Harper in Brazil: the critics are raving


And just this once, I mean the title non-ironically. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada “applauds” and “is delighted by” Harper’s announcement of increased Canada-Brazil cooperation in higher education and research. And it “welcomes”  a plan to open three new visa centres in Brazil.

Now, Paul Davidson, the AUCC president, is a born diplomat, and he is always careful not to be too critical of a government on which universities depend for much of their funding. But by the same token, he knows how to be non-committal if some government announcement doesn’t really turn his crank. But increased cooperation between Canada and a big neighbour like Brazil really does make more sense than the odd petty rivalry that has sometimes put our countries pointlessly at odds. The visa centres, as Davidson says, “will lead to more Brazilians choosing Canada as their preferred place to conduct research and study.”

But there’s one more reason the AUCC is in a good mood: Governor-General David Johnston will lead an AUCC delegation to a hemispheric conference on international education next spring. This is a really handy change of heart on the part of the Harper government, which has argued for too long that marketing Canadian higher education abroad is the responsibility of the provinces. No other federation makes the same assumption. Provinces alone can’t make the noise they need to attract students in a crowded and competitive global higher-ed market. One suspects it’s Johnston’s personal involvement in these fields — he was University of Waterloo president and he’s said he wants to make a “smarter Canada” a hallmark of his tenure at Rideau Hall — that has helped the Harper government change its mind.

So yeah, some funny stuff may or may not have happened in or near the bathrooms on this trip, but on issues that matter, Harper also seems to have done some useful work.


Harper in Brazil: the critics are raving

  1. Considering that Harper once said:

    “I think we’re vastly over-invested in universities. Universities should be relatively small and provide excellent education and research in a number of specialized areas. I think the vast majority of young people should be going through non-university, post-secondary training

    Source: the Calgary Herald, Sept 15, 2000”

    If the GG has done anything to change Harp’s attitude, then good on him!

    Now perhaps the GG can do something to improve Harper’s toilet training.

    • I’d never say we’re “over-invested” in universities, but there are way too many students in university who shouldn’t be in university, and should be in some other from of post-secondary institution.  I’ve got to agree with Harper on that point.

      We’ve over-emphasized the supposed importance of university, and degraded the prestige of other forms of post-secondary education (especially apprenticeships and the trades) to the point that we have WAY too many university graduates with B.A.s and B.Sc.s going back to college to get the training they should have gone in to right out of highschool for the type of career they aspire to.  This also leads to our universities changing THEIR emphasis in order to provide some utility to the large number of students who shouldn’t have gone in to university in the first place but felt that they were doing something wrong if they didn’t get some university level post-nominals after their name.  So our institutions of higher learning and advanced research start to become fancy career training centres, our post-secondary institutions that should be focused on career training have to struggle to compete with the “prestige” of the universities who are suddenly eating their lunch, and before you know it you need a Masters degree from an accredited university if you want to move from being assistant manager at McDonald’s to manager, because almost everyone who has a diploma in hospitality management did 4 years of undergraduate study and two years of grad school before going back to college to get that diploma.

      • University is now bare entry level….where have you been?

        • Geoffrey Miller ~ 

          The irony about general intelligence is that ordinary folks of average intelligence recognize its variance across people, its generality across domains, and its importance in life. Yet educated elites meanwhile often remain implacably opposed to the very concept of general intelligence, and deny its variance, generality, and importance.

          Professors and students at elite universities are especially prone to this pseudo-humility. They socialize only with other people of extraordinarily high intelligence, so the width of the whole bell curve lies outside their frame of reference. I have met theoretical physicists who claimed that any human could understand superstring theory and quantum mechanics if only he or she was given the right educational opportunities. 

          Of course, such scientists talk only with other physicists with IQs above 140, and seem to forget that their janitors, barbers, and car mechanics are in fact real humans too, so they can rest comfortably in the envy-deflecting delusion that there are no significant differences in general intelligence. 


