Our universities can be smarter

Canada’s ‘big five’ presidents have an ambitious plan for fixing our schools, writes Paul Wells

Our universities can be smarterPerhaps we are not putting too many words into the mouths of the presidents of Canada’s largest universities when we say something is nagging at them. A sense that things have become skewed in Canada’s higher education system, and more broadly in the way Canada’s economy and society face an uncertain future.

How else to explain the decision by these five top university presidents to approach Maclean’s for an interview? And how else to explain that—after their aides and helpers took care to assure us that the five presidents had “no specific ask” when they offered to talk—they showed up with an agenda for major change in their own institutions and in Canadian society at large?

Over the course of a 90-minute video conference, the big five presidents said their institutions must be given the means and mandates to set themselves still further apart from the rest of Canada’s universities—to pursue world-class scientific research and train the most capable graduate students, while other schools concentrate on undergraduate education. The vision they described would be a challenge to the one-size-fits-all mentality that has governed Canada’s higher education system.

But these five are not only concerned with their own institutions’ place in the pecking order of Canadian higher education. The presidents called for what one of them, David Naylor of the University of Toronto, called a “first ministers’ conference on the innovation economy.” The question that would face the Prime Minister and the provincial premiers at that conference would be: how can Canada improve its performance at putting new ideas to work in the private sector?

Such a summit-level attempt to grapple with Canada’s lagging competitiveness would amount to another sea change. And it reflects a growing consensus among academic leaders that the biggest failure to adopt new ideas doesn’t lie with universities or governments but with a timid and risk-averse corporate culture. That’s why, if first ministers do meet to discuss innovation and the knowledge economy, “having industry leadership there with government and universities is absolutely crucial,” said Heather Munroe-Blum, principal of McGill University.

If anyone is occupationally bound to worry about the future, of course, it’s these five, superb academics and gifted administrators. Along with Naylor and Munroe-Blum, we talked to Stephen Toope, the president of the University of British Columbia; Indira Samarasekera of the University of Alberta; and Luc Vinet of the Université de Montréal.

They have had a bit of a wild year. The economic crisis has played havoc with the endowments that pay some of their bills. Governments looking for shovel-ready stimulus projects have more than made up the difference, but the presidents can’t be sure that taxpayer-funded largesse will last: in the 1990s, the last time federal and provincial governments got serious about eliminating budget deficits, they did it through painful short-term cuts to university and college budgets. Will that happen again?

It certainly will if political leaders continue to regard universities as a nice place to cut ribbons, but not as important resources in addressing Canada’s broader challenges. The big five presidents worry about drift and lack of direction in our higher education system. That direction can only come from political leaders. So all of the presidents, even Montreal’s Vinet, called for Ottawa to pay more attention to what happens on Canada’s campuses.

“Of course it is a touchy issue given the jurisdictional aspects,” Vinet said, referring to the way Canada’s Constitution assigns education to the provinces, not the federal government. “But I really think that as a nation Canada should give itself some standards, some objectives, some goals. This is not, a priori, incompatible with constitutional powers.”

The penalty for drift, Naylor said, is that Canada could be perceived as a second-tier destination for foreign academics and international students. As changing demographics reduce the supply of Canadian-born students, Naylor perceives “very real opportunities for Canadian universities, particularly the leaders, to draw a large number of international students, larger than ever before.”

But for Canadian universities to be attractive, the best among them have to stand out among the best in the world. “Could it be that we simply aren’t producing enough radically disruptive innovators, breakthrough scholars, proportionate to our numbers?” Naylor asked. “It could be that we simply get to a certain point and don’t quite break through the ceiling.”

To produce or lure the world’s best scholars, UBC’s Toope said, universities need to graduate more students with higher degrees. “Both at the level of a master’s but even more importantly at the level of Ph.D.s, we are not producing at the level of our American colleagues, and actually many others in the OECD,” he said. “I suspect that’s an indicator of a relative lack of overall performance at the highest levels.”

But the problem starts even lower, Alberta’s Samarasekera said, with a limited supply of undergrads. “We do very well in terms of statistics on post-secondary education in the OECD,” she said, but those statistics can be misleading because they include Canada’s large population of community college students. “The actual number of university graduates per capita, we’re middle of the pack or lower. And that’s the group that eventually supplies the Ph.D.s and the innovators and the disruptive thinkers.”

But if the pipeline from undergrad to Ph.D. to breakthrough scholars is too narrow, then some universities are going to have to concentrate on that mission of intensive research and scholarship. These five presidents want to volunteer. “Canada maybe is beginning to recognize the need for differentiation,” Samarasekera said. “The view that everybody needs to be equal”—in resources, in academic mission, in mandate—puts fewer noses out of joint. “But the reality is, that doesn’t produce the winners.”

So what are these five asking for? Not special budgets just for being who they are, they insist. These universities already outperform other institutions in peer-reviewed competitions for research funding, infrastructure and research chairs. In the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s latest grant round, for instance, the big five together earned over 40 per cent of all funding. So partly they just want that process to continue.

