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our time to lead

cinders mcleod/The Globe and Mail

To adapt to the changing job market, should university students specialize or study a broad range of disciplines? We asked The Globe and Mail's advisory panel of postsecondary leaders for their thoughts on the one thing every student should know by the time they leave university.

"I think every university undergraduate, no matter what specific subject they have majored in, should have to take a civics class. There, they should learn about different levels of government, taxation and fiscal policy. They should know about different forms of government, current and past. They should learn what liberalism, neo-liberalism, conservatism, social democracy, etc., mean, in the Canadian context and beyond. They should know about debates over what democracy means and how it is put into practice. They should understand the connections between police, the judicial system, parliament, and the government bureaucracy. They should know what fascism and anarchism look like. The point would be to turn out good citizens – by which I most certainly do not mean obedient citizens, but rather citizens who are attuned to the role, function, benefits, contradictions and problems of government in their lives." Karen Foster, Banting postdoctoral fellow in management, Saint Mary's University

"The one thing that I would recommend is that during their undergraduate years every student get out of their comfort zone – by studying in another part of Canada, by studying abroad in another culture, or by studying a second language – to equip them for a new kind of Canada." Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada

"Every student should be exposed to aboriginal perspectives by the time they graduate. Students at Laurentian are fortunate because it's part of our purpose, we try to reflect aboriginal perspectives in the curriculum. I believe that learning from first nations and their world views over the years has made me a better person." Dominic Giroux, president of Laurentian University

"At exit, every student should have the capacity to address effectively and critically a random and complex problem, task, or challenge presented to them, by using a broad knowledge base in an open-minded and intelligent manner and possibly international context; to be able to identify and research the variables that inform it; to appreciate and identify what other talent/knowledge is required to pursue it; and to work with others cooperatively (when necessary) to construct and present a solution or approach in an articulate, literate and effective way within a reasonable amount of time." Robert Campbell, president of Mount Allison University

"I think that above all, every student should have participated in an international experience organized or sanctioned by their institution. The career trajectory at all levels these days has an increasingly global dimension. In my view, students will be far better prepared to compete for jobs if they have at least some international experience and some notion of how other societies/economies operate. This will be especially important as Canada begins to develop strong trading relationships with countries other than the U.S. Not to mention the fact that the linkages students develop will serve them well their entire lives, as opening up to other cultures and languages affords them opportunities for engagement and life experiences they would not have otherwise." Ted Hewitt, executive vice-president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

"Every student should have exposure to a course on communication that gives them the tools to be able to navigate through our complex social environment, professionally and personally. Now more than ever, there is a need to be able to communicate well in a variety of contexts and in different registers – formal and informal, and with multiple audiences. For example, basic writing skills are crucial, including grammar, style and organization of ideas. Being able to write well makes it easier to think well, and to convey ideas to others. We engage in so much mediated communication that students need to understand how to make it work for them, and how to avoid mistakes." Melonie Fullick, PhD candidate in the faculty of education at York University

"Research experience for every undergraduate student so that they benefit from the rich research and scholarly enterprise in which they are learning – which is the great benefit of a university over a stand-alone research institute. This applied, hands-on research-learning experience (with faculty oversight) could take the form of developing a research proposal that could be applied in a laboratory, a library, a community organization or industry." Heather Munroe-Blum, principal of McGill University

"Every student graduating from college or university should be capable of doing a critical assessment of an article or editorial they read in the newspaper. If they can't do this, how can they be informed and contributing members of their communities and workplaces and how will they be able to make the myriad of informed decisions they will be asked to make throughout their lives?" Harvey Weingarten, president of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

"This summer, Ryerson offered the first Digital Specialization course for students in every discipline, year of study, graduate or undergraduate – and it was a huge success. It's designed to help students think in a more entrepreneurial way about the value of their degrees and how they can be the ones to take the initiative in putting their ideas to work, instead of waiting for someone to give them a job. The enterprises and jobs of tomorrow will be increasingly digital and knowledge-based, and it will be the young people who raise national productivity levels with creativity that can go global so easily. So a course in digital literacy definitely." Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University

"Every student who leaves university should feel that they have been empowered to enter the next phase of their lives. This means they need skills like creative and critical thinking, the ability to adapt to change, the ability to engage with new challenges in a productive and quick way, the ability to innovate and to be able to develop new ideas as well as new approaches to problem solving. They need to look for challenges and meet those challenges. And, they need to be excellent at articulating their goals and aspirations both to potential employers as well as to the public." Ron Burnett, president of Emily Carr University of Art and Design