          • You do not need an IQ of over 140 to understand string theory and quantum mechanics

            Now stop reading garbage blog sites, before someone mistakes you for stupid

          • Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman had a measured IQ of 124. No physicist I’ve ever met cared a damn about IQ.

            Physics is all about defending your hypothesis. Nothing more, nothing less.

        • That’s what I’m saying Emily, university’s not SUPPOSED to be bare entry
          level for most jobs. 

          The fact that one now needs a bachelor’s degree to get a job that in no way should require a bachelor’s degree isn’t a good thing, it’s a bad thing.  When everyone has a B.A. the meaning of a B.A. is diminished, and we lower our standards because it would be cruel not to, ’cause how’s a person supposed to get a job without a B.A.???  Superficially it looks as though we’re creating a lot more people with excellent educations but I fear that maybe what we’re actually doing is creating about the same number of people who are highly educated, but a much greater number of people who have the CREDENTIALS of an excellent education.

          All that we get from creating an environment where people need to get a bachelor’s degree to get a job at 7/11 is the need to create some new class of degree for people who are actually deserving of (and in real need of) university level credentials (or every job that used to require a B.A. now requires an M.A., because no one with a B.A. is capable of doing the work anymore).  I don’t  think that most jobs that require a university education today but didn’t require a university education 30 years ago are really that much more intellectually challenging today than they were 30 years ago.  It may just be that university graduates 30 years ago, in aggregate, were better educated at the end of their degrees than university graduates in 2011 are.

          • Could we have done with the Ode To A Plumber nonsense please?

            Trade school is simply job-training….nothing more

            University is Education

            In case you haven’t noticed, we are now competing with the world, not the guy 2 rows over….and the local 7/11 is irrelevant

            Anyone with a degree who is working at a 7/11 has no ambition.

            It is now a WORLD of university grads…and you need to pull up your sox…!

          • So, if I want to be a professional plumber I need to get a university degree in order to compete with the overseas competition from foreign plumbers with university degrees?

            ‘Cause I have three degrees and know nothing about plumbing, but I do know plumbers who make a better living than I do, and it’s not because they got a Bachelor’s degree before doing their apprenticships, but because they actually KNOW ABOUT PLUMBING.

            There’s definitely supposed to be a difference between the type of education one receives to become a plumber and the type of education one receives to get a bachelor’s degree, but the type of snobby privileging of one over the other that you’ve set-up is, I think, exactly why some young people feel pressured to go to university lest they be considered a failure for not doing so.  In my mind it’s arguably the presence of these students who aren’t actually interested in the type of education one is supposed to receive in a university that’s morphing our universities in to job training centres as they try to treat their students like customers and cater to their needs, instead of identifying that their needs would be better met by some other (no less valid) form of education (plus, universities are generally funded on a per-student basis so there’s no incentive to even THINK about whether or not a particular degree is beneficial to the student, who cares, if they leave then we lose the money we get for them!).

            I do like how you capitalized “Education” in your third line though.  Nice touch.  If we’re going to compete internationally though, don’t we need to make sure that university degrees continue to be about “Education” with a capital E?  And can we do that if 80-90% of the students in the 800 seat lecture theatre only want to know how today’s lecture is going to help them get a job, because they’re not there because they’re interested in “Education” they’re there because they’ve been told that in a global economy you need a degree to get a job and that society expects it of them?  I don’t think you can tell a generation of students that they need a university degree to get a job and not expect them to come away with the impression that the point of a university degree is to get them a job.  I’m also not sure that universities can resist the pressure to become job training centres when the majority of their students think the purpose of the institution is to train them for the job market.

          • @Lord_Kitcheners_Own:disqus 

            Is that supposed to be a university-trained mind you’re using?  If so, demand your money back.

            If you want to be a plumber, go to trade school.  Just don’t ever confuse that with an Education.

