, in particular, is a rapidly growing trend at many universities.
This year, more than 40 universities are organizing events, including panel discussions, student showcases and innovation open houses for the public between Nov. 8 and Nov. 16.
This is the fourth year for Open Doors, Open Knowledge. The initiative has an interesting genesis: the first such event, in 2011, was held to celebrate the accomplishments of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, or KIP. Announced by the federal government early in 2009 as part of its Economic Action Plan, KIP was intended to create jobs during the economic slowdown by upgrading university and college facilities and helping institutions to tackle long lists of deferred maintenance. Carleton’s River Building, now a campus showcase and where this year’s launch event took place, is a product of KIP funding. In total, Industry Canada approved $1.28 billion in KIP funding for projects at Canadian universities.
The Knowledge Infrastructure Program itself has an intriguing history. The groundwork can be traced back to a report released in 2000 by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, entitled Point of No Return. That document highlighted the urgent need for major reinvestment in the physical plant and infrastructure of Canada’s universities, and estimated that the amount of accumulated deferred maintenance on campuses totalled at least $3.6 billion at the time. The report formed the basis for advocacy efforts around the need for university infrastructure investment by all levels of government, and so when the federal government went looking for shovel-ready projects for its Economic Action Plan, AUCC was able to quickly respond with a long list from its member institutions. Universities are still reaping the benefits from those investments today.