by Laurie Zack
Concordia may need to revise the way it administers its growing research
Speaking recently to a group of departmental directors, Provost and Vice-Rector
Research Jack Lightstone outlined the forces that are reshaping the research
landscape in Canada.
Fierce competition for faculty
Over the next 10 years, Canadian universities will need to hire 35,000
new full-time faculty members. The children of the baby boomers have hit
university. Add to that the projected retirement in the next decade of
close to 60 per cent of current faculty, and the competition to hire new
teachers and researchers becomes ferocious.
In fact, Lightstone pointed out, there are not enough candidates available
here or in the U.S. (which is experiencing the same phenomenon) to fill
this brain pool. A reflection of this reality is the recent announcement
by Human Resources Development Canada of a relaxation of rules to allow
universities to recruit simultaneously in Canada and abroad.
The key to survival in this competitive situation is to get to market
early and hire early, Lightstone said. To our credit, because
of our excellent budget management, we can use government reinvestment
funds for development and not to balance our budget, as other Quebec
universities have to do.
New funding reality
The other factor working towards a redefinition of university research
is the new reality of federal research funding. The name of the game is
Since the massive cutbacks in federal transfer payments to the provinces
in the early 1990s, the federal government has launched a series of granting
programs that are distributing millions of dollars to university research
Where the old funding formula was based on equity, the new programs are
on a highly competitive basis. The type of project funded is often interdisciplinary
and inter-institutional, and may involve large networks or consortia of
researchers from different institutions.
The challenge facing Concordia will be to support and develop a new generation
of young researchers, often in the first 10 years of their careers, as
they fight for a portion of the research funding pie.
These factors will necessarily affect how Concordia manages and supports
its growing research profile. Increased competition, the need for inter-university
coordination and the recruitment and supervision of graduate students
are all key factors that will need to be addressed.
From where he sits, the Provost thinks that the situation requires a chief
research officer. The position already exists in many other institutions
under a variety of names, often VP Research. Because of cutbacks in administrative
positions at Concordia over the years, the Provost handles both the teaching
and research responsibilities. This is no longer viable, Lightstone says.
We have one of the best research offices in the country that does
an excellent job with the mechanics of grant applications, but what we
also need is help with the content of applications. We need a system in
the Faculties to aid and mentor young researchers to develop and write
their projects. We need to coordinate and monitor all of this, university-wide,
at a very senior level.
Lightstone sees this dossier as distinct from the responsibilities of
the Dean of Graduate Studies. He sees the Chief Research Officer position,
whatever its title, reporting to the Provost or possibly the Rector.
This new reality of highly competitive research funding and its impact
on the university has been the subject of initial reflection at various
levels of the academic governance structure and will surely be enriched
by debate and discussion in the months to come.