            People who got degrees some years ago…and thought they were putting themselves above the rabble forever…need to get a grip  Putting other people down and saying …in a kindly way….they just didn’t have the brains for it…are the worst kind of snobs…..and are engaging in job protection.

            Sorry, but the world has long since passed you by, so you can quit the patronizing of your fellow-Canadians anytime

          • If you want to be a plumber, go to trade school. Just don’t ever confuse that with an Education.

            Wow, would I hate to be your plumber Emily. You know, someone once said to me that “putting other people down and saying …in a kindly way….they just didn’t have the brains for it…are the worst kind of snobs”. Maybe you should think about that.

          • @Lord-Kitcheners_@Lord_Kitcheners_Own:disqus 

            I don’t expect to discuss Plato with my plumber, I expect him to fix the toilet. It’s what he’s trained for….your snobbishness aside.

          • @OriginalEmily1:disqus 

            I will discuss Plato with my plumber, if the topic stupidly arises. Or less snobbishly, he/she may deign to discuss Plato with me.

            I once briefly discussed Canada vs Cuba healthcare with my doctor. Or he deigned to discuss it with me.

             Last month I discussed engineering design philosophy, to use the term loosely, with the guy who fixed my stove.

          • @d. 

            You have too much free time on your hands.

          • How often do I post here?

            The discussions are not long. But no plumber is too snobbish to discuss Plato with me.

          • @d. 

            I’m sure you’re well aware of what I meant.

          • I know I meant what I said. That’s all that concerns me.

      • Lord K’O – I agree with you about what we have done with education system. 

        More focus on credentials means less social mobility. People change careers often now in western world and should not be expected to have credentials for every potential new job. 

        Students should learn much, much more in primary and secondary schools and only top 10% of smartest kids should go to university for free or thereabouts. All we doing now is extending high school years into university for middle class teenagers who are still thought of as children. 

        Read interesting article – How Khan Academy is Changing Rules Of Education –  other day. Good system because it treats everyone as individual.


        “Carpenter, a serious-faced 10-year-old wearing a gray T-shirt and an impressive black digital watch ….. All told, he’s done an insane 642 inverse trig problems. “It took a while for me to get it,” he admits sheepishly …. Carpenter, who attends Santa Rita Elementary, a public school in Los Altos, California, shouldn’t be doing work anywhere near this advanced ….. 

        The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to.”


      • “This also leads to our universities changing THEIR emphasis in order to provide some utility to the large number of students who shouldn’t have gone in to university in the first place ….”

        Different in America, because we don’t pay as much here obviously, but same kind of trends. 

        The Latest Bubble?

        “So I am particularly delighted to read Peter Thiel’s latest thoughts on the higher-education bubble. Mr Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a legendary investor, has a long history of identifying bubbles …. 

        Mr Thiel believes that higher education fills all the criteria for a bubble: tuition costs are too high, debt loads are too onerous, and there is mounting evidence that the rewards are over-rated. Add to this the fact that politicians are doing everything they can to expand the supply of higher education (reasoning that the “jobs of the future” require college degrees), much as they did everything that they could to expand the supply of “affordable” housing, and it is hard to see how we can escape disaster”


    • Ms OE1, your vulgar comment is very low, and we thought you were a lady.

      • Lady, schmady….discuss the topic, not me

        • It’s not her ladyship that worries me, it’s the not-infrequent jibes and Parthian shots. Jibes should be rare, cogent.

          And funny.

          • Another summer temp.

        • Coming from one who NEVER discusses the topic.

          • I’m discussing it….you’re horsing around.

      • See what I mean?

  2. The ‘critics’ are raving about how we are going to make Canadians smarter by bringing in foreigners to our universities? Of course they are! Too many lumpens in Canada apparently, need to bring in smart people from abroad. 

    Canadians are getting stupider, not smarter, since Government decided to focus on making Canada ‘smarter’. And now we are going to export our stupidity to Brazilian students, it appears. 

