By Craig and Marc Kielburger
It's the most macabre field trip we've heard of. In the fall of 2015, 22 participants in a McMaster University program hiked to a cemetery in Hamilton, Ont., to view the graves of city residents who died in the 1918 influenza pandemic.
The unusual excursion was part of a free course on the history of plagues in Hamilton, offered through McMaster's Discovery Program. It's an initiative that gives educational opportunities to local residents who, for social or economic reasons, haven't been able to get a post-secondary education. Discovery is one part of what McMaster's strategy for using the university's resources to benefit the city.
Across Canada, forward-thinking universities and colleges are finding innovative ways to give back to the communities they call home. In so doing, these institutions are also improving the quality of education for their students and strengthening their own relevance in a changing world.
The benefits of these kinds of collaborations accrue back to the institutions.
The Discovery Program has run free 12-week courses since 2011. McMaster wants the program to foster a passion for learning, and possibly even start participants on the path to higher learning, explains McMaster president Patrick Deane. This fall's course offering is studying diversity, and how cultural differences make communities like Hamilton stronger and more resilient.
The university offers free childcare and transit passes to make classes more accessible. Deane adds there's always a line-up to enrol, and professors fight for the privilege of teaching in the program.
In another community-oriented initiative, McMaster opened a medical centre in downtown Hamilton last year. Med students are getting a hands-on education providing health services to some 16,000 city residents who don't have a family doctor.
Ryerson University in Toronto is cultivating community green thumbs. Torontonians can participate in Ryerson's HomeGrown program, volunteering, learning gardening skills and getting nutritious fresh food from the eight on-campus gardens.
Further west, the University of Winnipeg's offers a "model high school" for disadvantaged local youth -- particularly young aboriginal people -- who show strong academic potential. Tailored secondary school courses prepare them for university, and they're accepted into UWinnipeg's scholarship programs.
By supporting their communities in productive ways... colleges and universities reinforce their relevance in the modern world.
And the University of Victoria puts its brain power at the disposal of the community. Its researchers help local organizations, and also work with businesses to find commercial uses for on-campus discoveries. Through the UVic Speakers Bureau, schools and community groups can host experts who give free talks on a wide range of topics. Nearby, the University of British Columbia and the other universities and colleges in Vancouver are involved in a similar initiative. Through a partnership called CityStudio, students earn credits for studying, and develop solutions to, local challenges.
The benefits of these kinds of collaborations accrue back to the institutions.
Increasingly, students can access university-level teaching almost anywhere. With ever more online courses and internet-based private schools, it's possible for a student to sit at home and listen to a lecture given by a professor halfway around the world. Even some academics are starting to ponder whether our society still needs brick-and-mortar institutions anymore.
By supporting their communities in productive ways, solving local challenges like access to health care, colleges and universities reinforce their relevance in the modern world. Initiatives like those above also create added educational value that students could never get from a Skype lecture. They provide young people hands-on experience and, just as important, meaning in their education.
Studies like the annual Deloitte Millennial Survey show upcoming generations want to know how their consumer purchases and jobs make a difference in the world. We believe the same applies to their education. If students can use their learning to support the broader community, it will give them the meaning they crave.
The successful schools of the future will be active and engaged supporters of their communities.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.
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Harvard is inarguably the most highly reputed on the list yet managed to miss the lead because of their considerable drop in international students despite being one of the most geographically diverse universities in the world. However the establishment’s reputation is not one to be reckoned with. Barack Obama is a noted Harvard alumnus along with John Roberts and even Natalie Portman. They have been ranked number one consistently for the last four years. The location is urban and convenient as it is near to shops and restaurants. Students tend to live in the same place for three years, which could mean a limited social circle and networking opportunities and there seems to be little interaction between students as a whole, which can be discouraging.
Cambridge wins the Oxford vs Cambridge rivalry this year at the third spot on the list. With a larger student body of 30,000 than the aforementioned universities, Cambridge is generally better suited for maths and science students than Oxford. However it’s academic and employer reputation remain at 100 no matter what the course of study may be. The architecture and facilities are great however they can sometimes be limited through the collegiate system as you may not get to meet as many people as you would like. Entrance to Cambridge does come from high expectations of you though. The terms work in short and intense periods before a break during which the majority of students try to bag internships.
Unlike the majority, of its highly esteemed competitors, The University of Stanford is located on the West Coast of America, conveniently near Silicon Valley. This is why this is a great university for technological startups. Research, internship and work experience opportunities are rife at Stanford as they genuinely encourage you. It seems to have the perfect balance between a rigorous academia and a social side but activities here can be expensive and there are not a lot of nearby services in the local area. Stanford is also often thought to be a hop, skip and a jump away from San Fransisco but this requires a considerable amount of planning and isn’t quite ‘on your doorstep’ as many seem to claim. The dorms can also be shabby and the scheduling system is said to need updating as many miss out on opportunities such as summer internships as a result of this.
California Institute of Technology, or Caltech as it is commonly known, has previously been ranked as number one by other university ranking sources. They claim that their mission is to ‘expand human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education’, which can’t really be argued with although students also boast about the social side of it through regular dinners and events. The arts also seem to be appreciate appropriately as there is a secret tunnel system underneath the establishment which has been preserved throughout history. However the institution has been criticized by the likes of med students who claim that core classes seem to punish your overall GPA and there aren’t enough opportunities such as hospital volunteering. Many also say that the establishment is simply too small and it can be difficult to expand your social circle.
Oxford is the world’s oldest university in the English speaking world and lays claim to nine centuries of continuous existence. However it is only at number six this year after being let down by it’s citations per faculty as well as its low level of international student intake which echoes criticisms of them not taking in enough students from less privileged backgrounds. Yet Oxford is renowned for its academia and is the best place to go for someone wanting to study the arts within the UK. Although there is a lot of pressure put on students and consequently Oxford has the highest suicide rate in the country.
Another British University is at number seven, The University College of London. Located in the heart of London, everything is on your doorstep including job opportunities. However UCL sometimes has a cramped feeling to it with little space both indoors and outdoors which is also furthered by the large student population of 30,000. The institution recently turned 100 years old and was the first one in the country to open its doors to women and other minorities during the height of racism.
Imperial College is the UK’s very own engineering university. Recent graduates have been known to end up working for the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini as a result of excellent opportunities across the establishment. Although this is often also the result of a ‘pushy’ work ethic whereby everything must be related to work, including socialising at times. There is also said to not be enough diversity in the student body and the surrounding area can be extremely expensive.
The only non-English speaking establishment to make it onto the list is ETH Zurich - The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which thankfully tends to be shortened to ETH Zurich. A public university with a student body of 30,000 it became 10 years old in 2013, it is a leading player in research and education in Switzerland and worldwide. Although if you want to study in the idyllic Swiss surroundings, you will have to learn German to an advanced level (as in not just a couple of Rosetta Stone lessos) if you want your bachelors although most postgrads are conducted in English. The institution has been greatly let down by their faculty to student ratio which is of high consideration in such a large university which hosts many international students who are likely to need assistance.
The University of Chicago is at the number ten spot. Originally set up by the American Baptist Education Society, it has been around for over a century with its academic reputation as high as ever. It is home to the best undergraduate economics course in the world therefore one has to work hard to distinguish themselves amongst a crushing workload. Many students also claim that their professors take little interest in them as many didn’t actually come to teach but instead came to take a shot at a Nobel. Winters can be harsh, both physically and mentally and you will begin to question your decision to come here but if you soldier on through it, you are highly likely to get an excellent job straight out of university.