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April 26, 2001 New challenges for academic planners






by Laurie Zack

SCAPP, the Senate Committee on Academic Planning and Priorities, is about to embark on the next phase of its work and there is no lack of challenges.

One would think that losing 25 per cent or $45 million from your operating budget would define what academic planning under duress is all about. According to Provost Jack Lightstone, this is small potatoes compared to what we are facing in rising enrolment, increased competition for professors and research funds, continued underfunding and an unparalleled technological revolution that will profoundly change the way universities operate.

These are some of the issues he presented to a recent meeting of the Directors’ Council, which regroups Concordia’s service-sector managers.

Lightstone explained that after dropping about half a percentage point per year during the early 1990s, Concordia’s enrolment has skyrocketed to its highest level ever. Applications are up 8 per cent overall and international applications are up 28 per cent. In Engineering and Computer Science alone, there are nearly 1,000 more full-time students than four years ago.

If we don’t recruit these students to Concordia, he warned, they will certainly go elsewhere. Finding space for them is an issue we are addressing with our long-term space planning; finding professors to teach them is another issue.

Thirty-five per cent of Concordia’s teaching personnel are aged 55 and over, and 33 per cent are aged between 45 and 55. Lightstone estimates that we need 150 full-time faculty right now to keep up with the growing enrolment and the current rate of retirement. These 150 hires will take place over the next three years; in the meantime, we will still lose 33-35 per cent of our current professors over the next decade. He estimates that a total of 450 new hires will be needed over the next decade just to keep up.

This situation is mirrored across Canada. Over 33,000 new faculty members will be needed in Canadian universities over the next decade, and the hiring competition between universities will be ferocious.

“This is a once-in-a-30-year opportunity that can be seized or lost.”

Again, the longer we wait to get into this hiring market, the more expensive it becomes.

Hiring so many young professors will also require special support in terms of helping them find their feet as young researchers and coaching them through the grant application process. The same is true for helping them adjust to teaching at the university level. Losing so many experienced researchers and teaching role models will not help either.

All this will have probably have to be done without any new influx of operating budget money from Quebec, as the federal government will not likely be increasing transfer payments to the provinces in the near future. The most significant new money will be for research, on a competitive basis.

The federal government has committed to $3.7 billion in new research and innovation funds, and is considering providing funds to universities to consolidate the infrastructure to support research. This puts the onus on Concordia to raise its research profile and go after these funds.
The last challenge that Lightstone raised was the revolution in technology or how we “validate, archive, disseminate and access information”.

To many incoming students, access to the Internet and on-line course content is a given. They are stunned when it isn’t available. Projects like wireless Internet access throughout the university is a “when” question, not a “why” one.

The new technology means that teaching models are changing, student expectation is changing and younger faculty members too have their own expectations of what the university should offer in high-tech course delivery and resources for students. The new technology affects all levels of university operations.

Lightstone concluded by pointing out that the demand for university education will only grow. The U.S. projects that it will require over 30 per cent of its population to be university-educated before the end of the decade. Much like the high school leaving certificate of old, a university degree is quickly becoming a requirement.

The demand for university education will bring an influx of students with new problems and particular needs. In addition to other adjustments, we will need to find ways of helping massive numbers of these new students adjust to university life and expectations and maximize their chances of success in their studies — without lowering our standards.

Over the next four or five months, each Faculty will be examining how these issues present themselves in their particular areas. Next fall, they will bring recommendations to SCAPP.