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Creating Access to Post-Secondary Education in Major Cities

Many major cities are made up of diverse populations who seek out higher education to gain economic mobility and in turn help fuel the local economy. But meeting these learners’ needs requires making that education broadly accessible.

Major cities like Toronto are comprised of diverse demographics of people looking for ways to stay relevant in the job market. Providing access to an education that allows learners of all walks of life to upskill and reskill when they want is therefore critical. In this interview, Diana Mockute and Ehsan Safdari discuss creating more access to higher ed within major cities, what students expect from their institution and how partnerships come into play.

The EvoLLLution (Evo) Why was it important for your team to look at creating access to post-secondary education in Toronto?

Ehsan Safdari (ES): It was important for us to look at education in Toronto because of its population and demographics. It’s the largest city in Canada with a diverse population. By focusing on creating access to post-secondary education in Toronto, Gus Canada hopes to target a significant number of individuals who could benefit from higher education opportunities—both internationally and domestically.

There are plenty of economic opportunities in Toronto. It’s a major economic hub in Canada and contains a thriving job market and numerous growing industries. Access to post-secondary education can help individuals acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to participate and contribute to growing Toronto’s economy.

Evo: What do today’s students expect of higher education when it comes to their educational journey, especially in a major city like Toronto?

Diana Mockute (DM): Today’s learners have certain expectations when it comes to their educational journey. A key expectation is accessibility. Institutions must be accessible in terms of location and infrastructure. Students value proximity to public transportation, affordable housing options and a campus environment conducive to learning.

They also expect resources and support services that cater to their diverse needs. Students expect a high-quality education that prepares them for the job market and equips them with relevant skills for their career. As educators, we care about career outcomes, and we’re seeing more students focused on their career prospects, which is great for Toronto’s economy.  

Another key expectation is for institutions to be up to date with their integration of technology. Online learning platforms, digital resources and tools that enhance collaboration and engagement are critical.

Evo: What elements are necessary to establish a thriving and successful campus?

ES: When we talk about infrastructure, we divide it into various categories: physical infrastructure, technological infrastructure, transportation, campus amenities, safety and security, and sustainability. It’s important to have the right support systems in place to meet all our student’s needs.

Students need to be in the right physical space to learn and have the right technology in place (i.e., fast internet) to learn successfully. They need access to transportation to get to the campus and for those campuses to be accessible for all needs. They also require affordable housing solutions, along with a safe and secure campus.

Evo: How can higher ed leaders foster strong relationships and partnerships to enhance more educational opportunities for learners and their community?

ES: Engaging with local community organizations, businesses and government agencies is important because it helps identify common goals and develop collaborative initiatives. This engagement includes joint research projects, internships, community service programs and shared resources.

We also work with close industry and employer partnerships, which facilitate student co-ops, guest lectures, workshops and professional development opportunities. People gain real-world skills that enhance job placement opportunities. We have over 190 international partners across our Gus Canada institutions that help promote international exchange programs and opportunities for learners and the broader community.

Evo: What impact does expanding access to education in a major city have on learners and the community?

DM: Access to education allows individuals to acquire knowledge, skills and qualifications that enhance their personal and professional growth. It empowers learners by providing them with opportunities to pursue their interests, develop critical thinking abilities and expand their horizons. A well-educated population fuels economic growth, and expanding access to education will follow.

A city like Toronto can nurture a skilled workforce capable of meeting the demands of a rapidly evolving job market. It’s also important to mention that expanding access to education promotes social cohesion and reduces inequality within the community. It benefits both learners and the broader community in different ways. It empowers individuals, drives economic growth, fosters social cohesion, enhances civic engagement and enriches cultural diversity.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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