McGill proposes ambitious Plan of Action
In response to Minister of Education François Legault's call for discussion papers on academic priorities and university funding, the University sets its sights on an ambitious series of projects.
The document is available on the Web in both English and French in PDF. For print copies: call 398-6748.
McGill University has set its sights on an ambitious series of projects which promise huge dividends for Quebec society. In response to the Minister of Education François Legaults call for discussion papers on academic priorities and university funding, the University has produced a working paper entitled Tradition and Innovation: An International University in a City of Knowledge. Delighted with the Ministers initiative, Principal Shapiro says he looks forward "to a new and strengthened partnership with the Quebec government." He adds, "If the Government does reinvest in the Quebec university network, McGill is ready with exciting proposals offering new ideas for a new era."
The document was submitted last Wednesday to comply with the deadline set by Minister Legault. The University community will be discussing the proposals and recommendations over the coming weeks, and the Minister is also expected to comment on them.
The Tradition and Innovation document opens with a description of McGills international strengths (by far the highest percentage of international students as well as the largest amount of research funding per professor, for example) and some of its achievements (e.g. the highest graduation rate in Canada), and stresses the benefits to Quebec society. "McGill attracts major outside investment (more than $5 billion over the past 10 years), links Quebecers with ideas, people and institutions in other countries, and creates a community of ambassadors throughout the world," points out Shapiro. "What we have told the Minister is that we intend to build on our tradition to open up even more networks."
The initiatives proposed in the Tradition and Innovation discussion paper will bring people together from many different disciplines. "Engineers and physicists and chemists will work on developing new, lightweight and resistant materials to build everything from cars to aircraft. Second language experts from linguistics and cognitive science will work with professors in education and the humanities on speech acquisition. Biologists, wildlife specialists, economists, philosophers, historians, engineers, architects and poets will focus on solutions to environmental problems with an expanded McGill School of Environment. The possibilities are fantastic!" says Vice-Principal (Academic) Luc Vinet.
Vinet adds, "Operating on the principle that solutions often lie in comparing different perspectives, we want to create more and more opportunities for new scholars, young students and established researchers to explore the frontiers of knowledge in the best possible environment." Tradition and Innovation in fact outlines nine academic priorities in all, including plans for setting up social science statistical labs that will bring in more outside research funding, promoting student internships with industry to improve development and training, and stepping up undergraduate support for technology, particularly in the humanities. "We think the impact of these proposals could transform Quebec society," declares Vinet.
To illustrate the excitement generated by the plan, Principal Shapiro draws attention to the proposal for a Molecular Medicine centre. "Once we know the complete structure of the human genome - which will happen in the next two or three years - well be able to decode the underlying messages. Well have the alphabet, so to speak, which will help us decipher the meaning of these messages," he says. "Here we plan to draw on our top researchers in science and medicine to use computer technology to manipulate the immense amounts of data thats accumulated. So, for example, well be able to design new drugs, even custom-design them for each patient."
The Governments funding formula for universities also receives careful study in the Tradition and Innovation discussion paper. As a matter of equity, McGill administrators call for the immediate correction of the Universitys base budget to repair years of relative underfunding. "Fair and equitable treatment for all Quebec universities is essential, in our view, and we hope the Minister will provide new money to make this happen," notes Shapiro.
With regard to the entire university network, the document urges an immediate investment of $500 million, at a minimum, to assure quality institutions on a par with other universities in the rest of Canada. McGill administrators point out that Ontario universities have anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000 more to spend per student than Quebec universities. "We simply must try to close the gap now - we cant postpone the catch-up indefinitely. The risks are too great," says Shapiro. For McGill, a minimum increase of $4,000 per student would mean an additional $80 million a year.
"We are enthusiastic about Minister Legaults commitment to review his governments policy on universities," concludes Prncipal Shapiro. "We hope our discussion paper will stimulate further debate, reflection and in the end new possibilities for Quebec universities and our society."