Two-tier university system ? No, thanks

I was going to post my thoughts on this subject, but then I read this editorial by Carleton University President Roseann O’Reilly Runte, and I feel that I really have nothing else to add to what she says. I completely agree with her, even though, as a faculty at one of the institutions that would stand to benefit from the creation of a two-tier university system in Canada (background here), the proposed change would probably serve me well.

Establishing a system wherein the bulk of research funding would go to few “elite” institutions, leaving just the crumbs to all the others, would inevitably lead to an academic scene in Canada resembling that south of the border, i.e., a world consisting for the most parts of “havenots” (faculty and students at most universities), with a small, privileged caste concentrated to a handful of “historically renowned” places.
While on the one hand it is quite acceptable and normal that, to some extent, such a situation may exist at any given juncture, the idea that it should be locked in place forever by directing research funding to few “haves” is really a bad one.
There is a lot to be said for a funding system that allows resourceful, hard-working and ingenious researchers to thrive even at smaller institutions, whose primary focus is on teaching rather than research. Any university, college, department with the will and the strategy to do so, should be able to create a local research group of international prominence, capable of attracting students and faculty from all over the world.
I am not one of those who believe competition to be always a good thing, but in this case I think a very strong argument can be made in its favor.

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4 Responses to “Two-tier university system ? No, thanks”

  1. Schlupp Says:

    As far as I get it, the one argument IN FAVOR of declaring some institutions as elite and helping them a lot at the cost of others, is visibility. If 5 universities are good in one field each. only specialists know. If one is good in five disciplinesm, it might show up in some ranking. So, is the purpose of universities to do research and to teach students, or is it to win competitions and bolster someone’s ego? Hint: For the latter, we already have professional sports.

  2. Professor in Training Says:

    They’re proposing a similar thing in my homeland and are even considering consolidating teaching programs so that there’s less duplication of degrees. About 90% of our universities are public so the government has the power to make it happen if they so choose. In reality, we already have an unofficial two-tiered system as the big research-intensive schools (about 25% of the total) have already banded together for various initiatives and are all consistently listed in the world’s top 100 schools.

  3. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    Sounds like a horrible idea, I hope it fails. It’s the academic equivalent of trying to prevent social mobility.

  4. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    Looks like the idea is dead in the water, fortunately…

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