Driving innovation in a world where knowledge is the new currency

As we draw toward the end of another busy academic year, many of our students are grappling with those hand-wringing, keep-you-up-at-night questions: “What should I do next with my life?”, “Will I get a fulfilling job with my current education?” and “Would it be worthwhile to pursue a higher degree?

While the vast majority of students are seeking answers to these questions from a personal perspective, it is becoming increasingly important for post-secondary institutions and society as a whole to consider the importance of these questions (and the answers) from a more global perspective.

The evolution of the world from an industrial-based to a knowledge-based economy means that, in order to be successful and competitive on a global scale, Canada needs a more highly-educated population.

Post-secondary education, particularly at the graduate level, equips Canadians with specialized technical and professional skills, and also with those critical ‘human’ skills such as multidisciplinary collaboration, effective communication with diverse stakeholders, problem-solving, creativity and true engagement in one’s work. Extensive data shows that countries with more educated citizens are better equipped to deal with new challenges and technological advances and to compete with other countries on the global stage.

From an economic perspective, doctoral education is becoming essential for driving innovation in a world where knowledge is the new currency. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), many countries with the strongest economies also have the highest per capita rates of PhDs employed in the workforce.

Universities can also have a strong influence on economic growth and innovation within their own regions-- great examples include the Silicon Valley region of California, or closer to home in the Waterloo region, where the impact of innovative technology development has significantly enhanced the community.

Here at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, our educational leaders are working hard to ensure that students are receiving a meaningful education that will enhance not only their potential for personal career success but also their ability to contribute to society more broadly as a global citizen.

In particular, the recent launch of the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies’ Own Your Future program – the first of its kind in Canada – is a great initiative designed to support doctoral student engagement in maximizing the value and applicability of their doctoral degree for career preparation and development. Likewise, Western’s Student Success Centre is doing great work in facilitating the development of career, educational and life competencies in both undergraduate and graduate student populations.

Among these, the emergence of Community-Engaged Learning courses across campus, including three offerings at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, provide unique opportunities for students to gain real-world experience and give back to local community, as well as raise awareness of Western’s value to our community partners in the Southwestern Ontario region.

However, there is still lots of work to be done by post-secondary institutions, faculty members and students in being tireless advocates for higher education. This can start with your family, friends and neighbours (most of them are taxpayers) and move right up through local, provincial and federal government representatives—help spread the message that higher education is critical for innovation and success in a knowledge-based society.

Alison Allan, PhD
Chair, Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology
Associate Professor, Departments of Oncology and Anatomy & Cell Biology