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.