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More on the big five vacuums

August 29, 2009

Not vacuums in the sense of being empty, but in the sense of trying to hoover up whatever scraps of resources they don’t already control:

[Redirecting funding to the “big five”] is a bad idea, poorly expressed. Back in the 1990s, a handful of university presidents (Rob Pritchard, Martha Piper and Robert Lacroix) and federal civil servants, worked with senior ministers (Paul Martin, John Manley) and prime minister Jean Chrétien on the suite of policies that have so greatly assisted universities. These included, among other initiatives, the Canada Research Chairs, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Genome Canada, plus increases in funding for the academic granting councils.

The policies’ subtext was to assist disproportionately the 12 or so most research-intensive universities. But nobody publicly articulated that objective, because had they done so, every other university would have squawked.

… there is much to suggest that if the bulk of the money goes to the biggest universities, the smaller ones will be unable to compete, attract talent, or even survive. That would not serve Canadian students, who would have fewer opportunities for higher education.

The real problem is obvious. In the early 1980s, the federal government contributed one-half of one penny of every dollar earned by the Canadian economy to post-secondary education. Now, the federal government contributes less than two-tenths of a penny. Just to bring us back to the funding levels of the early 1980s would require an additional investment of more than $4 billion per year.

  • Big 5 plan stymies innovation,” Gerry Klein, The StarPhoenix (Aug. 27/09): “The proposal put forward by the five presidents would risk locking the entire country into the mindset of the U of T in the 1930s.”

“Can we still have the same quality of education if you have people who are teaching from the textbooks and not doing the research,” said University of Lethbridge associate vice-president Bob Boudreau. “I think comprehensive universities in Alberta and throughout the country would argue that you can’t — that you need those two.”

And just who chose these schools that want the extra funding — British Columbia, Alberta, Toronto, Montreal and McGill — as the top schools? Themselves. Strange we don’t see Queen’s, the University of Western Ontario and the highly innovative University of Waterloo on the list of elite schools. No doubt other worthy competitors are off the list.

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