We need more grad students, says new GG

Will David Johnston bring attention to post-secondary education from his new post at Rideau Hall?

David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo and Governor General-designate, has education on his mind. In an interview with the Waterloo Record published this weekend, he declined to speak about his upcoming move to Ottawa and instead focused on the future of education in Canada.

The profile, written by Luisa D’Amato, describes Johnston as “a man transformed by education and its opportunities,” having eventually found his way to Queen’s University, Cambridge University and Harvard University after having grown up in a family of “modest means.” As a former principal of McGill University and after having served at Waterloo for 11 years, he’s got some ideas about how to improve education in Canada — the primary and secondary education system as well as higher education.

Johnston is in support of government goals to increase the percentage of people who pursue university and college education. But he sees weakness in master’s- and doctoral-level programs, which leads to talented students leaving the country for academic opportunity. He blames Canada’s post-graduate shortcomings for a shortage of skilled, highly-educated workers and poor research capacity.

When it comes to proposing solutions, however, Johnston is less detailed. He doesn’t believe a master strategy will do the trick, rather he points to small institutional changes, such as Waterloo’s recent invitation to a group of Indian post-graduate students to visit the university during the summer to participate in research.

So while his selection as GG suggests that Prime Minister Harper looked to academia for the right person to represent the monarchy, Johnston’s comments in the Record suggest that, as others have already noted, the man knows his place. While his insight into the education system may attract some attention to the file, Johnston likely won’t be the guy to lobby for needed changes. And rightly so. As this publication noted when Governor General Michaelle Jean pushed the government to open a university in the north: the GG should reign, not govern.