Putting Our Higher Education Institutions at the Center of the Great Lakes Region’s Economic Success and Sustainability

Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium Releases First Strategic Plan

The Great Lakes Region is shared by the United States and Canada and comprises eight states, from New York to Minnesota, as well as two provinces, Ontario and Québec. Before these lands were settled however, for millennia this region of North America, or Turtle Island, has also been the traditional territory for many Indigenous Nations and Peoples. Together, we have a tremendous responsibility to protect our water, land, air and living things while working together to create new opportunities for economic prosperity and individual well-being for all who inhabit this region.

For example, the region, if it were a country, is the world’s third largest economy with an estimated annual economic output of US$6 trillion. The Great Lakes region, as a result, supports over 50 million jobs across a variety of global sectors – manufacturing, energy, transportation, innovation, services, tourism, farming, etc. It is also responsible for more than half the total value of goods traded across the border each year, and over a third of combined U.S. and Canadian exports to world markets at a time of accelerated global economic change, disruption, and uncertainty.

In addition to serving as an economic hub of national, continental, and global significance, the people in this region have the privilege of sharing one of the largest freshwater systems on the planet, the five Great Lakes, which hold 20% of the world’s and 84% of North America’s surface freshwater. Sacred to Indigenous Peoples, this vast, but finite, natural resource, provides clean drinking water to 40 million people on both sides of the border and supports thousands of plants and animals, some very rare.

Looking ahead, like other large economies and ecosystems, the speed of globalization and our changing planet is forcing the deeply connected North American Great Lakes region to understand and confront a growing number of regional, binational, and global socio-economic and environmental issues that are reshaping the region’s population centers, economic success and sustainability.

As highlighted in the 2019 report, Great Lakes, Great Minds, Great Lakes higher education institutions, which make up one of the most concentrated academic networks in the world for education, science, innovation, and entrepreneurship, can lead the way in building a region that can compete and win, with sustainability being a key driver of the region’s future growth. After all, nineteen of the world’s top 100 universities are Great Lakes institutions, one-third of the top 100 engineering schools in the U.S. and Canada are in the region, and 15% of the world’s top 100 medical research schools call the region home too.

The region’s institutions are poised to lead complex fields, notably advanced manufacturing and logistics, AI, semiconductors, and many other domains. But, while the combined strengths and assets of these world-class institutions are well-known and clearly exceptional, they remain largely disconnected and untapped from a region-building perspective. The urgency to change this is growing, especially with respect to addressing talent gaps through student development and mobility as well as the region’s performance with respect to converting science into innovations and creating new businesses that drive regional commerce, job creation, and international trade.

Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium and Partnership Fund

The Great Lakes Higher Education Consortium (GLHEC) and Partnership Fund was formed in the October 2020-2021 timeframe with funding from the United States Mission in Canada to the Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) and the leadership of the following six Great Lakes higher education institutions, or, the Founders:

  • McGill University;
  • Queen’s University;
  • University of Illinois System (Founding U.S. Co-Chair);
  • University of Michigan;
  • University of Toronto (Founding Canadian Co-Chair); and,
  • University of Wisconsin;

The GLHEC and Partnership Fund was founded upon the recognition that the social, economic, and environmental future of the Great Lakes region will be shaped by both Canada and the United States with stewardship from Indigenous Nations, and the inclusion of the region’s historically marginalized communities – but a large gap exists for formal collaboration across the border to “leverage shared regional economic strengths for building the workforce of today and tomorrow, spurring world-leading science and innovation, and cultivating the entrepreneurs that will produce the companies, goods, and services, and jobs that will provide prosperity for the region.”

To illustrate the need for greater institutional collaboration, the knowledge economy of the 21st century has brought a variety of disruptive trends including challenges associated with climate change, artificial intelligence, the internet-of-things, social injustice, and post-pandemic shortages to name a few. These disruptions don’t happen in a vacuum on one side of the international border or the other. Rather, the two countries’ futures in regions like the Great Lakes are mutually reliant. Our partnership and engagement efforts aim to correct historic and ongoing inequities by intentionally including Black and racialized persons, women, people with disabilities, and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

By bringing together the Great Lake region’s higher education institutions in strategic alignment, including historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges, the members of the GLHEC believe that the region, with dedicated resources to create and facilitate deeper academic partnerships and collaborations between academia, industry and government across borders, can more effectively respond to the most pressing issues facing the region – and the world. Further, in a world of increased competition – for talent, researchers, business and investment, the GLHEC can also supercharge the region’s sustainable development and growth by staking out ground in new and quickly emerging sectors.

To learn more about the Consortium and to read the new strategic plan, click here. Or, you can contact Mark Fisher, President and CEO of the Council of the Great Lakes Region, at mark@councilgreatlakesregion.org


Mark Fisher, President and CEO, Council of the Great Lakes Region

Jay Walsh,  Vice President for Economic Development and Innovation, University of Illinois System

Alex Mihailidis, Associate Vice President – International Partnerships and Professor, University of Toronto

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