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November 22, 2001 Research needs may drive administrative changes




by Laurie Zack

Concordia may need to revise the way it administers its growing research profile.

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 competition.

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 projects.

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.