In August, the presidents of Canada's top five universities – McGill, Toronto, Alberta, British Columbia and Montreal – proposed that Canada needs an "elite" group of universities focused on research and graduate education. (Last year, 33.1% of federal research funding went to these institutions.) The argument has sparked vigorous debate about two-tiered post-secondary educational system and the relationship between research and teaching. We ask a few Concordians what they think.

I think a strong university system rests on its diversity and on the vitality of all its components. The system’s richness depends on unique areas of expertise and strengths with each one recognized for its intrinsic value.

For example, should health research be the sole purview of universities with a strong faculty of medicine? Health research is increasingly including social and psychological components. Our health research is vibrant, albeit small. Universities like ours can bring a unique angle to issues.

Creating a false, divisive distinction between research institutions and the rest of us is not compatible with building a society based on sharing knowledge and is really backward looking.

– Vice-President Graduate Studies and Research Louise Dandurand

If successful, this would ruin this university's attempt to become a major player in the research arena. […] If they want more, let them earn it via competition for grants rather than by governmental decree.

– Geography, Planning and Environment Professor and Department Chair David Greene

One important function of professors is to serve as role models for students. The absence of active researchers in undergraduate teaching would create a disconnect between research and teaching. If the proposal is successful, fewer undergraduates may consider a career path in research which would have a negative impact on graduate enrolment and to the Canadian society as a whole.
– Biology Professor and Researcher at Concordia's Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics Adrian Tsang

Beyond Concordia, there is no other university in Canada or the U.S. that provides students with the same quality of education in [mass human rights violations]. In the long run, Canada's academic community would suffer greatly, as there would be less diversity in perspectives and methods being applied to such important areas of inquiry.

– Doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD program Erin Jessee

Who would be interested in a league where the Cup goes to one of five teams automatically?

A spirit of competitive, open discourse will always jar against the all-too-human drive to acquire and perpetuate privileges. This proposal is a fallacy – a sad indication of how amateurish [the presidents of the five universities] understand their own purpose: If all research money goes to the top five by default, they will not see their international research reputations rise. Complacent, they will soon lose the drive to ask unsettling and cutting-edge research questions.

In short, Canada does not need just five elite universities for research; it needs 100 cutting-edge corporate, public and private research institutions.

– Canada Research Chair in Inter-X Arts and matralab Director Sandeep Bhagwati
(Taken from Bhagwati's op-ed, 'Right Tune, Wrong Notes.' [PDF])

Input is a new column soliciting opinions from a range of interested parties on topical issues.


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