Western Canadian universities outshining eastern counterparts

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Graham Cook — The Peak (Simon Fraser University)


BURNABY (CUP) —A recent study by the Higher Education Strategy Associates (HESA) reports that Western Canada is the new epicentre for post-secondary education.

The Toronto-based firm specializes in measurement systems, data collection, and strategic development and also founded the Canadian Education Project.

Alex Usher, president of HESA, suggested that “the intellectual centre of gravity of Canada is shifting west much faster than people realize.”

The past two decades have seen the University of British Columbia, the University of Victoria, the University of Alberta, and the University of Saskatchewan out-compete prestigious Ontario schools such as Queen’s, McMaster, and the Universities of Waterloo and Western Ontario for academic talent, as well as funding.

Usher added that it was “noticeable that more of the excellence money is heading west these days with no new money [in Ontario].”

This was shown when the Canadian government created 19 Excellence Research Chair awards, new $10-million prizes to go to leading researchers who had established programs at their home universities.

Two researchers at both the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto received recognition, while other Ontario schools struggled, with the University of Ottawa gaining one and Queen’s failing to qualify for any. Meanwhile, the University of Alberta won four and UBC won a total of $24 million.

The issue also lies in politics, says Usher. In Ontario, none of the leading parties are promising any increases to post-secondary funding.

In contrast, B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix is claiming that they will reinstate the tuition freeze that was scrapped by former Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell in February of 2002, while Christy Clark’s Liberals are telling voters that they will implement new grants.

Without any new financial support, post-secondary institutions in Ontario are in a tough situation. While some schools might be able to ease financial woes by attracting the high-tuition fees of international students, Usher felt that  “institutions are limited in options in terms of meeting their bills for the next little while … I am bleak about Ontario; this is what happens when you have a $15-billion deficit.”

The situation looks to have become even more complicated, as on October 6 a Liberal minority was elected in Ontario with Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives forming the official opposition.

While Hudak has promised to increase post-secondary investment by $600 million annually, they also plan to scrap the province’s $30-million foreign scholarship program pledged by the Liberals.

Usher’s view is that Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals have given Ontario what could be their best years for higher education funding, but that things have been deteriorating for a while.

“Twenty years ago, you could have made a case that three or four of the top seven or eight universities in the country were in Ontario. I don’t think you could make that claim today.”

The report illustrates that universities and colleges in western Canada have been thriving for the past two decades, compared to their eastern counterparts.

While things look promising for the region as a whole, this news comes just days after Times Higher Education’s latest rankings showed Simon Fraser University slipping out of the top 200 schools worldwide.


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