Contrat concluded

Contrat concluded McGill University

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McGill Reporter
January 11, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 08
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Contrat concluded

McGill's "contrat de performance" with the Quebec government is a done deal -- signed, sealed and delivered.

Education minister François Legault visited McGill last month to apply his John Hancock to the agreement -- a deal specifying commitments that McGill is making over the next few years. In return for the promises spelled out in these contracts with the province's universities, the government is pledging to make a significant reinvestment in higher education. In McGill's case that will mean that the University will see about $100 million in additional funding over the next three years. By 2002-2003, McGill will be receiving close to $50 million more in annual funding from Quebec City.

At the press conference that accompanied the formal signing, Principal Shapiro reflected on the toll taken on Quebec's universities by years of budget cuts in the 1990s.

"The sacrifices have been many and the cost, both visible and invisible, deeply wounding. The whole Quebec university network has been destabilized, and we thank the minister most sincerely for recognizing its fragility and for taking this first significant step."

For his part, Legault said his government's new approach to funding universities -- increased support with conditions attached to them -- "is fair, equitable and transparent."

While some members of Senate have expressed concern about the "contrat" process -- "there are people who worry that the government is invading the autonomy of universities," notes Shapiro -- the contrat is almost exclusively a document of McGill's own design, expressing commitments that McGill would be making in any case.

Chief among those commitments: increasing McGill's market share of Quebec students from 9.3% to 9.8%, while maintaining high admissions standards; increasing the proportion of international students at the University from 21.3% to 25% of the student body; hiring 100 new professors within three years; protecting McGill's quality in foundation disciplines while building up new strengths in other areas (bioinformatics, language acquisition and e-commerce to name a few); increasing the quality and quantity of services offered to students -- especially those aimed at the francophone Quebec population; hiring more support staff.

"There were two issues dealt with in the agreement that reflected the particular concerns of the minister," Shapiro says.

"One has to do with graduation rates. We have the best degree completion rates in the province, but there are two areas that are lower compared to the rest of the University -- music and religious studies. We believe that even in those disciplines, our completion rates are as good or better than anyone else's, but we want to improve them nonetheless."

Legault's other addition to the contrat with McGill relates to teaching responsibilities. "We've agreed to gradually increase the percentage of courses taught by tenure-track faculty," Shapiro states. "The inclusion of that commitment reflects the minister's concern, but this was something we wished to do anyway."

As for those who worry that the contrat process represents a sinister new trend -- the government telling universities what to do -- Shapiro says it's a legitimate issue, but not one that will keep him awake at night.

"There are always strings attached to funding, no matter what the source. The question we need to ask is 'Are they the right strings, given what we want to accomplish academically?'" And he says he sees "no evidence" that the government is planning on getting overly involved in the affairs of Quebec universities.

Shapiro says he is "very grateful" that McGill will be receiving this new funding, but adds that the government will have to make further investments if it expects its universities to continue to perform well in the years to come.

"If we are going to recruit top academic staff and support staff, if we are going to sustain our teaching and research programs, the costs associated with that are rising."

While at McGill, Legault made another major announcement. The government officially pledged $20 million to McGill, as well as interest dating back to 1998, to purchase the buildings on Macdonald Campus used by John Abbott CEGEP. John Abbott had been renting the space from McGill. Quebec City will be buying the buildings on behalf of John Abbott.

Shapiro says the details of the deal are still being worked out, but that the money should help ensure "a more solid framework for the funding of Macdonald Campus."

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