The Future for Universities

The business of universities

Following my interest in the Centre for Dialogue, I offered to spend a day to explore approaches for positioning Simon Fraser University in the ecology of knowledge and to contribute my ideas on developing a communication plan.

The first step in establishing a coherent institution-wide communication plan to help the university achieve its objectives and desired outcomes in planning and creating the future for the University was to determine the University’s unique positioning message .

At the end of the meeting on July 21, 1998, the University offered to pay for my time. I put my notes and whiteboard graphics together positioning Simon Fraser University with why we do what we do so the conversation would not be lost. The image is my whiteboard graphics generated during the conversation. Click to enlarge.

Simon Fraser University
Communication Plan Meeting
July 21, 1998 – PDF

Creating and sharing knowledge

In focusing the future for universities in the new world I would position the role, contribution, and interests of universities in the ecology of knowledge as creating and sharing knowledge , our greatest resource in creating a better future for our world. From the creative conversation about the future of Simon Fraser University I would draw these notes for a conversation about exploring possibilities focused on increasing the contribution of universities to our overarching common interest in increasing our knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of our world.

Our creative interests

  • To excite interest in investment in increasing our capability and contribution
  • To have governments positively predisposed to the university’s role and open to proposals and opportunities
  • To minimize resistance to the university’s interests, enterprise, and strategic initiatives and communication requirements and approaches
  • To retain, reinforce, and build upon the university’s core values of research and teaching
  • To keep the elements of the message and the communication plan simple
  • To keep the agenda simple, clear, unambiguous, inspiring, elegant, open, friendly, and receptive, and focused on our key priorities and core values.
  • To benefit from and build on the contribution and support that the university provides to our governments, commercial enterprises, social enterprises, our community, and the communities of common interest that we serve
  • To keep our media relations agenda simple and focused on earning and building our reputation for our resources, our expertise, and our contributions
  • To gain more knowledge and understanding of our clients and supporters
  • To find new language to communicate our interests, our enterprise, and our initiatives
  • To ensure our interests are real and demonstrate our integrity in what we do and how we do things
  • To attract and keep a larger share of outstanding students
  • To recognize the role and contributions of our faculty and to build our reputation by building their reputation and by demonstrating who we are and what we do through who they are and what they do
  • To create and establish one or more recognizable symbols or images in a family that all communities we serve can connect with
  • To capitalize on the unique parts of the university as a smaller, closer, more intimate, and people and community oriented operating in a more personal face-to-face manner, interacting with the clients and communities we serve and encouraging dialogue and participation
  • To build support for the university and its interests and enterprise inside the university to make this are primary focus and continuing priority
  • To build recognition for and leverage the substance of the contributions the university is making in all the communities we are part of and serve.

What we want

  • We want our faculty intellectually energized by our interests and our enterprise, particularly in the humanities and sciences.
  • We want to challenge and engage them collaboratively in developing innovative intellectual initiatives within each discipline, and with other disciplines, other institutions, other enterprises, and other colleagues worldwide.
  • We want to create the environment, provide the leadership, stimulate innovation, and maximize the use of our resources for the common good
  • We want to avoid being self-serving and focus on outcome and contribution, not on activity
  • We want to remember the human element, the community we serve, the human benefit, the benefit to others, the benefit to humanity
  • We want to remember and remind others that education is the only thing that will sustain our ability to improve our quality of life.
  • We want to improve our knowledge base and our ability to disseminate knowledge for humanity, for quality of life, for sustainability, for survival.
  • We want to eliminate negative perceptions and questions as to whether knowledge acquisition and growth is worthwhile endeavour and to build overwhelming acceptance and understanding that knowledge creation and sharing makes a positive contribution to our individual and collective welfare.
  • We want to increase our knowledge and understanding in all areas recognizing that technology is only one solution and only part of the solution


There is no one way. The challenge is to make the best use of the resources and capabilities we have in order to make the greatest contribution to our clients and client groups; our learners, our communities, and our contributors and participants.

The challenge lies in determining how to leverage what we have and everything we do to determine how they contribute, which ones to emphasize and when, how to coordinate, how they complement one another, and how to bring them together to create and achieve synergy.

