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G5 criticism continues to pour in

September 3, 2009

My my, how the hackles have been raised. The proposal to reorient national education policy to officially and explicitly name and recognize Canada’s “elite” research universities – the self-identified “G5” of UBC, UofA, UofT, Mcgill, and UdeM – continues to be roundly condemned. Editorialists, academics, and students from coast to coast have been awoken from their summer slumber to defend their respective institutions from the G5’s “arrogant” proposal.

Even editorialists at the newspapers in G5 cities are criticizing the plan. In fact, it is hard to find anyone publicly supporting it. The G5 leaders themselves, having fired the first shot (so to speak), have been strangely mum in the debate – perhaps they realize that their short-sighted and self-aggrandizing proposal is going down in flames. They surely expected pushback from their colleagues across the country. Perhaps since these colleagues work at such plebeian institutions, they expected criticism to be ignored, or at least poorly expressed.

I’ve excerpted a few bits from various sources below, and have linked to the originals.

Victoria Times-Colonist: Perhaps, in the lofty ivory towers of the self-anointed elite, [the proposal] makes sense… The best research should be supported. But that effort will be undermined if a two-tier university system limits free competition based on ideas, creativity, collaboration and hard work.

The Toronto Star: Canada’s big five universities have long cried poor over funding shortfalls. Now they’ve found an easier target: their little brothers. As cash grabs go, this one is embarrassingly unimaginative. And in public policy terms, it seems utterly counterproductive.

The big boys – at the universities of Toronto, Alberta, B.C., Montreal and McGill – say it’s time to concentrate our scarce research dollars on the biggest and best schools. They make the specious – and self-serving – argument that government should stop spreading funding far and wide.

But the big five have yet to make the case that the biggest are, in fact, the best. Or that Canada would be any better off by starving or emasculating some of our other most established universities in order to shore up the big five.

Montreal Gazette (ed: home to two-fifths of the “G5”): This arrogant proposal should be nipped in the bud. Relegating all other universities across the country to second-place status would be damaging, and is unnecessary. McGill and the other schools involved would do better to show a little solidarity in demanding that governments support all higher education more enthusiastically.

…There’s nothing wrong with elitism in academia. But elite status must be earned and re-earned by merit, not merely conferred by pedigree. Research funding in Canada is – and should continue to be – awarded on the basis of open competition. Every researcher, every school is free to go after as much money as imagination, intelligence and physical and human infrastructure allow.

Le Devoir (ed: op-ed piece by Allan Rock, President of UofOttawa and no stranger to politics…): …un système universitaire à deux niveaux au Canada s’éloignerait des principes et des pratiques qui, en ce moment, soutiennent la diversité de nos forces en recherche sans brimer la quête de reconnaissance mondiale de l’élite. Le Canada devrait avoir comme priorité d’encourager et d’élargir notre participation à la course à l’innovation, et non de la restreindre.

(ed note: Rock also levels a transparent (and to my mind, funny) criticism that the G5 concept is flawed because the five most research-intensive universities may change from year to year. He points out – coincidentally, perhaps – that just two years ago, his university (UofOttawa) slipped from fifth to seventh and suggests that UofO is about to move back into fifth place, thus hedging his bets. You can take the man out of politics, but…)

The McGill Tribune (ed: newspaper published by undergraduates at G5-member McGill): It should be the prerogative of each Canadian university – not the government – to determine what sort of institution it will be. Many Canadian schools, such as Queen’s University and the University of Western Ontario, try to strike a balance between research and undergraduate studies. They should be allowed to do so, just as McGill should be allowed to focus on graduate studies. A university’s focus shouldn’t be nationally mandated.

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