by Carol McQueen
Canada is aiming to remain one of the worlds most vibrant and wealthy
societies well into the 21st century. As part of its action plan to maintain
this internationally competitive edge, the federal government is looking
to move Canada from 15th to 5th place by 2010 in the ranking of countries
with the highest ratio of research and development investment to GDP.
To make this leap, the government wants to see enrolment in graduate school
climb by five per cent a year so as to fill an expected 30,000 new job
openings requiring highly skilled labour.
Elizabeth Saccá, Concordias new Dean of Graduate Studies,
is ready to take advantage of this government commitment to higher education.
She knows that now is the perfect time to tackle longstanding funding
problems for graduate students and to increase the competitiveness and
quality of Concordias graduate programs.
With 70 graduate programs and 10 more expected to be in operation within
the next few years, Concordia is well placed, according to Saccá,
to see its enrolment jump from approximately 4,000 today to over 6,000
in 2010. In the pursuit of excellence and expansion, Saccá is determined
to leave no stone unturned.
To facilitate and quicken the admissions process, Saccá is looking
to information systems technology for help. We want to move toward
a Web application, she said, adding that information requests and
communications with prospective students could be handled through a coherent,
centralized system, as opposed to the bunch of little systems we
Attracting new students and keeping current ones in their graduate programs
until completion will require much more than just an improved application
Key to success here will be increasing the levels of funding available
to students. In Quebec, just over 50 per cent of doctoral students actually
complete their course of study. The vast majority of people who
drop out are dropping out at the end, because theyve run out of
Some 97 per cent of Quebec graduate students accumulate debt during their
studies, and 25 per cent of these owe over $25,000 by the end of their
Sacca sees several ways of tackling this problem. One is to convince the
federal government to give more money to graduate students. There
needs to be an increase in the amount of money from the three main federal
funding agencies, she said, adding that she is working closely with
the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada in its lobbying
of the government on this issue.
Saccá also believes that tax laws should be amended to make scholarships
and bursaries exempt from taxation.
She hopes a certain symbiosis will emerge: the more well-funded graduate
students Concordia has, the more quality research the university can undertake,
and thus the more funding it can obtain from such bodies as the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council. These things stimulate
one another, Saccá said, genius doesnt happen
in isolated corners; it usually happens in clusters of people working
Private sources of funding are equally important. I would like to
put into place more endowments, endowed fellowships and assistantships,
Saccá said, and thats going to take working with alumni
and board members who can help us raise funds.
Although Concordia receives less endowments than older universities, it
does have one distinct edge in terms of pulling in graduate students:
its cultural diversity and openness.
Since the student age population in Canada is leveling off, the federal
government predicts that Canadian universities will have to attract more
foreign students and recent immigrants in order to meet proposed targets
for graduate school admissions.
According to the Quebec governments figures, Concordia is the Quebec
university that already most appeals to this clientele. As Quebec
is changing, were in a very interesting, advantageous position because
we are in the middle of the evolution of Quebec, she explained,
and that is breathtaking.
Being an artist and having taught an art education at Concordia since
1975, Saccá is adamant that in its quest for excellence in research
and development, the Canadian government must not favour hard sciences
over social sciences and humanities.
In order to have scientific research thats really productive
and useful and fits into the world, she said, you need culture
and community, and you need to address questions of ethics.
However, she does agree that the humanities and social sciences, where
the dropout rates for graduate students are highest, could adopt more
effective research practices from the physical and life sciences, where
the completion rate of graduate degrees reaches as high as 90 per cent
in some fields.
According to Saccá, research groups are largely responsible for
this success, and she hopes to encourage their formation in the Social
To have a research team that they are part of helps students continue
and finish programs, she explained, they are part of something,
of a little society, a little community.