The challenge lies in how we position everything we have and everything we have to contribute, in our agenda, in the stories we tell, and in our communication strategies.

Where do the ongoing stories fit? How do they benefit or contribute to our desired outcomes, to our client groups, to our community? How do they fit in the communication agenda? How can we connect them?

Our edge

What are the things that give us an edge in our ability to realize our vision?

Our responsiveness, our openness, our inclusiveness, and how we contribute more directly and personally to more people.

Our niche

To provide a leadership role in meeting the needs of the future

To provide leadership in the collaboration that is needed. To provide leadership in encouraging and inspiring more innovative initiatives. To provide leadership in finding ways to make a greater contribution to the communities we serve.

The benefit message

Knowledge is our greatest resource

Our purpose

Creating and sharing knowledge with the communities we serve

Making the Case for Investment

Developing our most valuable resource
An investment that grows in value
An investment in our future

Positioning the university in the ecology of knowledge

Knowledge is our greatest resource. Knowledge is our universities’ greatest resource. It is our greatest resource as a society. It is the only resource each of us, individually and collectively, we can rely upon.

It is our most renewable resource, our most sustainable resource, and our most valuable resource. It is never depleted. And when we use it or contribute it to others, its value increases.

What we do

We are in the business of creating and sharing knowledge with the communities the university serves.

Who we serve

The communities we serve first, and most immediately, include the students, the faculty, and the university staff so they can be more successful in realizing their full potential and have the ability and the resources to contribute to the other communities the university serves.

  • The academic community we are part of around the world
  • The business community and the commercial enterprises that benefit from the resources the university contributes
  • The social enterprises that are focused on improving the quality of our lives
  • The communities of common interest that are coming together around issues of common interest and concern to humanity
  • The local communities in which the university operates and who provide services to the university, and
  • The global community to which we all belong

The Challenge

When we look at the challenges we face, we know they are going to change every day. We need to be flexible, responsive, open, and ready to adjust to new demands as they appear.

So our focus needs to be and is going to continue to be on innovation, collaboration, and contribution. We need to become more innovative in how we generate new ideas and create new knowledge, in our approaches to teaching and sharing knowledge, in how we do business within and with the community we serve, and in finding ways to make a greater contribution to benefit more people, in more ways. And in a manner that meets our growing and ever changing needs.

Knowledge is our greatest resource. This is not a new idea. But it is an idea that can lead us to a better future.

There is always room for new ideas. But there is also room for taking old ideas and sharing them. We can look to our past to find our way in the future. Look to what we know. That is where some of our greatest opportunities lie. In literature, in history, in the arts, in philosophy, in politics, in economics, in science. That is where we find knowledge and ideas.

And new ideas and knowledge come from sharing that knowledge and adding to it the knowledge of others. Dialogue, the exchange of ideas, is one of the most effective ways of creating knowledge. Dialogue is collaborative. Collaboration is a creative process.

Knowledge is the resource we all need to invest in. Sharing our knowledge is how we get a return on our investment. Improving our ability to share is how we increase our contribution and our value to the communities we are part of, benefit from, and contribute to creating.

Roger Chilton
My Point of View


Creative connections

Centre for Learning
Canadian Learning Centre


Semester in Dialogue fosters understanding, leadership

In 2000, renowned bee biologist Dr. Mark Winston pitched Simon Fraser University’s leadership a radical new program: take no more than 20 undergrads, immerse them in a full-time, semester-long program focused on a topic of importance to society as a whole, and put them in touch with their own capacity as community leaders.

Somewhat remarkably, given the entrenched traditionalism of most universities, the program was launched in 2002, and about 800 students have since completed the Semester in Dialogue.

What do bees and engagement have in common? A great deal, says Dr. Winston, the author of Bee Time, Lessons from the Hive, a bestseller that recently won the Governor-General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction.

“Bees are remarkable in their ability to communicate, assessing their community’s needs through intense interactions with each other. “They are masters of the focused, open, multi-dimensional communication we call dialogue. If we are to identify and implement solutions to the complex problems that challenge the future survival of the human species, dialogue – listening to each other without judgment or agenda – is the essential first step.”

