Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of Canada's 96 universities.
I am very happy to be joining you this afternoon.
Last year I appeared before this committee in Saskatoon, where we discussed how research drives innovation and builds prosperity. Since then we've seen important and new investments in research, including the announcement of five new superclusters and historic new investments in fundamental research.
Our members are grateful for the investments that were made in the 2018 budget to improve Canada's research ecosystem.
It was great to see the recommendations of this committee see their way through to the budget in 2018.
This year we encourage the government to build on that momentum by investing in the skills and talent of Canada's young people across all disciplines. We did make a formal written submission to the committee and we were in touch with each of your offices with additional information.
In a world of disruption and constant change, our most valuable resources are our people. As we saw on multiple fronts this past summer, trade and diplomatic relationships can change quickly. Investment in people and ideas helps us navigate that change and maximize new economic opportunities.
Our first set of recommendations is about equipping young people with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. That's why we've joined our partners on the Business/Higher Education Roundtable and 25 other organizations to call for all post-secondary students to have valuable work-integrated learning experience.
We also see an urgent need for more of Canada's young people to have an international study experience. Last fall a groundbreaking report called “Global Education for Canadians: Equipping Young Canadians to Succeed at Home and Abroad” noted that business and civil society leaders are warning that Canada is not preparing its young people to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.
In previous years I've talked about the importance of attracting international students to Canada, and that remains important. International students contribute more than $15.5 billion to Canada's economy—more than the export of wheat, more than the export of softwood, and as much as the export of auto parts. International students are drivers in communities across Canada, large and small. Canada's universities have met our target for attracting students five years ahead of schedule, but the percentage of Canadian students who have an international experience—a year abroad, a term abroad, or a work study experience internationally—has not changed in decades. We have to do better.
I also urge this committee to take action on the chronic underfunding of student financial aid for indigenous students. Now is the time for the government to act on its budget 2017 commitment to address the needs of indigenous students who want to pursue post-secondary education. We all know that a university degree opens a pathway to a brighter future for indigenous students and their communities, yet only 10.9% of indigenous people have a university degree, compared with the national average of 29%. Canada must do better.
Canada's universities have embraced the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report and have made important progress on improving students' access to success—and I hope to get some questions in that regard—but indigenous students need increased direct financial aid. More support is needed for student services, such as gathering places and elders on campus, to help indigenous students complete their education and achieve their full potential.
We also recommend the government expand support for programs that work, like Indspire's building brighter futures. Some of you may have been with Chief Roberta Jamieson yesterday at the Indspire awards. There is incredible potential in this country and huge need.
Our final area of recommendation links the investments in students and people to Canada's research and innovation agenda, because investing in people and ideas also means supporting research talent and the places where discoveries are made. We must remember that investments in research are investments in students.
Just last month I was in Halifax, where I met a student named Jaime Wertman. Jaime started out studying philosophy but got hooked on biology. She's now pursuing her Ph.D. by doing research with zebra fish to improve the prognosis for children with cancer. Jaime credits that background in philosophy for making her a better researcher. Jaime's path has been shaped by working alongside leading-edge researchers throughout her studies. Today about 56% of undergraduate students have opportunities to work with top researchers. We need to increase that number.
The skills those students learn are the skills employers need: problem-solving, teamwork, and analytical and communications skills. While real progress has been made on supporting research talent, I want to draw your attention to important unfinished business.
Specifically, the 2018 budget spoke to the need to increase support for graduate scholarships and fellowships, and we look forward to progress there in the next budget. To support Canada's talented researchers in doing their best work, Canada needs to invest in world-leading research and training environments. This can be achieved through significant, multi-year increases to the research support fund, as recommended by the Fundamental Science Review.
In a world that is evolving quickly, urgent measures must be taken for young Canadians.
I want to thank this committee for your work. I know. I've seen you in Saskatoon. I've seen you in New Brunswick. I've seen you on budget night. I see the difference you are making in the lives of Canadians. I thank you for your work and I ask for your support on these important investments for young people.