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CAUT Bulletin Archives

June 2011

NSERC evaluation procedures troubling

The implications of NSERC’s new evaluation procedures for smaller universities are deeply troubling. As Paul Sanborn points out (Letters, Bulletin, May 2011) NSERC’s increased emphasis on highly qualified personnel (HQP) lies at the heart of our concerns.

Let us be clear; we at the primarily undergraduate universities are in the business of training HQP. Frequently they are undergraduate HQP. If our university has a masters program or we have adjunct status at a larger univer­sity, we may train some graduate students as well.

In six years at the University of Winnipeg, I have trained three graduate students and served on several graduate committees. And yet it was common, even before the recent changes, to receive grant reviews that said things such as “it is hard to see how Prof. Park will fulfill his research agenda when he has limited access to HQP.”

The new rules have made me and my colleagues fearful for the future of our research. Our research office has written to NSERC seeking clarification on how smaller universities are to be treated. However, it is far from clear that NSERC is hearing the messages coming from smaller institutions, or has any better appreciation of our circumstances than in the past.

Uncertainty breeds paranoia, and some of us are now entertaining the notion that when NSERC says “HQP” it is really saying “PhD.” And yet every PhD student was once an undergraduate. My honours students have gone straight into PhD programs, into law school, and into education. Is NSERC going to acknowledge my role in pre­paring these young people for their higher training? We do not know. Is NSERC going to recognize that profs from small universities also train graduate students? No idea.

What we need from NSERC is a pronouncement — written in plain English and not their usual fog of bureaucratic prevarication — that clarifies just how applicants from small universities, and their HQP in particular, are going to be treated.

Andrew Park
University of Winnipeg