    Why would any smart student want to come here when there are much better educational opportunities to be had elsewhere?

    “Canada ranks 10th among 17 peer countries on the knowledge-intensive services indicator and 6th among 17 peer countries on university completion …. The U.S., which ranks among the top countries on innovation, also ranks high on university completion: 30 per cent of the U.S. population aged 25 to 64 had a university degree in 2008—this is five percentage points higher than in Canada. If we focus on the younger 25–34 cohort, Canada fares worse, ranking 11th among its peers—not a good sign of Canada’s future performance vis-à-vis its peers.”


    “Canada’s graduation rate of doctoral students is strikingly low compared with its performance on other measures of education completion (high school, college, and university) and compared with its peers. Canada ranks in last place … This would appear to be a structural issue for Canada, as it consistently produces proportionately fewer Ph.D.s than comparator countries … Although Canada increased its number of Ph.D. graduates by 8 per cent in 2007, it has earned a “D” on this indicator since 1998, the earliest year for which internationally comparable data are available.” 


    • Oh I LOVE it when we play random indicators.

      Canada ranks lower than some peer countries on university completion precisely because many Canadians attend only community college or less. Which means Tony’s random indicator contradicts Lord Kitchener’s random indicator. 

      As for the notion that Canadians would be better educated if we had fewer international students, well, I won’t even bother.

      • I still think my anecdotal random indicator could be correct!  There could be too many Canadian students pressured in to going to university when it’s not appropriate for their skills or career aspirations while simultaneously we have lots of Canadians attending only community college or less.  (I hasten to add that I certainly don’t think anyone who’s enrolled in an educational program is ever “wasting their time” in any sense, even if they end up going back and doing something else later on, like completing a college diploma program after doing an M.A.  I think it’s always worthwhile to be studying, I just think that some of the pressures we put on students, and the reaction of our institutions to it all, may well be skewing the whole system somewhat).

        I also think that completion rates are generally a silly way to evaluate the effectiveness of one’s educational systems.  For one thing, the easiest way to increase an institution’s graduation rates is to simply LET EVERYONE GRADUATE regardless of how they do.  One can’t dismiss the possibility that we’re giving out fewer PhDs than certain other countries because certain other countries are giving away PhDs like candy (of course, that notion also kinda contradicts my random indicator, since I’ve kinda implied that WE’RE giving out PhDs like candy, lol)

        • Gracious no….most Canadians are stupid, and should never aspire to a decent education at a university.

          The only way they can succeed is if we lower the bar to say…grade 3.

          Do you ever LISTEN to yourself?

          • Gracious no….most Canadians are stupid, and should never aspire to a decent education at a university.

            Do you ever listen to YOURSELF Emily??? 

            You basically just came right out and said that only stupid people wouldn’t aspire to a university education.  It’s precisely that attitude that shames some students who’s needs would be better met by other post-secondary opportunities into going to university instead lest they be deemed “stupid” by folks like you for not going after a “decent” education.

          • You said it hon, I didn’t

            I merely pointed out your patronizing attitude to other Canadians.

            You know…the attitude you’re still promoting?

  3. I haven’t bothered to look into the bathroom story–apparently, a poorly translated article in a Brazilian tabloid got a handful of drooling Harper-haters excited for a minute or two on Twitter.

    Like Wells, I fully support opening the country’s universities as much as possible to international students.  I’m glad some progress was made on this front today, and I hope that we continue to attract intellectual talent from around the world to our universities and our businesses.

      • Wow, some minor WaPo blogger mentioned it in an internet-only blog post?  This changes everything!   There are literally hundreds of people whose eyes may have skimmed over this inconsequential tabloid nonstory that was completely denied by Brazil and Canada!

        • Wow first it was some no-name …to you…Portugese paper, and now it’s merely the WaPo….which is of course minor league as well.

          Get out much?

