25 Mar 2010 - The Gazette - JOHN AYLEN SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE John Aylen is president of the board of Youth Employment Services and runs a Montreal-based marketing communications company.

Higher education helps drive city

Quebec must boost university funding


“We've got to stop seeing our education system as a cost centre.”

Our educational institutions are profit centres, not cost centres, and should be supported accordingly.

There is a direct correlation between your level of education and your health and life expectancy. There is a direct correlation between your level of education and your income level. That extrapolates into your ability to spend and enjoy a better quality of life.

There is a direct correlation between your level of education, your visits to museums and cultural exhibits, and attendance for the performing arts and travel. Of course, the knowledge economy cannot function without knowledge workers in our key industries: aerospace, engineering, entertainment, biopharmaceuticals, information technology, telecommunications, gaming and others.

This was brought home by a comment from Michael Emory, president and CEO of Allied Properties REIT, made before the Board of Trade last Friday. He pointed out that knowledge workers and the office space they take up accelerate the development of inner city residential development, mostly condos. He points out that the Cité du multimédia and other large projects are what in part have driven development in that area. What he was saying, indirectly, was that education drives urban renewal.

On Sunday, I visited the Tiffany exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and I asked myself: “How many of these people are university graduates?” Except for the young people who were there, the answer is most likely almost all of them. Who but the educated support our cultural institutions and create demand for shows such as Tiffany – to which we admittedly have a connection through the old Erskine and American Church – that can go anywhere in the world where there is a market for it?

What are the implications of this?

The first is that we've got to stop seeing our education system as a cost centre and see it as the profit centre it really is .

We also have to encourage our governments at all levels to provide greater support and become greater boosters of education and its value. This begins with pressure to bring improvement to our schools at the earlier grades, developing programs that keep more young people in school longer and increase our city and our province's proportion of young people who graduate from university.

The provincial government must provide more funding to our universities. We are saving ourselves into social economic bankruptcy if it does not. Students must understand the necessity and the need to pay for a higher percentage of their education through higher tuition fees – which they should not acquiesce to but demand – offset by a system of loans and bursaries that allows universal access to education for those who are eligible for and merit being accepted to it.

Our benefactors must make giving to education a priority. By so doing they are generating economic good, reducing health-care costs, supporting the arts and generating urban renewal.

Finally, we must ensure the opportunities are there for our young graduates. It is a cliché to say that competition for our finest minds is global, but it is. As we deliver graduates to our economy, we must ensure they stay, by providing them with quality work and a quality way of life that is superior or at least equal to what it is anywhere else they might go in the world.

As president of the board of Youth Employment Services, I understand the importance of helping each young person who comes through our doors find a job, start a business or make a living as an artist. But our mission is more important on a society level than on an individual one. When our organization began about 15 years ago, it was to stanch the flow of young educated Montrealers who could not find opportunities here from going elsewhere, mostly to Toronto. Today, we are increasingly seeing young people coming here through choice from elsewhere, looking to put down roots, earn money and contribute to our economy. That is a very good sign. We have shifted our approach from stopping the brain drain to helping drive the brain gain.

On Monday, Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced incentives to make it more attractive financially for young families to live in the city, and that is a good thing and a good sign, too. People want to live, work and play in mixed use environments in major cities.

We have a city that is increasingly known for its creativity: a music scene that is recognized throughout North America, a software and gaming industry that is of world renown, a city of festivals. Four universities. An unparalleled hub of restaurants and entertainment venues that provide food and entertainment that are unmatched – at remarkably lower prices than Toronto or New York.

Montreal is happening. Our educational and health-care institutions are profit centres that are key to the health of our city's life and infrastructure at all levels. When we begin to recognize this, we begin to chart a course making this city achieve its potential as the vibrant, affluent major North American city it can be.