THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CONTRIBUTION OF ATLANTIC UNIVERSITIES

No. 02-01

The Association of Atlantic Universities (AAU) has just published a comprehensive research study which measures the extensive social and cultural contribution of universities in Atlantic Canada. Thriving Together: Universities and Community in Atlantic Canada,1 shows that hundreds of thousands of Atlantic Canadians take advantage of the rich range of programs and events offered by universities, not only on campuses, but in communities at home and abroad. Here are a few (2009) highlights from the report:

    * More than 500,000 people attended cultural events, such as live theatrical and musical performances, staged at Atlantic universities;
    * About 17,000 members of the region’s university community were involved in charitable undertakings;
    * Universities were involved in more than 800 charitable community service initiatives during the year;
    * The region’s three largest universities (Memorial, Dalhousie and the University of New Brunswick) each offered more than 500 programs across a wide variety of areas;
    * Canada’s East Coast universities delivered more than 800 recreational programs to people in the region;
    * More than 300 community services programs provided a range of benefits to people in the region, including legal and medical services.

THRIVING TOGETHER REVIEWS THE IMPACT of the region’s universities on the sense of community in Atlantic Canada, its sense of cohesiveness as a quality place to live – and to make a contribution. We already know, from our earlier research2, that our universities make an important direct contribution to GDP, generating $2.6 billion in economic activity and supporting more than 38,000 jobs in 2008 alone. Building on the earlier study, Thriving Together represents a new way of looking at our world, one that measures not only strict economic output but also the value of social and cultural input.

Thriving Together, based on extensive primary research conducted at the AAU’s 17 member institutions, takes us to some very surprising places; some distant, some close to home. In poverty-stricken Honduras, 35 students from Mount Allison University help a team of medical professionals that deliver basic care to hundreds of people a day.  

In Antigonish County, Nova Scotia, students from St. Francis Xavier University volunteer as tutors and mentors in Aboriginal and Black communities. They have been doing this by the busload, three times a week, since 1965. For several summers in a row, a team from the veterinary school at the University of Prince Edward Island travels to an Arctic community to care for the dogs that are a vital part of aboriginal communities, and to teach people how to care for their own animals. In Newfoundland and Labrador, another group of visitors from the university community –music students from Memorial University – introduce students to the engaging art of live opera theatre by staging productions in schools across the province.

In the end, this report tells a compelling series of narratives about the role universities play in the cultural and social life of Atlantic Canada, and beyond. Put it all together, and it is clear our universities enrich the lives of thousands of people who live and work beyond the campus. They take advantage of programs and events offered at the campuses of universities in the region. They use university facilities, or take part in field trips. They are either the beneficiaries of charitable programs led by university staff, faculty or students – or partners in delivering those benefits. They play a role in outreach programs that deliver various forms of aid to people as far away as Haiti, and as close to home as a hard-hit neighbourhood a few blocks away from the University of New Brunswick campus in Saint John, N.B. Quite literally, the region’s universities put Atlantic Canada on the map – the map of the world, and the map of communities inside the region.

Key Questions for Consideration

    * What other opportunities (new programs or initiatives) should our universities consider in their effort to play a vital role in the region’s wider cultural life and social development?
    * How pro-active should universities be in encouraging students to play an active, positive role in the community?
    * What additional steps should universities take to play an even more meaningful role in their communities?