Within the last hour, wending my way home from my customary morning coffee, I walked, as usual, through the McGill University campus, only to find that what was going on there was far from usual.
It just happened that as I passed the immense tent that has covered the front lawn for the last week or so, Wednesday’s edition of the annual spring graduation ceremonies was just concluding, and graduates, their attached proud families and friends, and I suppose the occasional professor, came pouring out. The families came out of one door, and around the other door, watching the graduates emerge in their mortar boards and flowing gowns, adoring relatives formed a guard that reminded me very much of how the Rugby teams I watch on TV every Saturday emerge from under the grandstand on to the field of play, the fans waving and cheering (or, in this case, taking selfies.)
By asking a very pleasant young woman who was standing free of friends or family, I discovered something I never knew before. Many of the graduates were wearing bright red --- I guess you could classify them as scarlet --- gowns, and she told me such a gown indicated someone who has just graduated with their doctorate. I was surprised at how many, what a high proportion they seemed to be. I asked her what she had graduated in, and she said she had won her master’s in architecture. It had taken her five and a half years, she said in reply to my further questions, and she had a follow-up internship set up which was to be with McGill University itself.
This outpouring of graduates really seemed like a lot to me, especially since the entire ceremony is repeated, apparently, for seven consecutive days. I tried to find out from their web site how many students have graduated this year, but all I could discover was that there have been 40,000 full-time students at the university, comprising more than 27,000 undergraduates, 10,000 post-graduates, and about 2500 post-doctoral, residents, fellows and others. (If we figure that, on average, maybe something less than a third would graduate each year, that would mean at least 12,000 graduates stepping forward for their diplomas, at the spring and fall ceremonies. This is just an uninformed observer’s guess.)
Of the student body one in every three is international in origin, and 10 per cent are studying for doctorates. They are taught by a staff of more than 1700 brainy people, and the university has a research budget of more than half a billion. As I am certainly not the first to remark, the modern university is as big as a good-sized city, with a plethora of faculties, schools, just the list of which is kind of mind-blowing --- 11 faculties, and 14 schools or “other academic units,” as the web site says, covering just about every subject of interest in the modern world,
That a third of this immense intellectual factory is at the disposal of foreign students is a fact that should be taken into consideration when arguments are raised about the supposed habit of economically and socially developing countries to steal our technological and scientific achievements. In short, it makes nonsense of such arguments. Why would we worry that a firm like Huawei is, like a thief in the night, taking advantage of our technologies and so-called “intellectual properties”, when we are already willingly devoting untold millions in educational spending to help along the upgrading of the educational level of their young men and women? That many millions of these costs come from our domestic taxpayers is a fact that should fill us with pride, for it means simply that in this particular at least we are helping the poor and dispossessed nations of this world to claw and fight their way out of the poverty in which a cruel history apparently had consigned them for good.
McGill is only one of the many Canadian universities that are playing host to some 533,000 international students across the country at the last reliable count. Of course, like other students they are paying for the education they are receiving, paying handsomely for it, it seems.
In 2016 the $12.8 billion foreign student enrolments provided Canadians with an estimated 168,000 jobs, and tax revenue of $2.8 billion. Still, these students and the countries they come from were using the facilities of the universities that are kept in business by the contributions of Canadian taxpayers, 48 per cent of McGill’s revenues, for example, coming from the Canadian and Quebec governments.
It is churlish, in the extreme, it seems to me, to argue that China is stealing our intellectual property, the theft of which is so common as to have become a permanent feature of human society. That is exactly what Japan did, in an earlier generation, exactly what the United States and Canada did. And, if you want to go further back in history, exactly what Europe did as the achievements of the Chinese percolated around the world --- something that is elaborated in detail in Joseph Needham’s monumental16-volume work on the history of Chinese science and technology.
Well, this brings me to a point in time where I really can summarize by using my by now well-worn mantra:
Wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai.
Just as all those students, foreign and domestic alike, were feeling today.