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University of Toronto launches School of Cities: 7 Qs with President Gertler

President Meric Gertler of University of Toronto speaks to BrainGain Magazine about the newly launched School of Cities and the exciting opportunities it offers.
BY Skendha Singh |   25-05-2018

President Meric Gertler of University of Toronto
Professor Meric Gertler,
President of the University of Toronto

This May, the University of Toronto announced the School of Cities, which will bring together more than 220 researchers from across disciplines to address the many challenges facing the world’s urban areas, where half the population now lives. President Meric Gertler talks to Brain Gain magazine about School of Cities, the ideal student, and financial aid available for international students.

  1. What is the idea behind the University of Toronto’s School of Cities?
    The School is a new creation that will bring together different faculty from architects and designers to urban planners, civil engineers as well as economists, business school professors, people in public health, environmental science and more. The idea is to create an inter-disciplinary platform to work on the biggest issues and challenges that face cities.

    This is the perfect place and time to do it. Successful cities tend to be expensive. We see that pattern around the world. You want to make sure that many different kinds of people doing different kinds of work at different income levels are able to afford to live and work in this city and ones like it around the world. Transportation is also an issue - public versus private and the role of autonomous vehicles.

    Then there is the environment. Canada committed to the Paris accord and our ability to meet those targets will be determined in cities.

  2. Why is Toronto a great location for the School?
    Toronto has a rich history of urbanism including scholars like Jane Jacobs whose activism helped preserve some of Toronto’s most cherished neighbourhoods, and professors like Richard Florida who is known around the world for his work on the creative class and how cities evolve over time. The Greater Toronto Area, a region of six million people, more than half of whom were born outside Canada, has been a fascinating and largely successful social experiment. We want to help ensure that it continues along a positive trajectory.

  3. Which do you think the School will be a great place for international students?
    U of T is Canada’s top-ranked university and among the top five public universities in North America. Across our three campuses, we welcome more than 19,000 international students from 168 countries.So, students will get access to many of the top minds in a wide range of fields, and to a rich diversity of faculty, staff, and fellow students.

    The School will be a leading global centre on urban problems and solutions, delivered through three integrated pillars: research, education and outreach. It will also be a hub in a global network where we will connect with scholars around the world, in Shanghai, Mumbai, London and elsewhere. There will also be an urban lab where undergraduate and graduate students and faculty can work together to solve specific urban problems. Also, the School will host a fellows’ program, which will bring the world’s leading urban leaders and thinkers to Toronto to contribute their thought leadership for a term period.

  4. Do you feel that degrees are increasingly becoming interdisciplinary? If yes, why do you feel that’s happening?
    When students graduate, they need not just technical skills but other diverse skills including critical thinking, communication and the ability to work collaboratively. A multidisciplinary approach helps students build those skills. This is especially true in urban studies.

    The challenges facing cities today are so complicated. By collaborating, faculty and students can tap into the diverse knowledge that exists at the university and they can be exposed to other disciplines.

  5. Who is the ideal student for the School of Cities?
    The ideal student should be curious, innovative, and have a global perspective. Students should also be interested in urban challenges but can come from a wide range of disciplines. There is such diversity in urban challenges from smart-city technology and economic opportunities, to urban design and infrastructure, to housing affordability and livability, to gentrification and urban renewal. The scope is vast.

  6. Can international students expect financial assistance from the school?
    At U of T we have a competitive scholarship for international undergraduates that covers tuition, books, incidental fees and full residence fees for four years. It’s called the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship Program. This year we will welcome 40 Pearson scholars from several different countries. In addition, all international students who come to U of T are eligible for our entrance merit scholarships including the President’s Scholarship ($10,000) and U of T Scholars ($7,500).  Outstanding international students may also receive additional scholarships or awards from their program, campus or college.

    U of T also lowered fees for international PhD students, who will now pay tuition fees equivalent to those of domestic students.

  7. What real-time impact does the School expect to create, within Toronto, and internationally?
    We are working to build and improve on the relationships we have and are continuing to share our expertise on cities with partners in the public sector and to collaborate with other universities.

    We recently signed an agreement with the City of Toronto to share data and expertise. We would love to have students working as interns in city hall, and city leaders tapping into our university facilities.

    Toronto’s four universities also collaborate with one another to tackle pressing urban challenges. This year’s focus is on affordable housing. Last year’s was on student mobility, analyzing data from 15,000 students. By collaborating, we can increase our impact and reach.

    We are also active globally, including in India. U of T sent a delegation last year to India’s Future of Smart Cities workshop and we signed an agreement with the City of Pune and the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay. We will focus on finding solutions to improve economic growth and create a more sustainable region in Pune. We hope our multidisciplinary approach can help and look forward to expanding our presence in India.


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