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.

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