The future is interdisciplinary – and international

In the elegant setting of the Ontario room in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri revealed the key to York’s future to members of the Empire Club. His message? The future is interdisciplinary – and international.

During a speech delivered yesterday, Shoukri spoke to members of the prestigious club about York University, which he said is uniquely positioned to produce the future’s global citizens – leaders in business, humanities, fine arts, and science and technology. York’s focus on producing graduates with a diverse knowledge base, coupled with the University’s youth and ability to plan, are signature strengths, said Shoukri, for Canada’s interdisciplinary university.

Above: Mamdouh Shoukri, York’s president & vice-chancellor, speaks to a capacity audience at yesterday’s meeting of the Empire Club of Canada

York’s goal, said Shoukri, is to educate students to be experts in their field, but to be aware that their field is part of a much wider world. Graduates of York University are able to identify the challenges the world faces and then work in interdisciplinary teams to mobilize solutions.

“Think for a moment about some of challenges humanity faces — HIV/AIDS; many Third World health issues; pollution and the environment; poverty; gender inequality; political and ethnic conflicts,” said Shoukri.“The truth is that we have most of the technology and the knowledge to solve many of these problems. What is lacking most of the time is the link between the science and the action. It takes something from the humanities and social sciences to put that scientific solution into action.

“Knowledge is of no benefit to anyone if it sits on a shelf. That said, the best mechanism for the effective dissemination of knowledge remains our students,” said Shoukri. “Broadly educated, yet knowledgeable in their fields of specialization, graduates continue to transfer their knowledge to society.”

A young, nimble university, York has identified future requirements and is developing programs to educate a new generation of global citizens who can meet the world’s present and future needs. “At York, we’re creating and expanding our School of Engineering, and we are taking a non-traditional approach,” said Shoukri. “It means the engineers we train will have business acumen and a social conscience. We want them to understand how their work can help solve problems, how it can help make our region and our country more competitive and more prosperous."

This is also the reason why York is taking a new approach to medical education, said Shoukri, and the University is on a mission to create a leading centre of innovation and excellence in health and neuroscience.

York’s emphasis in health education also includes a focus on building sustainable health care systems and a future goal of a new medical school. “York hopes to extend and maximize the outcome of these efforts by starting a medical school based on the same foundations. This will allow for synergies, more aggressive and innovative approaches for learning and research,” said Shoukri. “It also recognizes and reflects the needs of society, both locally and globally. Simply put, our plan is responding to the needs of society by building on our strengths in curricular initiatives and in research.”

Left: Mamdouh Shoukri 

To accomplish these goals, York’s president outlined the University’s academic plan and its focus on careful planning. This includes building on its existing strengths, furthering the University’s profile as an institution of research, mobilizing research discoveries into the marketplace and the internationalization of its students.

Universities in the 21st century must have a culture of planning, said Shoukri, if they are to have any hope of maximizing their potential, and York is actively developing such a culture.  “Planning is what helps us to create and respond to opportunities, to be agile enough to act when action is needed,” said Shoukri. “ With a plan in place, we are able to build on our strengths.”

He then outlined a cornerstone of York’s University Academic Plan, which is to strengthen research, but to do so with the needs of society in mind. This means defining areas for strategic growth – science and engineering, medical and health research – in light of the University’s vision. “We want to marry the ability of science and technology with the challenges that face communities the world over,” said Shoukri.

York’s plan also includes knowledge dissemination and direct participation in the social and economic development of the local community and society at large, said Shoukri. “At York, we take this obligation seriously. We have a Knowledge Mobilization Unit to help turn research into action.

"I believe that a research university, together with the community, private sector and government, can play a key role in the development and sustainability of innovation clusters and major arts and cultural centers," he said.

Building on its strength, York University will continue to work closely with the local community and government to provide strong support for local social and economic development, said Shoukri. "For example, working with fast-growing local industry and all levels of government, York is leading the development of an innovation cluster on medical devices.”

He said that universities are increasingly competing for both students and faculty in a global marketplace, and that York has long understood the importance of reaching out to the world. 

Another cornerstone of York’s academic plan is to help students and faculty participate fully in an increasingly interdependent global society. York is actively encouraging the internationalization of academic programs, along with the important institutional linkages and student and faculty exchanges, explained Shoukri.

“We offer a broad, international curriculum that brings world perspectives into the classroom; we have excellent student mobility programs, funded international internships; and award-winning programs, such as the Emerging Global Leaders Program — an opportunity for York students to increase their global knowledge and inter-cultural skills,” said Shoukri. 

He explained how for students, international opportunities enrich their educational experience, exposing them to languages and cultures other than their own, providing new perspectives, showing them first-hand how the world is changing. All of this gives York students a competitive edge in pursuing future employment opportunities.

“As our world becomes more globalized, our graduates are more likely to find themselves engaged in work that involves other countries and other cultures. Similarly, our faculty seek the best collaborators for their work, no matter where in the world they may be located,” said Shoukri.

In summary, Shoukri said that York University was not leaving its community behind, highlighting that York was carefully and thoughtfully expanding its community, embracing the world’s challenges and potential, with enthusiasm and a forward-thinking attitude. “York needs to work hard to find new and better ways of creating new knowledge and mobilizing that knowledge for the benefit of society. We need to reach out to the world so that we can better serve our communities, both local and global.”

By Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor