The U-15 group representing 15 of Canada’s most research-intensive universities plans to become a more formalized organization and also a “more forceful” voice, said Suzanne Corbeil, who was recently appointed the inaugural executive director of the group.
In one of her first interviews since taking on the role March 5, Ms. Corbeil explained that her mandate includes developing a more formal organization for the U-15, and that this includes becoming a more open, upfront organization.
“We will continue all of the things we were doing behind the scenes, but we’re able to add a voice to the dialogue from a group that is focused on the particular issues, concerns and opportunities [of] larger research universities,” she said. “So in that way we are absolutely becoming a more forceful and vocal group.”
However, she added that the group “is proceeding cautiously” in its first year of development. “We will take baby steps and plan our future strategically.”
The U-15 is a self-selected group of large Canadian universities represented by their executive heads. Its current chair is Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University.
The U-15 began informally as the Group of 10, or G10, in 1991 to share institutional research data among universities receiving a large portion of federal research funding: University of Alberta, University of British Columbia, Université Laval, McGill University, McMaster University, Université de Montréal, Queen’s University, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo and University of Western Ontario (now Western University). It expanded in 2006 to the G13 with the addition of the University of Calgary, Dalhousie University and University of Ottawa. Two new members – the University of Manitoba and University of Saskatchewan – were invited to join in 2011, making it a pan-Canadian group. It was then rebranded as the U-15.
“One of the things we need to do is to better define what aligns us,” said Ms. Corbeil, who doesn’t see any change in the group’s composition in the short term.
“At this point there has been no expressed interest by others nor has there been discussion. It’s a key question because if we brand ourselves as the U-15 and then we become the U-16, that is always difficult.” She said that this is one of the “strategic questions” to be discussed over the next few months. The group of 15 university presidents is planning a day-long strategy retreat this summer.
Federally funded research will continue to drive the advocacy work of the U-15 in Ottawa, said Ms. Corbeil, noting that research is closely aligned with quality of education, student engagement, international collaboration and the university experience. She said the association would focus on issues of interest to its community and its voice would “complement” the messaging of the larger Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada whose membership includes 95 public and private, not-for-profit universities and university degree-granting colleges.
Asked whether some AUCC members might be concerned that the U-15 now represents a stronger voice on behalf of one sector of Canada’s universities, Ms. Corbeil said that she believes a rising tide “helps raise all boats.”
“We’re not there to diminish any other piece of the agenda. We’re there to add a spotlight on the issues that are most important to us. I understand that there is potential that … smaller comprehensive universities may feel we have a louder voice and steal more of the agenda, but arguably more of the federal money comes to our community anyway. So it is about influencing policy direction on things that are of most impact to our group. I don’t totally dismiss in any way their concerns, but I think it can be seen not so much as a competing voice but a complementary voice.”
Sharing institutional data remains an important part of the group’s purpose, said Ms. Corbeil. “Part of our advocacy and communications strategies will be around using the data-exchange information in ways that help inform the general public. Moving forward, we’ll look at ways to better communicate what we are finding.”