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Report reveals funding concern
By John Intini
The privatization of the Canadian university system has increased substantially, according to a report released yesterday, raising concerns over the influence of the private sector on academic research.
David Robinson, director of communications with the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said the CAUT's report is based on an assessment of university financial trends between 1972 and 1998. The report, titled "Not in the Public Interest," was an attempt to identify the main areas of a school's revenue, he added.
Robinson said the largest source of the university system's $12 billion revenue in 1998 came from tuition and other fees charged to students. However, privately sponsored funds increased substantially, from 9 per cent or $167 million in 1972, to 17 per cent or approximately $2 billion in 1998, he said. This increase, Robinson said, has serious impacts on the academic community. "Having private industry in research raises a number of red flags," he said, adding one of which was the threat that whoever provides the funding, might influence the research.
Robinson added by allowing private industry to fund academic research, the validity of the work is called into question.
Western's VP-research Bill Bridger said he is not concerned about the impact of private sponsorship, since they do not make up a large enough portion of the research funding to seriously pose a threat to the integrity of the work. He said private funding makes up less then 15 per cent of research funding at Western.
"We have policies which set strict guidelines," he said. "We won't enter into a contract which puts any limitations on us.
Ted Garrard, Western's VP-external, said Western prides itself on insuring the research done at Western is not solely for commercial purposes. "We have been able to maintain our integrity and a good relationship with the private sponsors," he said, adding administration is aware of the issue, but not concerned.
Robinson said the report showed government funding has decreased during this period as well. In 1978 it made up 74.5 per cent of post-secondary revenue, but only 55.6 per cent in 1998.
Ernie Redekop, president of the University of Western Ontario's Faculty Association, said turning to the private sector was unavoidable based on the lack of funding from the government.
However, he said privatizing seriously hurts research at the basic and applied levels. "Private funding puts the emphasis on commercial possibilities and faculties like the arts and humanities suffer," he said, adding even work in the sciences has suffered from less funding since they are not seen as producing profitable commercial results.
Kerry Delaney, spokesperson for the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, said a large number of government partnerships with private interests have benefited students and strengthened university research.
Delaney referred to a list of initiatives which have added millions of dollars into the post-secondary system, including the Super Build Growth fund and the Aiming for the Top program.
She added the government directed $3.5 billion into the post-secondary system last year, which marked the highest contribution in the province's history.