McGill is often portrayed as an institution that operates alongside Montreal rather than within it. While its quota system requires approximately 50 per cent of the student body to be made up of students from Quebec, most of the international and out-of-province student body decide to leave upon graduation. Given recent economic reports that detail the numbers of lost jobs and shrunken industries in Montreal, the decision to leave is not unreasonable; however, allowing a large number of students to slip through its fingers upon graduation is not in the best interest of the city.
Creativity has the opportunity to thrive at McGill. Universities in Montreal have numerous opportunities for student entrepreneurship and innovation. Initiatives such as the Quartier de l’Innovation (QI), the Dobson Cup, and Seeds of Change are opportunities for students across faculties to experiment and expand their professional horizons. But these incubators for creativity and innovation on campus have not yet been translated into opportunities in the Montreal community on a large scale.
Resources such as the Career Planning Service (CaPS) are essential to assisting students in professional development. Yet, even through services such as their mentorship program, there more of an individual focus than a community one. Those who are intensely interested in a certain field will seek out the appropriate assistance, and so there is a certain amount of required individual agency; but even with interest, there is an information mismatch. The potential for a student community of innovation is there, but it has yet to be tapped into. Opportunities abound, but awareness of those opportunities is limited by the fragmented dissemination of information. Streamlining student access to information pertaining to opportunities for entrepreneurship would solidify a culture of innovation within campus.
There are the obvious barriers to students remaining in Montreal post-graduation—corruption, the language barrier for many students, and a lack of business infrastructure since the 1970s are just a few. But a significant portion of the McGill community is from Quebec or Montreal, and will stay after graduation. The expansion of opportunities for innovation and entrepreneruship in Montreal post graduation will compel more students to remain in the city while improving the opportunities available to locals.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are not easy anywhere, but succeeding in Montreal is particularly difficult. Montreal pales next to economic hubs such as Toronto, New York City, and London in terms of innovation. While it is strong in film and technology—especially as the city’s concerted effort to attract digital companies beginning in the 1990s—Montreal is still considered the worst large city in Canada to develop a business. Progress in these barriers is a long-term commitment, but perhaps the impetus need not come from above. A cohesive effort to develop programs within McGill would empower students to contribute to innovation in Montreal.
Nevertheless, McGill students have not been absent from the scene of entrepreneurship. Dispatch Coffee, the caffeine dispensary operating in the McConnell Engineering building was started by McGill alumni, as well as Heart City Apparel, a charitable organization that promotes the work of small artists in Montreal. Were McGill students given further tools to enter the Montreal private sector, it could pave the way to lowering the existing barriers and transplanting these initiatives into Montreal as long-term businesses. Improvements in corruption, infrastructure, and interest in Montreal as a hub for innovation do not need to be the first step; instead, bottom-up development from the grassroots level could assist Montreal in prioritizing such improvements. A McGill education can be applied to our immediate environment—arguably, most who start a project while at university would prefer to not relocate. It is a matter of adjusting the taboo held by international and out-of-province students, as well as providing the tools to all students. As McGill works on cultivating student interest in preparing for the realworld and exploring various avenues, it ought to focus on how students can contribute to innovation within the Montreal community.