Ontario's universities are transforming the communities they are rooted in, newly released COU report shows

TORONTO, Feb. 12, 2015 /CNW/ - Ontario's universities are dramatically transforming the 33 communities in which they are rooted – socially, culturally and economically – and opening the door to a wide range of community-based learning opportunities for students, according to a report released today by the Council of Ontario Universities (COU).    

Change Agent – Ontario's Universities: Transforming Communities, Transforming Lives demonstrates the many ways universities, students, faculty and staff are improving their communities, from free medical services for at-risk groups, to culturally sensitive mental health outreach, and innovative campaigns that save lives.

"Not only are universities preparing students for career and life success, they are teaching these young people how to be responsible citizens," says Max Blouw, COU Chair and President of Wilfrid Laurier University.

"There is no better way to impart that knowledge than by getting students actively engaged in their communities, which is why community learning continues to be such an important part of university programming."

Creating inclusive, forward-looking programs alongside leading research, universities are hubs of community engagement that empower students, faculty and staff to improve lives and strengthen cities.

"At campuses across Ontario, I've seen firsthand that universities are not only institutions where students can pursue their passions and learn valuable skills, they are also integral parts of the community fabric," says Reza Moridi, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

"Our province's universities make a sustained effort to work closely with local partners and connect students to the people and places around them, and Ontario benefits greatly as a result of this engagement."

Key findings:

  • Universities inject billions of dollars into Ontario cities each year, and are therefore a core component of Ontario's economic growth.
  • Postsecondary institutions generate more than $55 billion in economic activity in Canada every year, according to a 2014 report by the Conference Board of Canada. Almost 700,000 direct and indirect jobs are attributable to spending by postsecondary institutions.
  • Many thousands of university students, faculty and staff are improving their communities – they are developing their own initiatives, creating non-profit organizations, establishing outreach programs, and inventing innovative products that solve critical issues around the globe.
  • An average Ontario faculty member devotes about 20 per cent of their work hours to services, such as informing policy and using their skills and knowledge to enhance communities on local, national and global scales.
  • By cultivating strong relationships with organizations that support children and youth, universities are helping to set up countless young people for healthy, prosperous and fulfilling lives.
  • Ontario's universities work closely with local organizations to tackle issues such as violence, bullying and mental illness.

"Students have won hundreds of awards for work in Ontario's communities, and they often find or create jobs out of these experiences," says COU President and CEO Bonnie M. Patterson.

"Ontario's universities are training future professionals in so many fields – it only makes sense to use that knowledge and passion to better our communities. When our communities benefit, we all benefit."

Read the full Change Agent report here.

View quick facts from the report here.

COU is a membership organization of 21 publicly assisted universities in Ontario. It works closely with the provincial and federal governments to shape public policies that help universities deliver high-quality programs for students and advance the research and innovation that improves the social, cultural and economic well-being of Ontarians.

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SOURCE Council of Ontario Universities

For further information: Wendy McCann, Director, Strategic Communications and Media Relations, Telephone: 416-979-2165 x233, Cellphone: 647-271-0825, wmccann@cou.on.ca

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