Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A partnership opportunity that can't be missed

Post-secondary education is one of London’s greatest strengths. Western University and Fanshawe College are major employers in our city and students contribute millions more to the local economy through spending on rent, food, entertainment, and all the other necessities of life. In many ways, we tend to undervalue the part they play now and could play in the future. I believe there are three ways we can strengthen the partnership with Western and Fanshawe to make London better for everyone.

First, I have already discussed in Metro News London how the city could be looking to local experts at our post-secondary schools to carry out research and find innovative solutions to city issues. Occasionally when the city needs to test the feasibility of an idea, or wants to know what other cities are doing on the same issue, it relies on expensive outside consultants to produce a report. One example is the London’s Transportation Master Plan, produced by a Toronto consultant group.

Sometimes we do need expertise beyond what’s available on city staff. Why not partner with our world-class university and college to do this kind of work where possible? We can invite students and researchers to focus on practical ideas and solutions for our city. Imagine the top minds living in our city investigating how we can improve industry, environment, and citizen engagement in London, and how city government can make a difference in those areas.

Secondly, I recently blogged about the need to foster entrepreneurship in our city as a way to boost economic growth. I mentioned the roles the that local agencies have to play in this area, and Western and Fanshawe are key pieces of the puzzle. We can look at the kind of talent our schools are producing and gear short-term subsidies to start-up businesses in those fields.

We need to make it easier to start and maintain a small business in London for everybody, not just grads; however, this is one way to keep some of our top talent at home. I've seen this kind of approach do great things in Waterloo Region, where I lived as a student at the University of Waterloo. The area has a thriving tech sector because of talent produced at its universities.

Recently, the province announced funding for Campus-Linked Accelerators, to build on innovation and entrepreneurial programs at Southwestern Ontario's colleges and universities. This includes Western's Entrepreneurship, Engagement, Economic Development (E3), which will act as “a hub for educational, community, and private-sector partners and the foundation for nurturing a vibrant on-campus ecosystem of entrepreneurship”. It’s great news, so we must ensure that the city is at the table to build strong links between Western innovation and entrepreneurship and the rest of our city.

The third way London can do a better job of collaborating with our schools has to do with integrating them into city life. We need to treat students as fellow Londoners and help them to see themselves that way.

Recently, two of my opponents called for Western’s Homecoming celebrations to be cancelled. While I absolutely sympathize with the frustrations of Broughdale residents, this is the wrong approach. Rather than shutting down the celebration, I’d like to see the city get involved in planning it, and not just in terms of law enforcement. 

What if Homecoming took over Victoria Park for the weekend, or a few blocks of commercial area were closed to traffic for the celebration? Alcohol consumption could be contained and monitored. It would also encourage more long-term Londoners to come out and join the celebration, and bring their positive influence. It would mean be a boost for nearby businesses too. If we look at Homecoming like another city festival, we can plan the kind of celebration everyone will be proud of.

Helping Fanshawe bring more students downtown, to study in the Kingsmill’s building, is also a step in the right direction when it comes to integrating them into city life. These students will be working and learning where so many other Londoners also work. More interaction will lead to better relationships.

Western and Fanshawe are huge advantages to have in London. Let's start treating students like fellow citizens with something to contribute rather than just a problem to be managed.

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