“If you strongly support the very highest forms of international peer review,” Samarasekera said, “and you drive toward excellence, and you create pools of funding where people can compete at an international standard, you will then encourage and enable certain institutions to differentially excel.”

A system of winners and losers, in other words? Naylor is quick to argue the opposite. “Canada would probably be well-served to have a large number of small liberal arts universities, more than we have now. And to see those as somehow losers in a game of higher education strikes me as wrong.”

So: more resources for the large research universities to support their ambitions. And more latitude for smaller liberal arts universities to excel at that mandate. But if the small schools would worry less about research, the big ones would put less of their resources to undergraduate education. The University of California at Los Angeles, a big public research university in the U.S., has three undergraduates to every graduate student, Samarasekera said. At the University of Alberta, it’s five to one. “That’s not a good ratio.”

Funding needs to reflect the fact that grad students, who use specialized labs and other materials and need close attention from leading scholars, cost more to educate than undergrads do. Right now in British Columbia, it doesn’t, Toope said. He’d like to welcome fewer undergrads, send those students to new universities the provincial government has created in the past three years, and then put more money toward graduate education and research. “I think we can get to a much healthier balance.”

An hour into our conversation, the five presidents had called for more research money, the ability to concentrate more on graduate education, fewer undergrads, more international students, and the right to charge higher tuition in return for increased financial assistance to the least affluent students. It’s a tall order. And yet, Toope argued, “over the course of the last 20 years we have seen the creation of programs that actually move in the directions we have been suggesting.” The only problem—and it’s a big one—is that there’s been “no overall strategy,” Toope said, no “overarching commitment that relates to what the feds are doing and what the provinces are doing.”

So the discussion was moving from ends to means—from the world the presidents would like to move in, to the mechanisms for getting Canada there. A decade ago, Jean Chrétien was meeting with the premiers every few months to address strains in the health care system. Was that the sort of thing this crew wants now? Were they calling for a first ministers’ conference on higher education?

Naylor’s answer about instead having a first ministers’ conference on the innovation economy was surprising. What’s the difference? Well, a meeting about universities, given Canada’s constitutional niceties, quickly becomes a jurisdictional dispute. A meeting on broader questions avoids that pitfall.

But the five presidents were also eager to recognize that Canada’s most pressing problem is the ailing economy, and that universities are only part of the solution.

“Right now the heat is on economic recovery,” Naylor said. “A big part of the issue is how we move discoveries and innovation from university bench tops out to the marketplace. And I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, universities don’t commercialize. Commercialization is done by companies, not by universities. So much as I’d like to be party to a lot of special pleading about post-secondary, I think the heat right now is on the innovation economy, and we’re part of that. But we’re not a driver.”

Munroe-Blum is a member of the federal Industry Department’s Science, Technology and Innovation Council. That group’s first report, in May, showed that Canada’s private sector performs far lower than comparable countries in implementing new ideas in manufacturing and services. Hence her insistence that any innovation summit must also include industry leadership along with government and universities.

This thing is starting to get a bit unwieldy: federal government, provincial governments, academia, industry. What are its chances of actually getting anything done? Munroe-Blum said the odds of such a meeting succeeding will increase if everyone concentrates on achieving practical results. “It may be that we aim for some pilot project. Choose a sector or two from an industry point of view, business point of view, and bring together the government and university and industry leaders who want to work together.”

And if they have time to talk about some other issues, the sky’s the limit. Naylor rattled off a half-dozen topics that could use government attention. The maze of tax credits for corporate research and development, for instance: “It’s incredibly expensive, it’s often inefficient. At a time when we have falling government revenues it needs a close look.” Or the National Research Council, the feds’ in-house research branch. “We spend $850 million a year on the NRC: is it doing what it needs to do as an applied research and commercialization entity? There’s open questions about that.”

After a decade during which governments from two different parties competed to create a forest of boutique programs to encourage the transfer of new ideas from the laboratory to the market, “it’s alphabet soup,” Naylor said. “It’s almost impossible for anyone who’s trying to build a company to navigate that.”

By the end of our discussion, then, the five presidents had established, at a minimum, that there is a lot more to discuss. Canada’s academic culture gives a serviceable education to millions and is home to pockets of genuine genius, but it often falls a little short of the world’s best. The schools that would like to win by that most exacting standard have precise ideas about how they should change to attain those goals. And they are eager to start a broader conversation about how to help Canada make it through the current economic crisis and get back on the path to greater prosperity.

Coming after a year of constant crisis in Parliament during which very few of the debates were about such substantive matters, the five presidents’ remarks came as a tonic but also as a warning. These are the topics our leaders could discuss, if they could only look up from their tactical skirmishes for a moment. And these are the issues the rest of the world will discuss, and act upon, whether Canada gets its act together or not.




