It was an end-of-school blow-out to Brazil for folks from 30 Canadian universities who chatted up locals, bragged about their schools and pulled an all-nighter when they got stranded in a local airport.
But these were the university presidents, on a sort of scholastic Mamdouh and Sara and Patrick’s Excellent Adventure, to name just the heads of York, the Ontario College of Art and Design, and McMaster — and the locals they recently schmoozed are the academic stars of a country that has become a white-hot financial powerhouse, squeaking by the United Kingdom as the sixth-largest economy in the world.
The Canadians were one in a parade of delegations beating a path to this new it-country, hoping to land a piece of the more than $2 billion Brazil has earmarked for partnerships with universities abroad.
For a country with few historical ties with South America, Canada did well, figured York President Mamdouh Shoukri, returning with 75 research partnerships worth some $6.7 million and the right to host 12,000 of the 100,000 Brazilian students to be sent abroad over the next four years by their global-minded government in a Science Without Borders scholarship program.
The presidents nailed down dozens of two-way exchanges of students and faculty in research, on everything from agriculture and business to cell biology and genetics.
“That’s a large percentage of students given the size of Canada and having them here will be of tremendous value to broaden the horizons of students from both countries,” said Shoukri, whose school struck deals with seven Brazilian universities.
The Ontario College of Art and Design University struck deals with four Brazilian campuses for joint research in fields such as digital technology, noted President Sara Diamond. “Some have design programs we’re going to partner with that look at how to help the ‘99 per cent’ in things like literacy and health, how to help rural communication where people need to find potable water and even designing ‘intelligent textiles’ that can respond to body heat or even the weather.”
Universities that struck deals include Brock, Ottawa, Waterloo, Western, Windsor, McGill and the University of British Columbia. Ryerson and the University of Toronto also have struck deals with Brazil although their presidents were not on this mission.
Canada could learn from Brazil’s commitment to research, suggested Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Colleges and Universities of Canada, which organized this research trade mission, the largest ever from Canada. He noted the state of Sao Paolo gives 1 per cent of its budget to its research agency — $600 million — and the national oil company is required by law to devote 1 per cent of its gross revenue to research.
“Its gross revenue is $175 billion so that means $1.7 billion a year for research,” said Davidson. “In Canada we have a real problem getting the private sector to invest in research.”
He said Brazil has raised 40 million out of poverty to the middle class in the past 20 years. One of the colorful tales the presidents brought back was how Sara Diamond had to go from being up all night in the Campinas airport to moderating a morning panel in Sao Paolo on global innovation — on zero sleep.
Marveled Davidson: “She nailed it.”