    • I don’t take the bathroom story too seriously either.

      That said… seriously!?!?!  A second “what was Harper doing in the bathroom” story???  That’s got to be the last time Harper goes to the bathroom while visiting with foreign dignitaries.  It’s just too risky.

      • As the WashPost points out, Harper has a history with bathrooms.

        Great legacy.

        • Yes.  I’m not certain, but I think I just pointed it out too.  In fact, I think I did it right in the comment that you’re responding to.

          Thanks for sharing though.

          • It takes awhile for something to penetrate the mind of a librarian. Too busy at job protection I suspect.

          • Oh, shut up.  Stop trying to annoy and insult everyone else who comments here.

          • @Crit_Reasoning:disqus 

            Ahh as usual when you run out of argument…attack me instead.

            Where did you get your name anyway?  It doesn’t suit you in the least.

          • @Crit_Reasoning

            My original impression of her was someone critically intelligent and a subtle and informed disputer. Over this year the contributions have devolved toward jibes and troll-like inflammatory hooks. Disturbing.

            It’s not the sort of give and take I’ve had with the rest of you guys.

          • Come on now CR.  If Emily stops annoying and insulting everyone here, what will be left of her contributions?


            On second thought, good advice.

          • @Lord_Kitcheners_Own:disqus 

            You Con clowns ever going to discuss the topic?

        • Perhaps your interest in lavatory humour identifies a trace of blue blood?  Come on, out with it.

          • What are you…the summer temp?

          • I’m not here enough to be bothered as much as the others, but really you have to take a look in the self-cognitive mirror.

            The retorts are coming perilously close to trolling.

            That’s not the Canadian culture and discourse that MacLeans has traditionally fostered. At least the MacLeans I remember of bygone years.

          • @d.

            Yeah, you’re the summer temp alright.  I won’t be answering any more of your personal attacks.  Ciao

      • Maybe Harper had food poisoning or some other gastrointestinal distress?  Anyway, it’s pretty stupid that we’re even talking about such a trivial thing.  

        • USING a bathroom isn’t in question….locking oneself in until he gets his own way over protocol is.

          Nice try though.

      • That’s got to be the last time Harper goes to the bathroom…

        That Depends.

        • MYL!  How’ve you been?

          • Hi guys, good to be back with you.  Got busy, sick of Emily… and drifted away for a stretch.  I’ll probably come and go, with long pauses (trying to — what’s it called — have a life?), and I will do much more reading than commenting in future, but I’ve missed many of you.

          • I drifted away for a stretch too. I’ve connected with a number of  Macblog friends via email, etc.  It’s a way of staying in touch and discussing stuff without having to put up with the dingbats.
            Drop me a line, MYL! You can reach me at critreasoning at gmail dot com.

        • Harper in Brazil – he waxes poetic.

        • LOL (Wipes tear away)

          I’ve missed you myl.

  4. @twitter-100842674:disqus , a serious question (not toilet related): Will the provinces be up in arms about this initiative, or do they welcome this news from the federal government?

    I think it’s great news, but I can’t help but think that one or more provinces, any moment now, will hold a press conference to denounce the feds for interfering in a provincial responsibility.

    • Not to step on Paul’s domain, but the provinces are highly unlikely to complain at this point. Although “education” is clearly a provincial responsibility, the funding of research has been overwhelmingly done by the federal government in Canada.  The traditional funding split has been that the provinces pay for bricks & mortar, profs salaries, and monitor graduate program quality while the feds pay for graduate student stipends, operating & equipment grants.  This split has become decidedly more murky in recent times.

      For the past 15 years, a serious point of contention has been the federal government introducing programs that require a provincial match of funds.  This drives the provinces nuts since they are put in the position of either spending money as they are told or they lose federal investment to other provinces.