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Our universities can be smarter

  1. Well, this article was something of a pleasant surprise. I was particularly pleased that Naylor pointed at the tax credits for corporate research. Canada's bureaucrats have fallin in love with the Canadian approach which has continued to fail miserably for literally decades. Generally the failure in our corporate R&D has been attributed to our banks, our culture, our collective personalities etc, but the fact is we have taken a radically different approach to stimulating industrial research in Canada wrt the US, Europe and most of Asia. In those places, companies can get government grants and actually make money if they have a plan to move into an important strategic area. In Canada, companies can get (a fairly generous) fraction of their R&D expeditures back in the form of tax credits. In principle the Canadian approach seems fine, but 1) it is useless for startups (no profit=no taxes=no credit) 2) very expensive for small companies, 3) does not allow government to push strategic areas (environmental technologies, energy technologies). The result is that our tax policy supports fairly incremental research by large companies while stifling aggressive research by tomorrow's industrial leaders.

    • I agree, the tax credit approach is not the right direction.

    • Actually, start-up companies are given the cash refunds instead of tax credits, providing a valuable source of cash during the early lean years. Canada's systems works quite well for start-up companies, and is often acclaimed by US entrepreneurs. See: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/sred/

    • As with many in the Canadian govenment/academic complex, Smith deeply misunderstands the Canadian System of R&D tax credits. His little equation (no profits=no taxes=no credit) overlooks the most attractive feature of the Scientific Research and Exeperimental Development program, namely, that the tax credits are REFUNDABLE!. That means that if you have R&D expenditures, then taxaable or not, you can get cash back.

    • thanks for this nice article. This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. this is very nice one and gives in depth information.

  2. So Canada's biggest universities are basically arguing that they should be turned into high-end research institutes that also grant degrees to their underpaid staff (i.e. the R&D graduate students). On the public dime. In the name of the greater good. I'm not disagreeing, but let's slough off the rhetoric ("innovating for the future" etc. etc.) and call it what it is.

    Could someone more knowledgeable than I tell me why ideas developed in these new Canadian research super-institutes (can we stop calling them universities? That's a bit misleading) would remain in Canada, fostering Canadian prosperity? Can someone toss out a few more examples of that besides RIM? Does it have to do with patents, i.e. the super-institute would retain partial control of ideas developed within it? (I remember having to sign some form about that in grad school, promising my school a healthy slice of the profits from my work on Homer, or something.) Because if were is no such provision and we are just trusting in the gods to keep taxpayer-funded innovation in Canada, the arguments for the super-institutes would ring hollow.

    • There is virtually (honest) no guarantee that can be made about Canadian ideas staying in Canada. However, there is a strong tendancy for new ventures to want to stay in close contact with the academics that generated the initial ideas. It is partly that presumably that academic has proven their value, partly that a relationship has been established, partly defensive (the most likely person to find a way around a patent is the original inventor) So just like a flourishing literary community ideas leak out but also get brought in. Still close contact, ongoing debate and discussion add value. That added value and personal relationships are the glue that hold the successful regional clusters together much more than legal contracts.
      Some specific (non-Rim) examples
      Some companies get built around research developed at the university
      http://www.innovationcanada.ca/en/articles/filter

      Others get attracted in:
      http://www.techtriangle.com/modules/news/newsitem

      or some mixture of both
      http://www.nanotech-now.com/news.cgi?story_id=280

      and innovation does not have to be all about the money
      http://www.meadowlakeprogress.com/ArticleDisplay….

      Its no surprise that my examples do not come from the big 5. For all their talk, these are the universities in Canada that are protecting the Ivory Tower approach more than any others. Any fair comparison, would point to the mid-size Canadian universities as providing the most interesting, cost effective and innovative research environment.

      • Thanks very much, Stewart! Those are some very interesting links.

        What is the secret, I wonder, to the way that some universities engender high-tech R&D areas (Stanford > Silicon Valley, Duke/USC > Research Triangle, Waterloo > Waterloo) while others do not? I mean, Boston may have lots of businesses but not in proportion to what one would, theoretically, predict from its proximity to MIT; CalTech grads don't seem to have made LA a byword for innovation, etc. (though I suppose NASA wouldn't exist without it). Likewise Michigan, say, is a pretty high-powered institution, but Ann Arbor is not in the same league as the Research Triangle in SC (unless I'm mistaken). I wonder if it doesn't have more to do with the entrepreneurial spirit; but can more money really buy that? In these discussions on innovation, one hears a lot about "attracting top drawer talent" etc., but maybe we should (metaphorically speaking) be developing our farm system rather than hiring mid-career free agents.

        • I think there are a couple of things that make predicting/understanding cluster development around universities very difficult. One is that all of the prerequisites are required. (that is why they are prerequisite) Investment money, knowledgable partners, an entrepenurial community, young eager talent, resources, available office/research space, local supply chain, government assistance etc. Some of these are easy for the public to spot, others are quite hidden, some can be bought, some take time to nurture. (A little like major surgery, pretty much everything has to go right for a positive outcome). Even with that, a RIM, a Google, a Microsoft can never be guaranteed.

          So why do it?
          1) Because for all of our talk about building an innovation economy, the amount we actually invest in it falls into the noise in a federal budget. i.e. the dollar sums alone would not justify every even mentioning the university research money invested in Canada in a federal budget.
          2) While knowledge for its own sake may have personal value, our public universities should be supporting talented young people in achieving their dreams publicly… writers should publish, artists should hold exhibits, scientists should make breakthroughs, engineers should make widgets (not the lame ones, but the really cool ones that everyone wants.) Engaging with the real world is messy, brings in copyright, patent issues but ultimately is an essential element in a modern educmacation.
          3) Most of $ spent on a university goes directly into the local economy and as a result a very sizeable fraction goes back to the taxman. That is why the Conservatives should have focused the university portion of the stimulus package on operating funds (students!) rather than CFI projects that will break ground in 2011.

    • There is nothing more certain to deliver windfall profits than research work on Homer. What do they call that class? The Odiousy?

    • I get that there's no guarantee that world class grad students and innovators trained in Canada will stay in Canada and continue to help Canada prosper, but so what? The situation now is that many of those elite students leave Canada to go to grad school. If they're leaving to pursue their degrees there's surely less chance they'll contribute to Canada than if they stay here to do those degrees!

      I think any "if we train world-class thinkers they may just leave" argument ignores the fact that they're ALREADY leaving, only now they're leaving right after they finish their undergraduate work (if the bother to stay in Canada for that!).

  3. Two words: trailers/(RVs) and trains. Universities, both big and small, should be building "trailer park/parking garages" so as to allow a new form of low cost dorm/residence for students. More programs should be offering actual study of Canadian landscape and the many different communties/companies scattered throughout. Within the comfort of their own 30 foot trailer, students could study anywhere in Canada. Moved affordably via train…there's many locations in Canada still open to study and discovery.

    • This new trailer park train form of study could allow undergrads who can study theory anywhere…yet still be connected via wireless net/tv/phone…to experience Canada in a new way. Many prospective out of country students would probably like the idea of not only getting an education in Canada..but also seeing and helping to study this vast landmass. Actually not only moving trailers/rv's to study locations via train…boat/barge mass movement of student trailers to interesting research locations should looked into as well. Canada has so much shoreline- river, lake and ocean- that could be better explored by our universities and students. I almost think universities in provinces should have an "adopt-a-railway" type strategy. Universities in BC…there's the underused rail route that goes from Vancouver north to Fort Nelson…lots of space to study and explore. Uni's in Alberta…adopt the rail for movement of researchers/students/prof's that goes north to Great Slave Lake in NWT. Universities in Sask/Man…lots of land along the railway to Churchill/HudBay that could be examined/studied. Ontario/Quebec also have many miles of northern rail/land ready for study. Maritimes as well.

  4. Why didn't you include any responses Paul? For example, talking to the government, the university teacher's union, CFS and CASA, maybe some other university presidents and even some college presidents? I'm sure they would have all had something to say on these ideas.

    • That's why we publish weekly. The future is our oyster, or something.

    • I agree, where is any of the counter arguments? where are the views of respected critics of universities and higher education? I can see why the presidents agreed to this, Wells seems like a stenographer in this piece.

  5. I don't think I fully agree with the "Big 5's" suggestions on innovation. As is known, the majority of Canada's economic activity is service sector related. Thus the most cost effective way to increase Canada's productivity would be to focus on the main service sector demographics (say, retailers). Funding PhD candidates to sit over a microscope wont help the majority of Canadian workers improve their productivity. Even in the USA, only ~10% of the population has postgraduate education so we aren't talking about a huge chunk of society.

    I just recently visited the Ikea in Toronto. That is a good example of what productivity looks like. Instead of having traditional cashiers, one employee would monitor four self check out stations, in effect quadrupling their productivity. It doesn't take an army of PhDs in Marxist historiography of Roman textile industries to implement this. We are liable to fall into the Japanese thing of spending oodles on advanced engineering without regards to actual social trends.

    We should value science and knowledge for humanitarian reasons, so I am happy to publicly support potentially esoteric research. I am less happy with a perpetual trend of large research universities sucking up as many undergraduate fees/subsidies as possible and funneling it to boost postgrad research in the name of innovation. Mathematically, undergraduates will always be more numerous than postgrads. If productivity and innovation are the goal, then we should look to them. Further, "Peer Reviewed" areas (theoretical sciences and arts) is most likely less important to Canadian productivity than professional postgrads (i.e. MBAs, law, medicine).

    • I agree with that, I am sure that the universities must be upgraded a little bit to keep up with the rest of universities of the world because in the last year it was a falling. Kostenlos
      Handy orten

  6. If you look at where disruptive ideas and university research go hand in hand, Silicon Valley is the paradigm. The trick is to have both good universities and a high-output research/industrial sector in the same area. We have the former but not the latter.

