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Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

U of T in China: An untold story


By Vesna Bajic and Professor Ruth Hayhoe  


Photo of Fu Tingdong

Photo: Fu Tingdong is an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and a professor of agricultural science at Huazhong Agricultural University, China. He has made outstanding contributions to the discovery and study of Pol cytoplasmic male sterility and to the development and utilization of hybrid cultivars in rapeseed.

China in the 1980’s was very different from the formidable economic and political force that is China today, a force that has garnered worldwide attention. A lesser-known fact about China’s rise was Canada’s innate and supportive role in it."

In those days we had 300,000 new enterprises in the market economy and only Soviet trained engineers and Marxist economists to run them!" said a retired Chinese educational official who was in charge of the relations with CIDA in the early 1980s.

Many are not aware that Canada was the only Western country giving major development assistance to Chinese universities in the first decade after the Cultural Revolution. While the World Bank provided 1.1 billion in loans for rebuilding facilities, CIDA provided $250 million in grants between 1982 and 2003, with about 100 million going to university linkages between Canada and China. 

The University of Toronto provided aid by focusing on three main disciplinary areas – education, environment and management, as well as concentrating on lessening the gap between genders in the aforementioned fields. “Emphasis on gender equality had a huge influence on society,” says Professor Ruth Hayhoe.

U of T’s OISE worked with six universities in China, jointly training the first doctoral students in education, many of whom have became leaders in their field and include the Director of Gansu Province’s Education Department, the former Vice President of Nanjing Normal University, the current Vice President of Northwest Normal University and at least four who have served as deans of education in different institutions.

To help with China’s development in the field of environmental science, U of T’s Department of Geography and Institute for Environmental Studies carried out important research on water resources and carbon sequestration in order to support China’s efforts to meet the requirements of the Kyoto Accord.

Canada also provided important linkages in the field of business, notably with Rotman’s establishment of one of China’s first MBA program for leaders of new enterprises. Other universities also participated in this unique partnership between Canada and China, most strikingly exemplified by the cooperation between the University of Manitoba and the Central China University of Agriculture in Wuhan, which led to the development of canola into an edible oil. Both countries benefited from this discovery, with canola oil becoming one of Canada’s largest export products and one of China’s most socially positive products, as it is credited with bringing three million Chinese farmers out of extreme poverty.

Academician Fu Tingdong, the scientist who initiated this breakthrough on the Chinese side, will elaborate on this topic and will be one of the keynote speakers at the upcoming May conference at Tsinghua University in Beijing, which brings together university leaders who nurtured these linkages in Canada and China. For more information, visit the conference website