What can we learn from global post-secondary institutions?


How can post-secondary institutions transform their internal practices and structures to more actively contribute to positive social change?

With one of the most accessible post-secondary sectors in the world, it comes as no surprise that various Canadian institutions excel at addressing social issues. From social value purchasing, to civic innovation hubs, there are many examples of institutions going beyond the functions of research and teaching by contributing to and collaborating with community.

However, this institution-community connection is not yet mainstream in Canada, and scaling innovations can be difficult. Furthermore, social challenges, like refugee crises and food insecurity, permeate borders. As do social innovations. What can Canadian institutions learn and apply from exemplary international institutions?

On this occasion, UpSocial is working in partnership with McConnell, a private Canadian foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges. In the context of Recode, an initiative led by McConnell to promote social innovation through Canadian post-secondary institutions, this collaboration seeks to identify what leading post-secondary institutions around the world are doing to more actively contribute to social change, how they’re doing it, and why it’s working.

The first step of the project was to consult with numerous Canadian stakeholders to identify the areas where post-secondary education could focus to maximize their contribution to social change. These areas were summarized in a Challenge Brief that is guiding the project team in researching proven innovations that:

  • increase community engagement incentives for institutions, faculty, and leadership teams;
  • improve equity and diversity of staff and governance through retention and promotion strategies; and
  • guarantee a healthy and safe environment for everyone on campus, specifically addressing the mental health crisis.

The end goal of the project is to identify two or three promising initiatives to scale or implement in Canada after being adapted to the particular geographic, political and cultural contexts of each institution. By learning from successful experiences, institutions can further transform their own campuses and wider communities, setting worldwide precedents of what higher education institutions can achieve.