    As I posted on another thread recently, I went to a talk once by a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur (one of the early innovators who helped to make it what it is today), and those of us at the talk asked him why Canada has no comparable research mecca. His response was very interesting and went something like this (from memory):

    " In Canada you have this attitude that a new business is supposed to succeed. If it fails, then the entrepreneur should get a job. In Silicon Valley we have the opposite attitude: you can't be taken seriously until you've started at least two failed businesses. Entrepreneurial failure for us isn't a disgrace: it's a badge of honour. This is why we have so many successful start-ups – they are all preceded by ten times as many failed start-ups but the innovators learn from each experience."

    I don't know quite what the answer is, but I think it involves fostering a mindset of independence and individual risk-taking. The pioneer spirit, if you will. Canada used to have this spirit perhaps 50 years ago but it seems to have been stamped out.

    Final point: it's hard to foster an independent risk-taking spirit while simultaneously idealizing the modern Canadian value that government should provide for everyone's (medical, self-defense, income) needs. Fix the mindset and you begin to fix the problem. Currently those who don't fit the mindset (i.e. the independent risk-takers) go to the US where their attitude is more welcome.

    • Tying business risks to the security of the social safety net was a foolish direction to take that post.

      • Really? I thought it was pretty brilliant.

      • On further thought, I think we could also benefit from greater emphasis on reasoned debate in undergrad. The kneejerk "that's stupid" response to unfamiliar ideas is part of the problem.

      • Part of the equation is that it has to be a place in which people would actually want to live, Nigel.

      • Part of the equation is that it has to be a place in which people would actually want to live, Nigel.

    • I agree. Canada is all abut security, which is the opposite of risk/reward/failure.

  7. An interesting read but the following statement by Toope caught my eye:

    “Both at the level of a master's but even more importantly at the level of Ph.D.s, we are not producing at the level of our American colleagues, and actually many others in the OECD,”

    I guess the question I would have is how do the Big 5 actually plan to get more undergraduates to go on to graduate school? It's all fine and dandy to talk about how higher numbers of post-graduate degrees correlate with increased innovation and the need to create a corporate culture that pushes that innovation into the marketplace but at the end of the day you need to have the people with the Ph.Ds (if you subscribe to the more PhDs=more innovation theory).

    I also think it would be worth knowing the percentage of Canadian-born students that go on to do postgraduate degrees. If research isn't in our DNA, why should we expect innovation to be?

  8. As one further point: I don't think the university presidents have the first clue how to deal with this. Money is not the problem, nor is the number of grad students. It's the mindset of said grad students that makes all the difference.

    • Several universities have set up entrepreneurial training programs, bringing in outside people with experience in marketing, finance, IP etc to help grad students with the inclination to make the jump. Some of these are focused around business schools but others are for science and engineering students.

  9. Blah blah blah. You're still better off going to university than trying to make it 'in the real world' without a degree.

  10. Why do the big 5 want "fewer undergrads" ? In the digital era is't possible to record, archive and translate undergrad theory lectures and broadcast said lectures to anyone worldwide via a Youtube type vidoe system to anyone interested. If anything, Canadian universites should be trying to get more undergrads watching affordable lectures… and hoping that these online students are impressed enough regarding the prof/uni/city to want to want to become a grad student there. Wrong strategy by big 5.

    • For all this talk of these presidents, I did not experience any innovation in the class room or lab in university. Professors taught the same old stale material with the same old stale technology. What doesnt the universities practice what it preaches? I don't see universities embracing technology like the Kindle, information technology should go hand in hand with business entrepeneurs and universities.

      • You can't get the Kindle in Canada.

  11. Since when did Universtiy ever have anything to do with either intelligence or smartness. The only thing you really learn how to do is pass exams and show up most of the time – I have been through the vaunted halls of academia several times now earning high marks and awards and the subject was rarely encountere with my BSc (pun intended) namely articial intelligence and it only resulted in the most stupidest of outcomes as it had nothing to do with actual intelligence? – then there was some mention of it in Philosophy when I got my BA but then everything ended upn we couldn't agree on an appropriate a piori (sort of like a base assumption and definition)

      • Sshh. You don't want to wake him.

        • I wonder how many of those trips "through the vaunted halls of academia" ended with him being removed from the premises for trespassing.

      • I think Wayne's point is simply "I have multiple degrees and I still can't put together a coherent paragraph. University sux!".

        • I think that is an appropriate a posteriori that we can all agree on.

  12. So, if I understand what they are saying, these Top 5 universities should be where all the top-flight research is supposed to be done in the country, and the remaining universities should be left to be degree farms for undergrads? That, to me, sounds like a rather boneheaded strategy. There are a number of centres of excellence at other Canadian universities that blow the doors of any of what the 'Big 5' offer. I mean, you want to stack U of T or McGill up against Waterloo in mathematics and computer science? Or Guelph in food science? And as soon as you dictate that only these five schools will be centres of excellence, then these subjects will simply be ignored. No organization can realistically be excellent in every field, and I doubt 5 would be able to cover the entire spectrum.