One of the cornerstones of the Semester in Dialogue program is the generosity of the hundreds of thought leaders who have spent time with the students of the semester, including such luminaries as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, anthropologist-ethnographer and best-selling author Wade Davis, and celebrated artist and blockbuster novelist Douglas Coupland. All agree in advance to the semester’s unique format: no lecturing. Instead, students ask questions and invite the visiting leader to ask questions of them – egalitarian, interactive conversations.

We waste a lot of potential at universities by keeping students in classrooms rather than having them engage in community with purpose.

This approach helps students understand the issues we study at a deeper level, but it also opens their minds to the idea that they really aren’t much different than the people who are changing the world today,” says Dr. Winston. “It helps them build networks and understand their own immense capacity.”

Dr. Mark Winston

Janet Webber was in the fall 2005 Semester in Dialogue and is now the program director of SFU’s Public Square, which connects the university to the community through a series of public events and programming. One of the most recent was a sold-out video appearance by whistleblower Edward Snowden. She describes the dialogue program as transformative, and credits it with her steep and successful career trajectory.

Semester in Dialogue student Megan Branson discovered an alignment of her passion for beautiful indoor greenery, the environment and social justice, and went on to found the Olla Urban Flower Project. The company sources from fair trade farms and even Vancouver backyards, while providing training and employment for disadvantaged residents of the Downtown Eastside. Other students have launched community zero-waste programs and a thriving bicycle-powered delivery service.

Now in its fourth year, the Semester in Dialogue’s CityStudio was launched in partnership with the City of Vancouver to allow students to design and participate in city-building projects that advance the municipal government’s greenest city goals.

“We waste a lot of potential at universities by keeping students in classrooms rather than having them engage in community with purpose,” says Dr. Winston. “University should teach information and a career, but at its best, it goes beyond – by engaging students in hands-on projects that make a meaningful difference, we allow them to explore who they want to be in the world and what they want to contribute.”

Semester in Dialogue fosters understanding, leadership

Simon Fraser University Semester in Dialogue
Dr Mark Winston

Integrating global perspectives into virtual classrooms

If you want to do business in the global village, it helps to have an international perspective, and that’s exactly what students get when they enroll in an Executive MBA program at Athabasca University, Canada’s largest online post-secondary institution.

“Because the program is delivered online and paced, it allows students to study wherever and whenever works for them. We also have the distinctive advantage of enlisting faculty from around the world because of our online format,” says Farid Noordin, Athabasca University’s Faculty of Business manager for marketing and alumni relations. The graduate faculty at Athabasca University’s Faculty of Business is unique – they are called “academic coaches” and they facilitate students through the process of peer-to-peer learning with an academic rigour of graduate-level study. And because this is an Executive MBA program, students must demonstrate at least eight years of managerial experience to qualify – less if they have an undergraduate degree or certain designations — they learn as much from each other as they do from their coaches.

The online format suited former student Reece Thomlinson perfectly. “I had a good job, but I wanted to advance my career with an MBA, but it would have been difficult to take two years off and travel somewhere to do my master’s,” says the CEO of Intraline Medical Aesthetics, a Kelowna, B.C.-based business that after only two years has an office in London, England, and does business around the world.

In addition to the convenience of learning online and being able to apply himself to his studies at times that suited his needs, he says the international faculty allowed him to develop a better appreciation of cultural differences and the way they relate to how business is done in the international arena. “There are nuances to doing business in other countries,” he says. “If you go into a market overseas and assume it’s the same as doing business in the U.S. or Canada, you’re setting yourself up for a world of challenges. You have to do your research.”

“If you go into a market overseas and assume it’s the same as doing business in the U.S. or Canada, you’re setting yourself up for a world of challenges. You have to do your research.”

Reece Thomlinson
CEO of Intraline Medical Aesthetics

The best part was the daily interaction with other students, already high fliers in management around the globe. “They were all very committed and engaged,” he says. And despite the fact that students don’t meet face-to-face, they often forge lasting friendships and important connections. “I developed a number of good friends through the program, and one of my fellow students even sits on my advisory board.”

