Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keeping Canadian Universities Equal

Canadian universities are all, by and large, equal. This allows Carleton University, for example, to have the same opportunities for funding and such as the larger and better known schools like University of Waterloo. For a school that was once known as Last Chance U, this equality was probably the only way to rise above the reputation.

Carleton recently passed the one year mark of having its first female president, Dr Roseann O’Reilly Runte. My experience with her has been positive so far; she even spoke for CU-WISE last November! She recently wrote an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail (available online via the Carleton newsroom) regarding the talk of a two-tier university system in Canada.
Canada’s five largest universities recently proposed a new system for classifying and funding universities, arguing an elite group should focus on research and graduate education. Their proposal places all the other universities in a second tier, removing their ability to compete or collaborate equally.

But wait - isn't this how things work in the United States (and probably elsewhere as well)?
It’s common for Canadians to look to the United States for models. In many states, universities receive more government support and students pay more tuition in general. Donors are more generous, bolstered by favourable tax laws. But unless our conditions are comparable, imitation is inappropriate. Without increased government support, more fee revenue and amended tax laws, we would seriously disadvantage Canadian universities by attempting to import this model.

A two-tiered model would likely stifle competition and collaboration. It would increase the divide between lesser-known schools and the big five in terms of prestige, and consequently quantity and quality of students wanting to study there and faculty wanting to work there.
Competition is good for the system. Collaboration is also good. We cannot achieve a collaborative environment when there are clearly established “haves” and “have-nots.” Small universities should not be colonies of the large; they should be intellectual partners. This will occur only when policies favour such partnerships.

I sincerely hope this does not happen here in Canada. Even with the changes Dr Runte suggests above, I don't like the idea of a two-tiered university system. (In fact, I wonder if anyone outside the big five would like the idea.) I was always a little uncomfortable with the whole Ivy League concept, or at least what I know of it. Who wants to feel like their chances of success will be less because they obtained a lesser known but still high quality education?


Ioana Burcea said...

First, thanks for your interesting blog entries. Reading your blog, I've learned about Siftables and now about this G5 proposal.

I'm currently doing my PhD at University of Toronto, one of these "big" five in Canada. Even if this G5 may be a good idea, I can imagine endless ways in which its application can make it a very bad idea.

On the other hand, I lived my childhood in a communist country and things like "quotas" and some interpretations of "equal" still make me anxious.

Since you started talking about this, I'm interested what your thoughts are about some concrete examples:
* funding is "equally" distributed, and as a result, not too great ideas get the same amount of money as some *really* great ideas
* how do you make Canada an attractive spot for grad students
* how do you bring research in Canada (in my domain, there is absolutely no research lab in Canada)
* how can funding be distributed based on "merit" and how should "merit" be quantified

I'll probably try to blog about some of these myself.

Keep up the interesting posts! :)

Oli said...

Wholely agreed. I've been doing a lot of reading on decentralized systems and in the case of universities, it may actually stiffle competition to have an elitist level to the education system. It induces a lot of self-aggrandizing and the competition is often not constructive. Instead I propose universities collaborate on common standards which ... Read Moreallow educations to be portable accross geographic locations, and above all, a sharing of information so that when a university comes up with a good idea, it propagates through the system and stimulates evolution. This makes the system more robust and facilitates greater access to higher class training. The university is then just a node -- a locale servicing out their idea of how best to offer a Good Thing. The ivy league is left to the societies that pop up in the pursuite of dedicated subject matter. Such societies don't restrict people to having to attend a single institution. They reach far and wide, having (imo) much greater influence.

Now when it comes to funding such a system, the countries interested in each field would proportionally contribute to their local universities to the degree they feel that subject matter is valuable to attracting attention to their locale. Hypothetically, with the whole world's governments competing for "I want the next favourite place for ... Read Moreresearchers to congregate to be right here."... that's a huge potential for investment instead of a single institution fighting for funding from their own administration against other fields, or relying on attendance to bring the funding ('cause really, that's the only thing that kept me from seriously considering MIT).

Oli said...

Slight aside (perhaps misplaced). If you can tweak the layout of your blogger site to 1) take more advantage of horizontal real-estate and 2) introduce display of comments in a hierarchical format, that'd be nice.

It would make it easier to read (individual entries currently require a fair amount of scrolling), and it'd be easier to track which comment was in reply to which other comment.

Gail Carmichael said...

If you're talking about the comments page (which looks different from the main site), we don't control that ;) The main site has a variable width though, so I assume you are talking about the comments page.

Gail Carmichael said...

Great comments both of you - thanks!

Oli said...

Indeed. The comments page needs tweaking. If blogger would hire me on contract to do it, I'd happily dive in. ;)

Kate said...

Oh man, I hadn't heard of this. I sincerely hope it never happens. It's already hard enough coming from one of the smaller schools - in the states very few have heard of SFU (for example). There is a tendency for the two-tiered thinking to be applied to Canadian schools already (at least from what I've encountered at conferences etc), i.e. if you don't come from Waterloo your curriculum isn't as strong or your skills aren't as well developed. It seems to me that creating a two-tiered system in reality would serve to justify these opinions and make it more difficult for students at the smaller schools to overcome their school's reputation and find the top grad school/industry placements, IMO. Then, who would want to attend such schools?

Kate said...

/kneejerk. Seems like I've restated your last paragraph (because I commented before I got to it)! Ah well, great minds think alike, right? ;)

Gail Carmichael said...

It's all good Kate - it's good to see others support my thoughts! :)

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated - please be patient while I approve yours.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.