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Advocacy agenda: universities must be strategic with their requests

BY PEGGY BERKOWITZ | MAR 09 2009

André Dulude joined the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada as its vice-president, national affairs branch, on Jan. 5, the day the association publicly called for federal budget investments in campus infrastructure as a stimulus to the faltering economy and in university research to position Canada for a strong economic recovery.

“So that first day was very intense, and every day since has been very intense,” said Mr. Dulude with a smile. “After a long career in the civil service, being on the other side of the fence for the first time has been a fascinating experience.”

Before joining AUCC, Mr. Dulude worked in 12 federal government departments and agencies, including 12 years in the Privy Council Office. Most recently he was assistant deputy minister, Policy, Partnerships and Corporate Affairs, with Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

After just under two months on the job, Mr. Dulude sat down with Peggy Berkowitz, editor of University Affairs, to discuss what he sees in the near future for AUCC in advocating for university investments during what may be a long worldwide recession.

In early February the federal government gave $2 billion to universities and colleges for infrastructure renewal, $750 million to the Canada Foundation for Innovation over three years, and $87.5 million in new Canada Graduate Scholarships. But some people have criticized the budget for not doing enough for science and research.

I see this as a very sound budget for universities. This is a significant investment in postsecondary infrastructure. But it’s like any federal or provincial budget, you don’t get everything in one year. I think it’s important to see the budget as part of a multi-year plan and that both higher education and university research will benefit from incremental government investment over the coming years.

Is there a chance that universities will see more funding when the Budget implementation is reviewed quarterly by parliament this year?

This is not a typical budget year or budget process. There will be reviews of the budget in March, June and September, so we can expect not only to get fiscal and economic updates but we can also expect that these reviews will provide a window for us to move our priorities forward. This is a significant change. We now have an ongoing advocacy cycle. While we are preparing for the 2010 budget, we have to be ready every day to advance our priorities and our advocacy to secure continuing investments in higher education and research.

In the current climate, what are some of the other challenges for AUCC acting as an advocacy organization on Parliament Hill?

The challenge is to be able as a national association to be truly representative of all our members. There are different kinds of interests – not diverging but different – within the postsecondary education sector, and certainly among institutions, and even within institutions. … I think it’s important [for university executives and professors] to be seen in this town, to be active in this town, but what’s key is to have a common message.

From your experience in government, what works best for a lobby organization in Ottawa?

I would say to be strategic about your demands. In these harsh economic times, the last thing you want to do is move shopping lists forward. I think it’s important to defend the interests of our universities and at the same time, recognize the challenges and pressures that governments face and convey how universities can contribute to Canada’s economic and social development.

You joined AUCC just a few months before a new president, Paul Davidson, takes the helm, in May, joining AUCC from World University Service of Canada, where he is executive director. How do you see your experience complementing his?

Through WUSC, Paul has had numerous interactions with our institutions. He has done a lot of advocacy work. What I bring is a long experience in the federal public service, sound knowledge of the machinery of government and, from my years at the Privy Council Office, extensive exposure to the cabinet process. I’m hoping the universities will benefit from this complementary experience.

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