All Posts Tagged With: "Research Funding"
The reasons may surprise you
Alberta is as a maverick when it comes to higher education. The province prepares students for post-secondary better than its neighbors, has some of the country’s most satisfied students and punches above its weight in research.
Now there’s even more evidence that the rest of Canada should pay attention to how Wild Rose Country approaches higher education.
New University of Saskatchewan research, which included 12,000 first-year students, found that grades for Albertans tended to drop just 6.4 points from Grade 12, but fell as much as 19.6 points on average for students from another province. In other words, a student from Alberta who graduates with an 86 average is likely to end first-year as an 80 student, while students from that other unnamed province would average 66.
One reason Alberta’s students are much better prepared is that they study long and hard to pass provincial standardized exams, which account for 50 per cent of their Grade 12 marks. Students in other provinces are graded more subjectively, making it easier for teachers to give high marks.
The higher standards are well-known. In recognition of the high standards, the University of British Columbia automatically raises Albertan students’ grades two per cent when they apply.
But it’s a lot more than standardized tests that make Alberta’s schools succed. Here are six more reasons the rest of Canada ought to pay closer attention to Alberta’s higher education system.
1. Public funding of universities is highest in Alberta.
Statistics Canada says that 72 per cent of funding for Alberta universities came from public sources in 2009. The next highest was Newfoundland at 69 per cent. It was only 49 per cent in Nova Scotia.
2. Albertans outperform their peers well before university.
Alberta’s 15-year-olds came second in the world in reading and fourth in the world in science in the 2009 PISA study, the gold-standard international test. Those were the top scores in Canada.
3. Alberta has two teaching-focused universities that work.
Grant MacEwan and Mount Royal Univeristy have faculty who spend most of their days teaching, rather than conducting research—unlike nearly every university east of Edmonton. And both institutions score exceptionally well on the National Survey of Student Engagement. When asked “if you could start over, would go to the institution you are now attending?,” 50 per cent of Mount Royal seniors and 60 per cent of Grant MacEwan seniors said yes. The average is just 45 per cent.
5. Alberta’s transfer system works.
In Sept. 2009, nearly 12,000 post-secondary students transferred between schools in the province. Many of the transfers are from the provinces’ teaching-focused institutions and community colleges into big research institutions. Harvey Weingarten, then-president of the University of Calgary, told the authors of Academic Reform that transfer students are “academically indistinguishable.”
6. Even with teaching-focused universities, Alberta remains a research leader.
Despite having more students in teaching-only institutions and only 11 per cent of Canada’s population, Alberta holds 17 per cent of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs, which come with up to $10-million apiece. Alberta also has 12 per cent of the prestigious Vanier Scholarships. The University of Alberta has the second highest per-faculty research funding in Canada at $309,332.
Should government funding go to lab coats or white collars?
As defenders of the downtrodden go, Roger Martin deserves points for chutzpah at least. It’s harder to feel sympathy for Martin’s chosen underprivileged group than it would be if he were sticking up for, say, orphans and widows—because Martin has spent much of the year arguing that Canadians, and especially their governments, aren’t giving enough money to the country’s business schools.
At first glance, Canadians might be reluctant to shed a tear. Martin is the dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, not conspicuously a hardship case. The school has raised $130 million on its way to a $200-million fundraising target, timed to coincide with next year’s opening of a new 15,000-sq.-m building in downtown Toronto. But its successes, Martin maintains, come despite the lack of adequate government support, especially from Ottawa.
Grad student calls Holocaust education `racist`
The thesis, submitted by graduate Jennifer Peto argues that the March of the Living and the March of Remembrance and Hope, both Holocaust education programs, perpetuate “Jewish victimhood” while obscuring “Jewish privilege,” denying “Jewish racism,” and promoting the “interests of the Israeli nation-state.” Her thesis is titled, “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.”
After the story was reported by the Toronto Star, it was debated in the Ontario legislature. Hoskin’s remarks, where he said he was “greatly disturbed and in fact disgusted” by the thesis followed comments by Progressive Conservative MPP, Peter Shurman who called Peto’s work a “piece of garbage.”
U of T provost Cheryl Misak was quoted in the Star urging a reminder that it was a student who wrote the paper. “I don’t know this student, but I certainly wouldn’t want to see this kind of scrutiny and unhappy attention on students in general,” she said.
University scrambles to clean up its handling of federal research grants.
Sloppy management of federal research grant funding has seen the University of Calgary put on notice to clean up its practices by the end of March, or risk losing more than $80 million a year. In February, a report from the federal granting councils concluded that the way the university has administered research funding is “unsatisfactory,” and said that “immediate action” is needed.
