Technology & Science

Universities squabble over research funding

Smaller schools across Canada are up in arms over a proposal from five of Canada's largest universities to concentrate research and graduate studies in the biggest schools.

Smaller schools across Canada are up in arms over a proposal from five of Canada's largest universities to concentrate research and graduate studies in the biggest schools.

The leaders of McGill University and the universities of British Columbia, Alberta, Toronto and Montreal have proposed a national strategy for higher education that would see the top research dollars go to fewer schools, in an effort to better use the resources available.

The larger schools would also have the lion's share of graduate students under the proposal, which was first floated last month in an issue of Maclean's magazine. One of the deciding factors for approving research grant applications is the number of highly qualified personnel who will be trained as part of the project, including PhD or graduate students.

The proposal has stirred controversy among the heads of smaller schools, many of whom feel graduate programs are an important part of any academic institution.

"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."

Atlantic Canada universities are also concerned their region would be left behind if graduate studies and research dollars left.

Atlantic region might suffer: UPEI president

"I don't think there is anyway that we can have a viable knowledge economy in the Atlantic region without a system that continues on the path that we've been on," said UPEI president Wade MacLauchlan.

While smaller universities worry that their ability to attract students might suffer, Calgary-based Mount Royal College president David Marshall said graduate studies aren't necessary to provide for students.

"Every research item supports that the undergraduate-focused institution provides an outstanding education for whatever the student wants to do," said Marshall.

University funding has been a hot-button issue this year after the federal Conservative government proposed massive spending on research infrastructure to upgrade facilities but also cut some funding to research programs.

Universities have also found themselves cutting programs and raising tuition in response to rising costs and declining income.

Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., for example, announced this spring it would cut some degree programs with low enrolment and cut 47 faculty. The University of Guelph is also cutting several majors and degree programs, as well as imposing a hiring freeze, postponing building projects and making cuts to travel and special events.

Other universities are slashing scholarships budgets, planning to raise tuition or clawing back discretionary spending on things such as equipment.

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