    • Yes. It would be interesting to hear from the presidents of those schools.

      • Sorry. The other presidents didn't meet admission requirements. Now they work at Starbucks, but so do their grads.

      • Sorry. The other presidents didn't meet the admission requirements. Now they work at Starbucks. But so do their grads.

    • Waterloo is a great university, but its focus has always been undergrad, not graduate studies. They produce excellent undergraduates but less research.

      That said, there is a reason why RIM, the Perimeter Institute, and Maple (formerly) are all in Waterloo.

    • Waterloo is a great university, but its focus has always been undergrad, not graduate studies. They produce excellent undergraduates but less research.

      That said, there is a reason why RIM, the Perimeter Institute, and Maple (formerly) are all in Waterloo. The place does foster independence and initiative to a greater extent than most other Canadian cities, and the undergrads in math/engineering are top notch.

      • Do you think Waterloo would continue to be a good school in these areas if their research and graduate studies activities were pared down or eliminated? Who would teach? The third-rate professors would couldn't get access to a 'real' university to do research? And they should hire TAs off the street, too?

        • No, and I didn't suggest that. My point is that Waterloo is top-ranked in terms of its undergrad education but less so for its research. In the article they are denoting the "Top 5" by research output. Capische?

  13. Yes, now why would someone consider the liberal arts colleges under this scheme to be losers? Just because federal funding for post-secondary is only in research (because of the jurisdictional issues) and that the vast bulk of provincial funding on a per-student basis goes to research and innovation programs, why that doesn't mean that all the liberal arts colleges left to fight over the scraps would be losers, not at all.

    After all, it simply makes sense that if you want to encourage world class research, you limit it to happening in just five places across the 10 provinces and 3 territories of our nation. Everybody knows that the best researchers and faculty naturally drift to the institutions doing the most innovative things in their area. So having to compete with every other university or college across Canada is just too darned difficult for these big 5 to really get moving. So they need government help to legislate their competitors out of the marketplace. That way they can concentrate on what brings in the money.

    • This is not logical: "Everybody knows that the best researchers and faculty naturally drift to the institutions doing the most innovative things in their area. So having to compete with every other university or college across Canada is just too darned difficult for these big 5 to really get moving. So they need government help to legislate their competitors out of the marketplace."

      If the researchers naturally drifted to the most innovative institutions (which they seem to be doing according to the comment by Andrew above) then why does the government have to legislate that these 5 universities are the deemed the most innovative? I am baffled by this argument

      • The most innovating things "in their area". The qualifier is important. So if U of Alberta is tops when it comes to nanotech, sure, they'll get the nanotech researchers, but U of Calgary has a good AI department.. so where do the AI researchers go? Probably to U of C — and thus not the U of A.

        If the government legislates that only 5 universities are doing the bulk of the research, then obviously those strong departments at other universities will whither because they won't be getting the same type of funding, meaning the strong faculty and researchers will wind up moving to one of the 5 gov't picked winners.

    • the vast bulk of provincial funding on a per-student basis goes to research and innovation programs

      Uhhh, no. per-student funding is, by definition, PER STUDENT and there are WAY more students in undergraduate programs than in graduate programs. The vast majority of funding goes to undergraduates, which is why universities are constantly forced to bring in more and more undergraduates to supplement their budgets. In many schools, the liberal arts undergrads are actually SUBSIDIZING the graduate work in science because the university gets the same per-student funding for an English major who's relatively inexpensive to educate as they do for a chemistry student who needs an expensive lab and hands-on research time in it.

      • Yes, it's per student. That was my point. Universities get the same amount per student, but then they get other money for research. So, if the money per student is the same, would the university rather have a student who is contributing to their research, or one that isn't? Which one brings in more actual money for them?

        This is why they want to get out of that messy business of teaching people who aren't researching, and only teaching the researching students. Make sense now?

    • And that is exactly what is happening already. Each university gets an allocation for the amount they can apply for from CFI based on their current funding levels, so the big 5's self-congratulatory success in getting CFI is pre-determined.