The report was conducted by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. The councils were following up on a 2006 investigation, and found that many of the recommendations from that report had not been implemented. Any decision as to University of Calgary’s funding eligibility would also affect grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Update: The report is in still in draft form, and is therefore confidential. However the University has a distributed a summary of the councils recommendations, available here.
The granting councils are concerned over a failure to ensure that expense claims such as for travel and graduate student salaries meet the requirements to be funded through federal research grants. There is also concern that costs not directly associated with research, like office supplies, are being expensed through the councils.
Although the granting councils have not actually threatened to pull funding, the university administration is warning faculty that loss of research money is a distinct possibility. “Unfortunately, the situation has become so serious we now run the immediate risk of having our eligibility for NSERC/SSHRC/CIHR funding suspended or withdrawn,” read a widely distributed memo from the administration.
Finance committee sticks to economic role of universities–research “must be commercialized”
Unsurprisingly, those hoping for the federal government to take a robust role in higher education will have to wait. At least that is the view of the Standing Committee on Finance, which filed its pre-budget report yesterday. The report contains a litany of recommendations, including a few of direct interest to students and universities, that may or may not pop up in next year’s budget.
Though the committee met with several “witnesses,” or gaggles of interest groups, there doesn’t appear to be much connection between what the committee was told and what it recommended.
On education, the primary concern of witnesses were measures that would require the federal government to intervene deeply into provincial jurisdiction, and coordinate higher education policy from Ottawa. Chief among these measures would be a “Post-Secondary Education Act.”
Modeled on the Canada Health Act, a PSE Act would require that the Canada Social Transfer be divided between social services and post-secondary education. Stipulations would be put in place to make the funding contingent on the provinces actually spending the money on education, rather than on roads and other items. Presently, the only requirement placed on provinces with respect to the CST is that eligibility for services, like social assistance, not be tied to residence. They are free to make residence a requirement when concerning admission to university, however. While the federal government announced such a change in 2007, it was all but forgotten a year later.
After reviewing witness submissions, the committee instead recommended:
The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, explore the development of a national strategy to promote greater emphasis on Canadian education services exports.
So while the committee did recommend the government explore a “national strategy” of sorts, and though universities may welcome it, it is not the type of strategy witnesses advocated. Why even bother calling for submissions from Canadians?
As for student aid, the committee advocates a new refundable tax credit be created to encourage graduates to relocate to regions having difficulty recruiting workers:
[It is recommended that] the federal government create a refundable tax credit for new graduates. The proposed tax credit should be available to those who move to designated regions and engage in employment in their field of study.
The question that comes to mind is, wouldn’t this duplicate policies already in place? Sasaktchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick–who all have trouble attracting workers–already provide tax credits (or rebates) to graduates who live and work in the province, no matter where they went to school. And generous ones at that.
Fed’s latest choice for CIHR governing council in conflict of interest
It was announced Oct. 5 that Dr. Bernard Prigent was appointed to the publicly funded CIHR, which sponsors medical research across the country. The rest of the governing council is primarily made of medical practitioners, scientists and health administrators.
“He’s the VP of the largest drug company in the world, and he says he’ll keep that separate,” NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis told CBC. “How effective will that be?”
Well, you or I can’t really answer that. The decision is up for review in the House of Commons. But in the meantime, seeing as we’re already playing, “Screwing up Government Integrity,” why not throw a few more social scenarios into the mix?
Take, for example:
- The Molson family running various nationwide AA chapters
- Robert Friedland, founder and chairman of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd., joining Canada’s consultation board on the Kyoto Protocol
- Jean Lafleur assisting Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter in his investigation of the eHealth spending scandal
- Rick Smith, CEO of Taser International, serving as RCMP watchdog
Which one would you prefer? Something to think about while trying to ignore that nagging federal disdain.
Why some schools don’t want a Big Five monopoly on research
The University of Waterloo has emerged as one of the leading research centres in quantum computing and digital media. Its computer science and mathematics faculty is the largest in the world. In terms of the number of grants and funding it attracts per faculty member, it is among the most research-intensive universities in the country. But Waterloo is not one of the so-called Big Five universities, who recently proposed in an interview with Maclean’s a radical rethinking of the higher education system: boosting government research funding and resources to the biggest universities—i.e., them—while having other schools shift focus toward undergraduate education.
The proposal of the Big Five—British Columbia, Alberta, Toronto, McGill and Montreal—understandably doesn’t sit well with Waterloo’s president, David Johnston. “How sad it would be to say, ‘We don’t see Waterloo being of high priority for funding because you don’t happen to be in the Top Five universities,’ ” he says. “Simply because you’re big doesn’t mean you’re great.”
