Obsessed with being #1

In psychological terms, denial is a very powerful way to cope (or not) with a significant problem or crisis.

When my wife moved here over a decade ago, besides the weather, there was one other thing about New Brunswick that raised her curiosity. She couldn’t understand why all around New Brunswick things had to be the ‘biggest’ or ‘best’ or ‘longest’. After reflection, I understood her point:
-World’s highest tides
-World’s largest axe
-World’s largest lobster
-World’s longest covered bridge
-World’s largest blueberry (I think this is gone now)
-World’s largest potato (outside Fredericton – is it still there?)

It seemed to her that New Brunswick was compensating for the fact that it was a small, cold, poor, marginalized place but pretending to be something it wasn’t. She said New Brunswick shouldn’t throw around all these meaningless titles and should focus on what its core attributes are.

So when I saw the new UNB brochure for the Forging Our Futures fund raising campaign, I just had to sigh. There it was in bold print on the front page – “We are aiming to be the top public university in Canada by the end of this decade…”

Now consider a few facts. On a per capita basis, New Brunswick universities receives the least amount of R&D funding in Canada. The percentage of the New Brunswick population that is university age is declining steeply and provincial government funding for post-secondary education will be more and more squeezed out by health care in the coming years.

Based on that, shouldn’t UNB’s goal be – to try and survive until the end of the decade?

I don’t know UNB’s plan but it should include:

  • *Attraction of significant out of province students
  • *Try and find a way to keep the 2,500 English language Moncton high school graduates in province. Moncton graduates more English kids from high school than Fredericton and has no local options (except Mt. A and ABU which are not aligned with 90% of graduates).
  • *Less reliance on government core funding (yes, yes we get the point you are trying to make – the word ‘public’ is used more times than any other in the brochure).
  • *More R&D – practical, commercializable R&D
  • *More attraction of top talent from outside Canada. I have followed Dalhousie University and their attraction of some of the top minds in the research world. That’s what UNB should do for New Brunswick. In addition, this talent should be tied to economic development strategies for the province (if there are any). Dalhousie’s attract of the top mind in Internet security from around the globe to head an institute is pure genius. What R&D going on at UNB has global implications? (I’m just asking – I really don’t know).
  • More connectedness. Only one of over 50 people on the campaign’s cabinet from the United States? There must be more UNB grads in senior management positions in the USA than that.

Time for UNB to become a global university. When I pick up global newspapers, I hear about research at Dal. Clinical trials at Dal. New global institutes at Dal. I’m not kidding. I monitor global media references to Atlantic Canadian universities and Dal references outnumber UNB by 20 times. It is very rare to see the name UNB in a U.S. publication – much less a European one.

UNB should be a catalyst to help attract foreign companies and investment to New Brunswick. When CNN is consulting a global expert in xx – it should be a UNB prof.

Why not?