Amit Chakma was born into one of the hill tribes of southeastern Bangladesh. His father, the only one of 11 siblings to go to school, wanted him to be a scholar. Today, he’s president of the University of Western Ontario.
Chakma’s story is remarkable (he studied in Algeria, then earned graduate degrees in chemical engineering at UBC), but it illustrates a plain truth that applies to thousands of young Canadians, wherever they come from: a university education represents their best opportunity to secure a better future, no matter how humble their circumstances. They should be given the information to make sound choices. And that’s what this issue is all about.
This is Maclean’s 19th annual university rankings issue, and it’s our largest ever—more than 110 pages from start to finish. Why devote so much energy to a segment of Canadian society that is, well, academic? It’s because we think covering universities in an objective and useful way is, to put it simply, important. There is no comparable single source of information on universities in this country. The overall rankings—the product of a months-long research effort led by Senior Editor Mary Dwyer—provide a snapshot of universities’ relative strengths among peers. The other data, on class size, entering grades, student satisfaction and more paint a fuller picture of each university. And the articles on campus life—from fighting for a better grade to dealing with the law—give inside advice that should make things easier for freshmen (and their parents).
The good news for them, as for all Canadians, is that universities are changing to stay relevant. “We have truly become a global village,” says Western’s Chakma, “so educating our students the old way is no longer sufficient.” He says universities need to give students more leeway to work in teams, update technology to adapt to new ways of learning, and break down the barriers of specialization that block innovation. “Universities,” he says, “must try to give our students the tools—not necessarily the answers, but the tools—that will prepare them to deal with much more complex issues than my generation had to.”
It’s a challenge that clearly excites Chakma, who describes Canada’s current crop of university presidents—a species known more, perhaps, for complaining (usually about lack of funds) than for optimism—as “the lucky generation.” Here’s hoping the same can be said for this generation of students, too.