Permit me a small indulgence as I point your attention to an article I wrote for the February print issue of University Affairs, which is now also posted on our website. The article, titled “AUCC initiatives puts new focus on members,” details several new initiatives being undertaken by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. It’s worth a read if you’d like some insight into where the association is heading. (Although I should point out that, as a membership organization, it’ll be the members themselves, as represented by the university presidents, who will decide in the end the direction for the association.)
As is usual when you’re reporting on a story, there was much more said in the interviews than what made it into the final article, and I wanted to share a bit of that with you. For instance, here is how AUCC President Paul Davidson summed up the last 15 years at Canada’s universities:
Let’s look at what has happened over those last 15 years: rapid increases in enrolment, big increases on research and innovation, there was the whole agenda around reducing the brain drain, and a new generation of faculty was hired – we have 6,000 more faculty now on campuses than 15 years ago, and more than half of faculty now teaching were hired in the past 15 years.
But that was then, and this is now, “so let’s think about where we want to go in the next 15 years,” said Mr. Davidson.
Among the priorities, as identified by AUCC’s board members: addressing issues of academic freedom, improving educational opportunities for aboriginal Canadians, expanding the internationalization of higher education and transforming undergraduate education.
“We’ve really got to reinforce the sense of a national consensus on higher education,” said Mr. Davidson. “Some of these activities feed into making the case with the public that investing in higher education is critically important to Canada’s wealth, prosperity and civility going forward.”
It also seems possible that research and innovation will not be the overriding, number one advocacy item that it has been in the past 15 years – although most university presidents still claim, rightly, that it is important to keep up the momentum in this area.
Here is how Mr. Davidson put it: “In addition to the research and innovation work that people know us for, let’s talk about some other issues as well that are important. … AUCC has had tremendous success over the past 15 years on its advocacy agenda, but we’re in a different time now.”
Pierre Zundel, president of the University of Sudbury, affiliated with Laurentian University, put it more directly: “AUCC has been spending, in the last 10 years, a lot of time talking about a research agenda, which was important. But one of the things it hasn’t talked a lot about has been teaching and undergraduate education and quality of learning.”
Dr. Zundel recently penned an essay for University Affairs with McMaster University President Patrick Deane arguing that undergraduate education needs to be transformed. AUCC is holding a workshop on undergraduate education in Halifax March 6-8, and both Drs. Zundel and Deane will be there to put forward their ideas. “It’s wonderful that AUCC is turning its mind to [this issue] now,” Dr. Zundel said.