"Real world" partnerships draw mixed reviews

by Michelle Rainer

At December's University Senate meeting, members of the student union and the Faculty of Arts and Science expressed concern that an outside body will have the power to decide whether or not students can graduate from a new diploma in accountancy, once again calling attention to the debate over the role of the private sector in public universities.

"I personally would not like to see in the Faculty of Arts and Science a program where the student completed all the work and then did not receive a degree," said Martin Singer, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, in an interview. "The issue is really who has control over the curriculum and who graduates." However, he said that there is more than one academic culture to be considered, and he wouldn't stand in another Faculty's way.

In the end, the motion to create the program was passed unopposed, with 13 members abstaining. But diminishing government funding and increasing demands for professionals to fuel our burgeoning high-tech industries mean it's a debate the university may be hearing more and more often.

The MBA (Management Investment option) was one of over a dozen new graduate and certificate programs that were approved at the meeting. Others included a graduate diploma in Environmental Impact Assessment and another in Investment Management.

These one-year, intensive programs offer students the chance to gain professional qualifications without doing a two-year Master's degree, and Concordia is not the only university to offer them.

"This is a trend that is pretty heavy and sustained all across the country," said Claude Bˇdard, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. Bedard believes that because the programs are often funded by private enterprise, the trend is a winning situation for everyone involved. The university saves money, the students upgrade their education, and industry adds to the pool of qualified professionals it needs.

"Sometimes a group from outside the university will come to us and say, 'Look, we have a real interest in seeing a program in X or Y or whatever.' And sometimes they would say, 'We can offer you some money to launch the program,'" said Bˇdard. "We will only follow up on such requests if we feel that they pose no [financial] risk to us."

Bˇdard is quick to point out that the university does not accept every offer that comes along, and that it is careful to ensure that it is the university, not industry, that sets the curriculum.

"I'm not worried about this turning into something that might undermine us," he said. "Personally, I find it quite exciting when a university comes up with new programs. The contrary is that you become a dinosaur."

No one is more familiar with corporate funding than the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. In the past few years, the Faculty has seen the creation of many new industry-driven programs.

"Society is undergoing a change based on new technology. New professions are evolving," said Dean Nabil Esmail. "The economy is creating progressively new kinds of employment and they are asking us to prepare students for these jobs."

Esmail says that these courses are not only at the graduate level. For example, the Faculty will soon offer a Bachelor's degree in Software Engineering after receiving a $1.5-million donation from industry, along with a further $1 million from the provincial government.

"The graduates of this program are gold for them," said Esmail. He is adamant that although the needs of the market are taken into consideration, Concordia has the last say on the content of its programs. "Our job is to defend the academic integrity of this place," he said. "I'm not going to make a Faustian deal here."

Rob Green, president of the Concordia Student Union, says he's not convinced. "I don't see any problem with the university offering a one-year graduate program if the material can be covered in one year," he said of the accelerated professional degrees. "I think that what's going on, however, is the agenda of the university and the provincial government to privatize education and get more corporate donations."

Green feels that the focus these programs put on training students for specific jobs may come at the expense of "courses that don't necessarily have an end in terms of employment." He noted that many departments in the Faculty of Arts and Science have seen funding cuts recently. "There's nothing to say that you couldn't come up with a one-year post-grad in women's studies, but that hasn't happened yet."

Like many others in the student society, Green says that the only answer is to increase government funding. "If we become a training centre for corporations, why is the public paying for it?" he asked. "Privatization is not the answer."

Short programs art


This is how one student sees the university classroom: a dollar bill lecturing to sponges. Dylan Young, a Design Art student, calls his piece Class Act. It was included in a book of art and essays by Montrealers called Avmor Celebrates the New Millennium.

Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.