Winders: Let’s go shopping south of the border

It’s time to go shopping, Canada.

I know that’s unusual advice just a week after the holiday season, and days before the credit card bills that fueled it start rolling in. But now is the time to go shopping, because your neighbours to the south are offering incredible values.

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WINDERS

A dysfunctional political system. A dismantled educational infrastructure. A cumbersome immigration system. Throw in the fact 2012 is a presidential election year, one where who can outcut whom has seized control of the debate early on, and you have a recipe for upheaval.

Yes, there is a growing fear among my countrymen working in areas that depend on stable, long-term government support – higher education among them – that top talent will be wooed elsewhere in the years to come. We watched it play out in the U.K. over the last few years. Now, it has arrived across the pond.

Show a bit of political sanity, a dash of long-term commitment and stability, and you could nab for your organization some of the best minds in the States.

Perhaps the only thing plummeting faster than U.S. home prices is stock in high education. A frenzy of anti-intellectual, anti-government fever is sweeping across the land. If you don’t believe me, just listen to the debate on the campaign trail.

Fancy book learnin’ is getting shoved aside at an alarming rate.

Look at the nose-diving numbers showing public belief in climate change, evolution, the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Heck, an infamous Gallup Poll showed 18 per cent of Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth.

For the first time in U.S. history, the educational attainment of the next generation will be lower than the previous. According to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the United States ranks second among all nations in the proportion of the population aged 35-64 with a college degree, but 19th for those aged 25-34 with an associates or high school diploma.

On top of that, government commitment to education is at record lows, and threatening to go lower. Massive government debt coupled with a collective case of short-sightedness, have sent Americans into a cutting frenzy. The presidential race offers no hope.

If the Republicans win, you’ll see a cutting frenzy driven by an uncommon blend of blind political ideology and religious zealotry. (Let me tell you, these folks will make Rob Ford look like Che Guevara.) If the Democrats win, you’ll see a cutting frenzy driven by a president who in trying to appease everyone accomplishes nothing.

Both sides drank the austerity Kool-Aid long ago. Only thing voters get to decide this November is which party gets to botch the job.

Later this month, Western rolls out a re-energized fundraising campaign (along with a spiffy new look). As part of it, the university will solidify clarify a number of its priority areas. So why not use that as a jumping off point to go snap up some American brainpower to chip in north of the border?

Canada doesn’t suffer from a lack of smarts, simply a lack of capacity. We need to recruit – both students and professors – outside our borders to sustain global leadership in the area of higher education.

We can be an opportunistic bunch when we need to be.

In 2010, the U.K. lost four top scientists to Western, Saskatchewan University and the University of Alberta as British researchers won four $20 million awards created by the Canadian government. That’s how neuroscientist Adrian Owen landed here.

That’s worked out quite well, I must say.

The United States lost nine scientists to the same program. And now they are far more vulnerable than in the past.

So if Canadian universities are interested in doing a little shopping, now is the time.