Waterloo isn’t alone in its unease with the ideas of the Big Five. The notion of creating a two-tier system, which would favour a select group of big schools, has caused concern among many smaller but highly regarded research universities, like McMaster, Queen’s, Carleton and Victoria. “To say universities of this size can’t compete on an international stage is at best misleading,” says Fiona McNeill, associate vice-president of research at McMaster University in Hamilton, which has done leading research in stem cells and robotic surgery. More than just controversial, the Big Five’s proposal now threatens to pit universities against one another—and potentially launch Canada’s system of higher education into a drawn-out, divisive fight.
Critics acknowledge that, at least in theory, there is some merit to the Big Five’s idea. Large schools might be best equipped to become major centres of research. In the U.S., a few prestigious schools—many of them private—dominate research, while hundreds of smaller liberal arts colleges feed them with well-trained undergrads. By contrast, Canada produces fewer Ph.D.- or master’s-level graduates, and fewer qualified undergraduates.
In reality, however, Canada’s higher education landscape appears to many to be ill-suited to the Big Five’s proposal. Of 95 universities, 40 to 45 do competitive research through their Ph.D. programs. Daniel Woolf, the incoming principal of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., points out that schools like Queen’s already excel in both research and undergraduate education. Like the heads of several other universities, Woolf says that rather than focusing on a few schools, “the dollars should follow excellence in research.”
Yet deciding how to divvy up funding is otherwise problematic. Canada’s system of publicly funded universities is not as flexible as the more heavily private U.S. system, where research centres enjoy large private endowments. In Canada, boosting funding to a few big universities means taking it away from others.
At the top levels of international science research, Canada punches way below its weight, says U of T pres
David Naylor delivered a speech yesterday at the Economic Club of Toronto, a kind of state of the union on higher education: where we are, where he believes we should be going.
If we look at the lay of the land, Canada’s level of higher education enrollment is the highest in the world. That’s in part driven by high levels of college and (in Quebec) CEGEP enrollment; if we take them out of the mix, we move a bit down in the league tables, but we still have a relatively high percentage of our population enrolled in university. If we consider only graduate education, and the number of PhDs our country turns out, we lag slightly behind many other OECD countries. The same goes for our percentage of university graduates with a science or engineering education.
But when we measure the very pinnacle of graduate education in science — not volume of total research, but the amount of award-winning, world-beating research — Canada is not above average. Canada is not average or even a bit below average. We’re way below the countries we consider our peers. Naylor quoted from this recent federal government report, which points out that:
In terms of distinguished science awards, however, Canada ranks lower (12th in the world, tied with Israel). During the period of 1941 to 2008, Canada has received 19 awards in science, in contrast with other countries such as the U.S. (1403), U.K. (222), France (91), Germany (75) and Australia (42). Canada last received a Nobel Prize in science in 1994, when Bertram Brockhouse won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of neutron spectroscopy. In 2008, Anthony Pawson, a professor of medical genetics and microbiology at the University of Toronto, was awarded a Kyoto Prize in the basic sciences category for his work on signal transduction, or how cells use chemical signals to regulate one another’s behaviour.
The global list of distinguished awards, including distinguished science awards, is compiled by this organization.
CFS not happy; says recent funding announcement too focused on commercial applications
The federal government gave researchers across the country a Valentine’s gift last Thursday with the announcement of $163 million in new funding to establish 11 new “Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research.” The centres are to pursue major discoveries and work to bring them to customers over the next five years.
Some of the projects being funded include a Bioindustrial Innovation Centre, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer(IRIC)/CECR in Therapeutics Discovery, and Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise.
The Bioindustrial Centre will create better biofuels to replace oil-based produces. IRIC/CECR is working towards the development of new targeted cancer therapies along with the biopharmaceutical industry. The Pan-Provincial Vaccine Enterprise will work on improving old and creating new vaccines. Each of these centres will receive almost $15 million.
Not everyone is happy with the announcement. The Canadian Federation of Students says the awarding of federal funding to these projects is “not only inappropriate, but stifles real innovation.” According to the CFS, the goal of commercialization of research harms the goal of advancing research.
“Innovation is stifled when you have the federal government and big business looking over your shoulder demanding results for the next fiscal quarter,” said Graham Cox, chairperson of the National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students.
The CFS is concerned that the recent funding adds to what it sees has an imbalance in the current research goals of government and universities. They feel that too much of the current funds for research are being directed to science, medical, and engineering research without comparable funding for the liberal arts.