  14. I quote John Manley from your other news article : “I don't think you could say that innovation is deeply in the DNA of our Canadian business enterprises. We have built prosperity, up to and including this decade, on a fairly basic paradigm: we are rich in natural resources. We're good at harvesting them. And we have built a manufacturing and processing sector, and to some degree a services sector, which has been quite successful in exploiting access to the U.S. market.”
    If this is the case, what kind of "smart people" are Canadian Universities suppose to graduate? Maybe most Canadian students should just go to vocational community colleges and we only need 5 big universities! The problem with increasing enrollment in Universities is that the average IQ of the human population (even of the professors!) hasn't increased that dramatically over the last 25 years. Another problem politicians and universities administrators (Deans and Presidents) don't understand is the following basic fact: Students are not CLIENTS. They are the PRODUCTS of a University. There has to be a market for the products before we talk about quality control. Unfortunately, university professors cannot create jobs for their students and since the career of most professors is based on the amount of research funding they can bring to the University, they are busy fighting each other for a piece of that cash as you can see from what these "Presidents" say. In Canada most of the funding, both for research and teaching comes from the taxpayers, so I am for sharring like we do for health care. We don't have 5 big hospitals LOL

  15. What is wrong with comment threading?? Half the comments list lots of replies but only a few show up!

  16. Agree can be smart for study hard……..

  17. The article makes sense. Maybe smaller universities such as Brock, should forfeit monies for research and development, in order to improve monies at the larger institutions.

  18. I pitched the idea to President Obama and PM Harper that a new kind of research lab should be in built by both countries in partnership with Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. Build a giganitic linked lab stretching along the 49th parallel border…with specific niche institutions engaged in different fields of research. Quonsets and "bigbox" style buildings are affordable and easy to construct. Picture a 100 foot wide, by 30 foot high times 1400 kilometer long portal tunnel. Along the western border…it's flat…not alot of people live there…there's few lakes along the way.

    • If 1 kilometer along either side of the border was devouted towards this new type of city/lab/uni…a 2800 square kilometer chunk of land could be built upon in the name of science and study. Imagine being able to go for a long walk/bike ride in the middle of the prairies…in the middle of winter, in such a building. This kind of enclosed structure could also utilize new, non-polluting electric cars to transit throughout the linkage. Perhaps the 1400 km portal tunnel could be subdivided between "franchise" owners affiliated with universities so each section focuses on different academic and research disiplines. Approx 50 sectional, franchise owners…each with about 30 kilometers of tunnel and the 1 kilomtere of land north and south of said structure. One university affiliated franchise/community could research robotics, one greenhouses, one music, one movies, one livestock, one business, one chemistry, one computer programing, ect, ect. The number of different niches/labs/uni's studying in such a connected city are endless..

      • That's a really bad idea. You can build labs anywhere, but the people who want to work in them, largely, would sooner not live in Manitoba or North Dakota.

        • You can't build labs anywhere. It's getting to the point that it would probably be faster and cheaper to construct new tranist systems, buildings and even entire cities outside of established areas. And USA and Canada have realatively young cities and universities….why can't new institutions spring up where there's vacant, affordable, easy land to build upon? Seriously, the cost to build one or two kilometers of subway in Toronto would probably be similar to building one or two HUNDRED kilometers of new transit systems along the prairies. Big cities are becoming more and more unaffordable both to live in and to build upon. Best to build new, planned cities…

  19. These university presidents are doing what is expected of them: to promote their institutions. Given the limited funds available for universities, they do this by arguing that more of these limited funds be directed at them rather than their competitors. Nothing surprising there. What is surprising is that Wells was fooled into accepting the euation of "biggest" with "best". This is like asking Ford, GM and Chrysler to advocate for the "car industry". Fifteen years ago, they were the "biggest" North American car companies but that didn't make them the best per capita.
    On a per capita basis there are a number of smaller, but more inovative and productive research institutions (Guelph, Sherbrooke etc.). In any case, research funding must go the individual researchers, based on peer review, not to "universities".

  20. No serious discussion by universities on an "Innovative Economy" for Canada should ever take place, without the University of Waterloo actively involved. My goodness, of all the universities in Canada which are noted to be hotbeds of innovation, the U of W must be at least one of the top 3 leaders, if not the most. Also the whole technology triangle of the K-W area, is recognized internationally as a hotbed of innovation, enterprise, and talent. For innovation, we don't need ivory tower academics and talkers, where change is resisted and moves at a snail's pace. We need thinkers, engineers, and DOERS.

    • I'm sorry, UW isn't on the list. It can't join the club of universities that get to do research in Canada.

  21. get rid of tenure, political correctness on campus, male-hating feminist studies departments, speech codes, and start recognizing the fact that men are human beings, too, and that our society is doing a damnably poor job of helping them achieve their full scholastic potential.

    beyond that, get smarter people teaching – especially in the humanities. As a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, the one thing that struck me was just how mediocre was the faculty in the liberal arts (even some of the social sciences) at that school. kids pay many tens of thousands of dollars each year (when you factor in total expenses) to get an education at a canadian school – and the true value of many of those degrees is worth scarcely more than the paper they're printed on.

    university faculties in this country have become little more than permanent abodes for those with emotional problems, axes to grind against other groups, and a fervent desire to pursue a political agenda at the expense of others.

    let's get some bloody professionals and grown-ups running the joint at long last.