      My guess would be that this current trip ultimately leads to new investment in the Brazil part of the ISTP program (see http://istpcanada.ca/home/index.php )  This is a classic 2+2 program (Canadian company & university partner + Brazilian counterparts) which are in principal a great idea (although ISTP is not the best run example)  Since the provinces won’t be asked for money, they won’t be unhappy.

      • Thanks for the response. Paul seems to echo your general opinion on this subject, in his response below.

    • On the fairly narrow domain of international marketing of Canadian higher education, the provinces will be delighted. All of them, including Quebec. I’m pretty confident about thsi. They see any coordinated federal involvement as help, not interference. In other areas, they’d have different attitudes. 

      • Thanks for the response.

      • I want to express my appreciation that you put substantial content into your own blog. One of your colleagues seems to either:

        a) have a bet with the rest of you that he can quote the most and say the least, or

        b) be planning to run for office in the future, and doesn’t want to have a past to answer for. In other words, he learns from Harper, et al’s, mistakes.

  5. Good news overall and particularly about the nomination of Rick Waugh.

    I doubt there will be much screaming from the provinces and other about David Johnston : he’s not a woman, and he’s not Chinese.

  6. I have every confidence that Harper will diligently effect educational sweatshops every and any way possible, here and in Brazil.

    In fact, if Harper really committed himself to low-cost housing, he wouldn’t shy away from candy-bar machines in the kitchen, and Apple iPod ads spray-painted on the living-room walls. And SleepCountry mattress ads in the bedrooms.

    In fact, I don’t think he would have a clue how to do it any other way.

  7. This is great news, “will lead to more Brazilians choosing Canada as their preferred place to conduct research and study.”   Hopefully this will lead to more Canadian companies investing in future scientists and engineers.   The Munk School for Global Affairs should be a big attraction for Brazil.

    GG David Johnson is perfect for this with his University of Waterloo has experience.   “Maclean’s Reputational University Rankings for Canadian universities has consistently ranked UW first in the “Most Innovative” and “Leaders of Tomorrow” sections, and second in the “Highest Quality” section. The school is also known for having more company spin-offs than any other Canadian university.”

    University and company research partnerships get federal funding

    Brazil and Canada have much in common, due to our vast natural resources.  The success of Brazil’s biofuel industry is an excellent example of what can happen if new technologies are supported. 

    • It’s great news if science is to be the handmaiden of coporations, and liberal arts ghettoized into oblivion, or at least stuffy little summer-heated broom-closets.

      Nothing could make Dear Robot happier.

      • Liberal arts and sciences are generally chosen by students who have not focused on a major yet.   You recieve exposure to a wide range of academic subjects, including sciences and the traditional humanities subjects.  It was called the two year university transfer program in my day.  Taking philosophy and psychology didn’t find me a job, but did provide some useful tools in my work environment.

        Just don’t expect to get head-hunted by BP!

        It’s kinda like First Nation students taking Aboriginal Studies.

  8. @twitter-100842674:disqus 

    I’m not sure what you expected in these comments. This is a good thing, and I hope he does it elsewhere….as in India, China and Russia.

    It’s not controversial….not that we got asked about it anyway….and overall few outside the AUCC will know or care about it.

    Feds are quietly moving into education anyway, and anytime the provinces get free bennies they’re not likely to object either.

    But you really shouldn’t call people dingbats. LOL

    • I’m sure Wells was being polite when he called you a “dingbat” instead of using stronger language.

      • Well see, I never mentioned names. You just assumed.

        Something ‘critical reasoning’ would never do.

  9. Harper is gradually learning that he has to act like a Liberal in order to get anything of value accomplished.  This is the guy who maintained that  the federal government should withdraw from everything except securing our borders and maintaining law and order.  He maintained that there was no role for government in the economy, which was to be truned over to corporations entirely.  Now he is pretending to know something about selling Canada abroad and establishing exports.  Why would Canadians allow a politician that doesn’t believe government has ANY role in the economy, to stick handle important trade initiatives? 

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