Will Baber, who leads a course in operations management from his home is Japan, says coaching from abroad has distinct advantages. For example, he can use examples culled from experiences and knowledge he has gained locally to illustrate exactly how business works in Japan. “One thing that’s done very well here is the delivery of high-quality and complex food with a huge degree of accuracy and satisfaction, so I am able to use examples from the restaurant industry,” he reports.

He adds that developing an international perspective is crucial to success. “To get an advantage over your competition, you need exposure to a wide range of ideas and to think flexibly, and these kinds of internationalized virtual classrooms do that very well.”

Also delivering “aha moments” to students is Dr. Oliver Mack, who coaches operations management, but in this case from his home in Austria. He says that recently he’s been updating students on the impact of digital disruption, which is more mature as a topic of business application in the European arena. He reports that he’s been impressed by the calibre of students in his program. “Their entrepreneurial skills and attitude are very good, and they appreciate the integration of theory and practice that we specialize in at AU where we encourage them to apply theoretical knowledge they have learned to their own situation and context.”

Without sacrificing academic rigour or peer-to-peer interaction, Athabasca University’s executive MBA program is helping managers on the go to move on up, no matter where they are.

Integrating global perspectives into virtual classrooms

Sustainability: Is ‘doing good’ good business?

In business, the bottom line has traditionally been the ultimate indicator. Want to know whether a company is successful? Look to its profits and margins. Is a business owner or CEO doing a good job? Check the balance sheet.

But today, the measures of success often reach beyond dollars and cents to include whether businesses are having a positive impact on their communities, the environment or social issues.

“The question in business schools 20 years ago was ‘is doing good work in the world good for business?’” says assistant professor Leo Wong, School of Business, MacEwan University. “Then, it was an academic debate with little evidence, but now there is a lot of research that shows when businesses invest in socially and environmentally responsible practices, they financially outperform businesses that don’t.”

While many business schools integrate an element of social responsibility, sustainability and ethics into their programs, Wong says that it tends to be done late in the game – often as fourth-year electives.

“At MacEwan, we integrate sustainability into our approach, and we’ve started doing it strategically in a student’s very first year,” explains Wong, who is beginning to research the impact that a focus on sustainability has on students.

In the first mandatory business course, BUSN 201: Introduction to Sustainable Business, students not only learn about sustainability, they hear about it first-hand from guest speakers in every single class. And the guest speakers who make up the course’s NextUp series don’t stand behind lecterns spouting business advice. Instead, they sit talk-show style in comfy chairs at the front of the class, telling stories that are often touching, inspiring and occasionally downright raw.

“A lot of business schools have speakers in their courses, but not like this,” says Wong. “Students see speakers three times a week, and those personal stories bring our teaching materials to life.”

Introducing sustainability early, however, doesn’t mean there is buy-in from everyone – and Wong says that’s fine. “Whether or not they leave inspired to make a social or environmental impact, graduates will be equipped to think strategically about a company’s mission and values, and how those align with the values of their customers and other stakeholders.”

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail’s advertising department. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

Sustainability: Is ‘doing good’ good business?

Partnering for success

Partnerships between post-secondary education and business are crucial to Canada’s competitiveness and prosperity, according to a recent Conference Board of Canada study. While they take many forms – including research and development collaborations with universities, applied research initiatives with colleges and polytechnics, and work-integrated learning environments – they have a proven track record for strengthening Canada’s research and innovation continuum and getting graduates career-ready.

“Partnerships are essential for our economy and for helping to address the chronic issue of productivity,” says Daniel Muzyka, president and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada. “Improving productivity is not just about increasing efforts, but also about creating more value in products and services through our efforts – and for achieving this, innovation is key.”

Linking industry and academia has a number of benefits, according to Dr. Muzyka. It brings real-world challenges to the attention of post-secondary educational institutions that can then leverage research environments and talent for finding a solution. And industry and community input can inform the curriculum to ensure graduates’ skills and knowledge are up-to-date and relevant for contributing to the success of the organizations they’re going to join.