  22. want a better safer society?….allow for free education

  23. and another quit your bickering about which university is better…at some point they all open up minds…i shall remain …a student of life

  24. With the precept that only 5 Canadian Universities should do the high-end science, we can assume that if this model is right, it would be equal to having only 50 places in the USA where it appends. Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong but the San Diego area has at least UCSD, Scripps, The Salk Institute, LIAI, Burnham Institute, which ALL are training PhDs and post-docs and are highly competitive and innovative institutions. Replicate this in LA, San Francisco, Boston, NYC, and 2 or 3 more cities and you wouldn't have any research done anywhere else. This idea is bad. Innovation and breakthroughs comes from odd places. Just put opportunities out there ($$$ for research) and support for innovative idea ($$$ for startups and tech. transfer support) and it will append.

  25. "The big five presidents worry about drift and lack of direction in our higher education system.
    That direction can only come from political leaders."

    how could that possibly EVER be the case? rely on those that make the biggest,
    most costly and inhumane errors in planetary history?

    the direction of our education comes from you, and i
    as well as every other canadian citizenat home and abroad.

    • No, the direction of our education comes from the teachers' unions. And, by the way, it's down.

  26. if the population do not decide the direction of education by action,
    then they are deciding the direction of Canadian education by inaction/silence.

    that is my point Justin.

  27. I think these schools should put more emphasis on Entrepreneurship.

  28. Very much agree with your valuable points and the comment posted by eddycurrent impressed me a lot.Thanks for sharing and for comments too.

  29. University should be less expensive. In Europe, public university are way cheaper, and you may find some very good students.
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  30. hello, beyond that, get smarter people teaching – especially in the humanities. As a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, the one thing that struck me was just how mediocre was the faculty in the liberal arts (even some of the social sciences) at that school. kids pay many tens of thousands of dollars each year (when you factor in total expenses) to get an education at a canadian school – and the true value of many of those degrees is worth scarcely more than the paper they're printed on.

    university faculties in this country have become little more than permanent abodes for those with emotional problems, axes to grind against other groups, and a fervent desire to pursue a political agenda at the expense of others.

    let's get some bloody professionals and grown-ups running the joint at long last.

  31. The only way to improve the school system and thereby the universities is to try new methods.
    Why shouldn't they want to improve its performance.

    I think its a great idea to try new ideas in the private sector. Once they are prepared that some will fail and others will succeed.

  32. At least if you are studying at University you are aiming for something.

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  34. Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts, i like your blog and bookmark this blog for further use thanks again…

  35. The thank you very much , I well tray to keep rember it

  36. The article makes sense. Maybe smaller universities such as Brock, should forfeit monies for research and development, in order to improve monies at the larger institutions.

  37. I remember being in Canada 2 months ago and reading about the 5 universities. So far it seems like as if the campaign was successful. All 5 universities have now better rankings and seem to be very popular. I hope this will continue, since I want to study next year at the University of Toronto. Jessy from the blumen verschicken team in Europe.

  38. Thanks for sharing your ideas and thoughts, i like your blog!! The article is really interesting. I´ve never been in Canada, so I can´t say much about it. But I know for example more about Italien. I think everyone knows this wonderful country. Italien has lots of beautiful cities and of course good food.

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  41. Thanks for the article and the postings. In my opinion universities should be less expensive. In Europe for example , public universities are quite cheaper, and you may find some very good students. But OK, this is a complicated topic. In Germany for example Beamte have a lot of advantages like a Private Krankenversicherung Beamte. But even for them it is quite difficult to find a good Private Krankenversicherung Beamte.

  42. Very much agree with your good points and the comment posted by the other blogers impressed me a lot.Thanks for sharing and for comments too! The following website gives a good overview about Anzahlungen. It answers questions like:What are Anzahlungen? Are they important? etc. The website is really helpful.

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  44.  Well, this is a big issue if the government is trying make all schools and universities as their business by charging high tax rate and earning big money from them is obviously unfair not only for the administration of the school but most likely to all students.

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  45. Yes, now why would someone consider the liberal arts colleges under this
    scheme to be losers? Just because federal funding for post-secondary is
    only in research (because of the jurisdictional issues) and that the
    vast bulk of provincial funding on a per-student basis goes to research
    and innovation programs, why that doesn’t mean that all the liberal arts
    colleges left to fight over the scraps would be losers, not at all. Pflasterfugenmörtel After
    all, it simply makes sense that if you want to encourage world class
    research, you limit it to happening in just five places across the 10
    provinces and 3 territories of our nation. Bodenversiegelung Everybody knows that the
    best researchers and faculty naturally drift to the institutions doing
    the most innovative things in their area. So having to compete with
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    difficult for these big 5 to really get moving. So they need government
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    they can concentrate on what brings in the money.  Natursteinplatten imprägnieren

  46. anada has so much shoreline- river, lake and ocean- that could be better
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    Universities in BC…there’s the underused rail route that goes from
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    Uni’s in Alberta…adopt the rail for movement of
    researchers/students/prof’s that goes north to Great Slave Lake in NWT.
    Universities in Sask/Man…lots of land along the railway to
    Churchill/HudBay that could be examined/studied. Bodenversiegelung
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