Post secondary streaming

Wolfville is a University town and NS has more post secondary institutions per capita than anywhere in Canada so we suppose that many Nova Scotians would have read with interest the articles by Paul Wells published in two parts in Maclean’s Magazine entitled “Can Higher Ed reach higher”  and “Our Universities can be smarter” .

In the articles Wells is talking about the Big 5 – i.e. the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, McGill University, and the Université de Montréal.

They have nearly 22 per cent of Canada’s undergraduate student enrolment and produce nearly 45 per cent of the country’s doctorates….

We hope these articles were not considered irrelevant because no Atlantic schools were included.

…these five alone receive 46 per cent of all the money Canada’s main granting councils disburse for research every year. They receive an even larger share—47 per cent—of the money the Canada Foundation for Innovation pays to build new labs and research infrastructure. …

The first question raised by the article in our mind is this: Why is there no Maritime University of high enough quality to be included in this elite group?

All by itself, the University of Toronto counts 17 of the 27 members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who serve on Canadian university faculties, and nearly half the country’s Gairdner International Award winners and Guggenheim Fellows. The future is built in these institutions.

We are sure this would have been a hope if not a goal of several previous governments and if we were Rodney Darrell we would want to make this a priority. It is time that Dalhousie became a real centre of excellence. But how?

Another question that comes to mind is:  Does the fracturing of post secondary funding in the province – resources siphoned off by our undergraduate schools – work against this goal? We feel many in the academic community, especially in the undergraduate universities, are afraid of this question but it isn’t it time it was faced and dealt with? And in the 2 articles Wells deals with another side of this awkward question: Do the undergraduate functions of the Big 5 hinder their competition with the even bigger fish Globally? Perhaps in all this there is an answer.

“We need a rationally differentiated system of universities and colleges,” he [David Naylor, the deceptively soft-spoken medical researcher who has served as the University of Toronto’s president since 2005,] said, “one in which different institutions are valued for their different missions.” How so? “That could well mean that undergraduate enrolments at large research-intensive universities in Canada, and certainly in Ontario, are capped or even reduced….The experience of undergraduate education in a big research-intensive institution is different from a small undergraduate-oriented university. Why not reinforce and clarify that differentiation?”

The Big 5 Presidents approached MacLeans to get their views out. While Dalhousie (or Acadia) had no voice in that group we in Atlantic Canada can learn from their collective view can’t we?

…the big five presidents said their institutions must be given the means and mandates to set themselves still further apart from the rest of Canada’s universities—to pursue world-class scientific research and train the most capable graduate students, while other schools concentrate on undergraduate education.

The articles go on about innovation and shrinking resources and the problem of educational juridiction:

The big five presidents worry about drift and lack of direction in our higher education system. That direction can only come from political leaders. So all of the presidents, even Montreal’s Vinet, called for Ottawa to pay more attention to what happens on Canada’s campuses.

And we can echo that but let’s just concentrate on the restructuring idea, the idea that effort could be concentrated and resources harboured. So the Big 5 (can we envision it eventually being 6 – adding Dal?) concentrate on post-graduate work leaving the undergraduate schools to do what they do best.

... the small schools would worry less about research, the big ones would put less of their resources to undergraduate education.

And that wouldn’t hurt Acadia. On the contrary – with the big schools giving less attention to undergraduates many might be attracted here.

Education is a provincial responsibility and even within our province a restructuring could take place. It is time that enrolment ended being the be all and end all of funding and another formula for funding was worked out, perhaps with the above idea of restructuring in mind. Give Dal resources and let it concentrate on quality graduate work and farm most of the undergraduate function out. Then perhaps Dal could meet the Big 5 standard. How about a meeting of University Presidents? Talking to the Big 5 couldn’t hurt either. And perhaps Ivany and Dexter are both bold enough to take this on.


2 responses to “Post secondary streaming

  1. I believe you’re taking the self-serving claptrap of the so-called Big 5 entirely too seriously. They do not operate at any higher “standard” than Dal, for example, and are merely big. That’s it. Last time I checked, schools like UC-Berkeley, Oxford, and the Ivy League members were hindered by their offering of undergraduate programs. The largest schools already receive a disproportionate share of public research money – it would be to the detriment of smaller schools to increase this discrepancy. Dal is certainly smaller than UofT, but grad students make up a higher proportion of its student body than any of the “Big 5”. Even Acadia has some specific research strengths – biology and statistics, to name two. That UofT offers little more than a mediocre, impersonal undergraduate program aimed at commuter students is that institution’s fault and no one else’s.

    • Re your ” Last time I checked, schools like UC-Berkeley, Oxford, and the Ivy League members were hindered by their offering of undergraduate programs.” Do you mean that to be in the negative?
      You say that- ” UofT offers little more than a mediocre, impersonal undergraduate program aimed at commuter students ….” So why should we fund them doing what they don’t do well? Let them cut out undergraduate work altogether. Then the undergrad. applicants would go to the smaller universities.
      We agree. Dal’s standards are probably just as high for post grad as the Big 5- it should have been included and it makes sense to have a post graduate institution in Atlantic Canada. Can’t imagine why it was excluded.
      You say: “it would be to the detriment of smaller schools to increase this discrepancy. [re public research money]” That’s why we suggest the funding formula would have to change.
      The smaller Universities like Acadia won’t like it unless the funding was changed so that they got enough money to do what they do best. Post Grad research funding could be replaced with other grants for enrichment of undergraduate Programs. Enrollment dependent money means it’s “any warm body” so instead have incentives or funding bonuses for excellence.

      From a public (neutral) point of view Isn’t it inefficient to replicate expensive post grad facilities at every college? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to concentrate resources?