“More connections between universities, colleges and institutes can help students acquire some of the competences they need and address the skills gap the business community is so vocal about.”

Daniel Muzyka
President and CEO of The Conference Board of Canada

As the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) vice-president of Research Partnerships, Dr. Bettina Hamelin has gained a number of insights into collaborative research activities across Canada. She knows, for example, that partnerships between post-secondary educational institutions, industry and community are essential for addressing a range of challenges, including food security, clean energy, cyber security and quantum technology. “The list is long,” she says. “And the challenges may be local, provincial, national or global.”

Both Manitoba Hydro Place, one of North America’s most energy-efficient office towers, and a zero-emissions electric transit bus were products of a partnership between Manitoba Hydro and Red River College

An example in the clean technology space is Manitoba Hydro Place, a collaboration between Red River College and Manitoba Hydro, says Dr. Hamelin. The challenge was to revitalize an aging downtown area in Winnipeg with emphasis on sustainability, she explains. The result? The construction of what’s considered one of the most energy-efficient office towers in North America.

“Manitoba Hydro Place is LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum-certified and has earned many awards. It’s very impressive,” says Dr. Hamelin, who toured the building recently. Her team also had a chance to ride in a zero-emissions electric battery transit bus, which represents another aspect of this collaboration.

The Red River College and Manitoba Hydro partnership was recognized with an Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Synergy Award for Innovation, says Dr. Hamelin, who believes raising the profile of collaborations may serve as an inspiration for others.

She also suggests increasing the level of recognition researchers gain for partnerships. “Academics are rewarded for publications – they are not necessarily recognized in the same way for research partnerships with the private sector. That’s a gap we’d like to address,” she adds.

Another successful partnership combines expertise from the University of British Columbia’s Manufacturing Automation Laboratory with the industry perspective of aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada, says Dr. Hamelin. Yusuf Altintas, who heads the lab, is a professor of mechanical engineering and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Pratt & Whitney Industrial Research Chair in Virtual High-performance Machining.

“Prof. Altintas has worked with Pratt & Whitney since 1986 to develop the next generation of virtual machining systems technology, which enables industry to test machine parts in a virtual environment,” she explains. “New parts for airplanes can be very expensive, and having a good virtual assessment of how they work before building them saves a lot of costs.”

The partnership, which started with a small grant, has resulted in the best-equipped laboratory for this sort of work in North America, says Dr. Hamelin. She adds that Prof. Altintas brings together faculty members from mechanical engineering, computer engineering, material sciences and related fields for multidisciplinary research. “And the graduate students who are involved are exposed to high-calibre academic research, state-of-the-art technology and the entrepreneurial environment that a company like Pratt & Whitney represents,” she explains.

Dr. Muzyka also believes that working with industry, whether it is on applied research projects or in co-op and internship programs, allows students to “enhance their learning by grounding the concepts they cover in school in real-world experience,” he says.

In addition to partnerships with industry, linkages within the post-secondary educational system can provide students with enhanced pathways into the labour market, says Dr. Muzyka. “More connections between universities, colleges and institutes can help students acquire some of the competences they need and address the skills gap the business community is so vocal about.”

Dr. Hamelin also sees “lots of complementarity in what colleges and universities are doing. “We want to encourage them to work together more and we are getting to a stage where some of the barriers are broken down,” she says.

While it can take time to develop a productive partnership and see research findings find commercial application, Dr. Hamelin believes many results are impressive: “an explosion of new knowledge and innovation.”

Partnering for success

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail’s advertising department. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.
Content from Western Schools 2016.05.26

The Opportunity

If one of our overarching interests is to increase our knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of our world, one of the greatest opportunities we have is for our post secondary educational institutions to collaborate with one another to bring together our learning resources around the overarching creative interests we have in common, from what we need to know and learn to explore what we can do to restore our climate and our environment, to what we need to know and learn about our common human nature, to what we need to know and learn to create sustainable communities.

We could begin with educational institutions who see this as a great opportunity for Canada to demonstrate leadership and show how we can do this with our own post-secondary education and research community.