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CAUT Bulletin Archives

March 2002

Newfoundland, Labrador Left Behind in Research Funding

Regional universities and colleges in Canada are losing ground to other institutions because of the way federal research money is being divided across the country, a senior administrator at Memorial University of Newfoundland is charging.

Appearing before a public hearing on the future of post-secondary education organized by CAUT in St. John's last month, Chris Loomis, vice-president of research and international relations at Memorial University, said recent federal initiatives to boost research funding have led to an "increasing and disproportionate allocation of research funding to the larger provinces and the larger universities within those provinces."

Loomis claims various "partnering" programs introduced by Ottawa, such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation which requires a 60 per cent match for all programs from the private sector or other local sources, have driven more research into regions of the country where matching funding is most readily available.

"Unlike many other provinces with dedicated and stable CFI matching programs, researchers in Newfoundland and Labrador are often required to find the entire 60 per cent match - a daunting challenge in a region with major fiscal restraints and few industrial partners," Loomis said.

And the disparity in research funding, he added, is made worse by the allocation of the Canada Research Chairs.

"The decision to use a formula for allocation predetermined their distribution with a predictable outcome," he said. "Whereas Memorial received 22 chairs over five years, the University of Toronto, for example, received more than 270 chairs."

Faculty Renewal

The hearings in St. John's, chaired by Philip Warren, former provincial education minister and current chair of the Premier's Advisory Council on Social Development, also heard the challenge of faculty renewal is one of the most difficult ones facing the province.

William Schipper, president of Memorial University of Newfoundland Faculty Association, said one-quarter of the full-time faculty positions have disappeared at the university over the past 10 years.

"In subjects of vital public importance, the university is only barely able to deliver appropriate instruction," Schipper said. "To give just one example, in a province which faces difficult problems with contamination of drinking water, instruction in epidemiology now depends on one retired faculty member who is continuing to teach on a course by course basis."

In the next 10 years, he added, almost half of the current faculty complement at Memorial will retire.

"Attracting new faculty to Memorial is not easy. Faculty salaries increased by about 22 per cent with the current contract, but the salary increases for tenured faculty have not made positions at Memorial any more attractive," he said. "The averages are still below the national averages for equivalent ranks and major universities in the mainland provinces are also facing the need for replacing most of their faculty complement. Memorial cannot easily compete in such a market."

Like other universities, Memorial has increasingly relied upon contract and part-time academic staff to make up for the shortfall in full-time faculty members.

Michael Long, a lecturer at Memorial, said contract staff are paid surprisingly little and are given heavy workloads.

"On average, I will teach three classes of introductory English literature with approximately 42 students in each class, every one of whom will write four essays for me over the term and then a final exam. A quick calculation tells me that over the course of two semesters I will read, edit, correct, comment on, and grade five thousand and forty pages of student writing," Long reported.

Tuition Fees

Student groups also took part in the hearings, and highlighted the problems they face in the wake of rising tuition fees.

Liam Walsh, president of the Canadian Federation of Students (Newfoundland and Labrador) says student debt loads in his province have risen dramatically in recent years.

"The average four-year undergraduate degree in this province now gives a student an average debt load of $26,000. That's up from about $8,000 in 1994," Walsh said. "We've got one of the highest debt loads in the country and that isn't a surprise when you consider that family incomes are so low here."

Recent federal programs, he added, such as the Millennium Scholarships, have done little to help students in the province.

"The big problem with the Millennium Scholarship Fund is that it's based on population, and not based on need when it's allocated to the provinces," he said. "In this province, we have double the need of Nova Scotia but only get half the money."

Ally Ayoob of Memorial's International Student's Centre argued for the need to provide more services to international students.

"International students make a valuable contribution to Memorial, yet we feel our contribution isn't often recognized," Ayoob said. "We pay more fees and yet when we arrive at Memorial we find there are few services and little support offered to international students.

"We pay taxes here and contribute to the local economy but we are still charged very high fees. We feel we are being treated as cash cows and it's not fair."

Several politicians also made presentations to the hearings in St. John's.

Loyola Hearn, Conservative MP for the federal riding of St. John's West, called on Ottawa to take a lead role in fixing the problems in Canada's post-secondary education system.

"Canadians have a fundamental right to post-secondary education and because of the profound national impact of post-secondary education, the federal government should take the lead in developing a pan-Canadian, post-secondary education system that benefits all Canadians," said Hearn.

"One of the measures the government of Canada should consider is preparing a post-secondary education act, similar to the Canada Health Act, that enunciates principles that can be applied to post-secondary institutions, the provinces, and to the federal government itself."

Jack Harris, the leader of Newfoundland and Labrador's New Democratic Party, warned that high student debt loads are driving educated young people out of the province.

"The province that can least afford to lose educated people is losing them to the richer provinces," Harris said. "They've got so much debt at the end of the day they can't stay here because they have to go where they can make the biggest dollars."

Elaine Price, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, suggested that providing greater access to post-secondary education would help the province overcome some of the challenges it faces.

"Our workforce is aging. Our overall population is declining. Many of our educated and highly skilled people are leaving to find meaningful employment in other provinces and abroad," Price said.

"To complicate matters even more, our remaining workforce is less educated relative to our competitors. Public education and training surely has a key role to play in our social and economic development."

"Someone said earlier that post-secondary education in this province and in this country is at the crossroads," Warren said during his closing remarks. "I think we've heard ample evidence of that today. We do have a serious situation and we need to keep the dialogue going so that we can find some real solutions."