All schools need a share

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

November 13, 2007

The President of the University of British Columbia, Stephen Toope, called the government’s research funding formula for universities into question this week. He desires to see the majority of money directed to a select group of elite research institutions.

He is promoting the idea in hopes it will elevate some Canadian universities to a level where they can compete with internationally prestigious schools such as Cambridge or Harvard universities.

Right now, Canadian universities offer competitive degrees from coast to coast. One potential drawback to shifting funding would be the creation of two or even three tiers of Canadian universities.

As money pools in a few institutions, the best professors doing the best research will follow the money. This would widen the gap in Canadian university education from school to school.

In order to get the best education, students need to be taught by leaders in their fields, doing current and relevant research.

This is one of the staples of higher education, the mix of teaching with research.

By calling for research-focused versus education-focused universities, UBC’s President would turn those Canadian schools without funding into infomercial colleges taught by glorified high school teachers.

This situation would be similar to the United States, where certain degrees carry more weight than others.

Instead of choosing the university best suited to the individual, students would be faced with trying to gain acceptance to a handful of elite schools in order to get a more prestigious degree.

A number of smaller Canadian universities have some talented professors doing some of the most interesting and groundbreaking research in the country. Perhaps we should maintain the current funding formula for universities, which is based on the merit of research being conducted by individual professors.

This formula forces universities to court the best professors in order to generate research dollars. In this manner, universities earn a reputation for supporting top-level research, instead of sitting back and merely labeling themselves as ‘research-intensive.’

In addition, smaller schools need to stand out for their specialized research. By focusing on big research-centered institutions, research in specialized areas could be lost.

Canadian universities are always lobbying the government for increased funding. The President of UBC is cutting from the rest and giving up on more nationwide money, focusing instead on more money for UBC.

It appears as though UBC’s President is pushing for recognition as one of Canada’s top research-centered universities.

Whatever his aim, he is pushing an agenda that would create imbalance in Canadian university education and students would suffer for it.

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