Higher Education Strategy Associates

Tag Archives: indigenous faculty

May 17

Diversity in Canada Research Chairs

One of the hot topics in Ottawa over the past couple of months is the issue of increasing diversity among researchers.   Top posts in academia are still disproportionately occupied by white dudes, and the federal minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan, would like to change that by threatening institutions with a loss of research funding.

There’s no doubt about the nature of the problem.  As in other countries, women and minorities have trouble making it up the career ladder in academia at the same rate as white males.  The reasons for this are well-enough known that I probably needn’t recount them here (though if you really want a good summary try here and here).  There was a point when one might reasonably have suspected that time would take care of the problem.  Once PhD completion rates equalized (until the 1990s they still favored men) and female scientists began making their way up the career ladder, it might have been argued, the problem of representation at the highest levels would take care of itself.  But it quite plainly hasn’t worked out that way and more systemic solutions need to be found.  As for Indigenous scholars and scholars with disabilities, it’s pretty clear we still have a lot of pipeline issues to worry about and equalizing PhD completion rates, in addition to solving problems related to career progression, is a big challenge.

Part of what Ottawa is trying to do is to get institutions to take their responsibilities on career progression seriously by getting them each to commit to equity plans.  Last October, the government announced that institutions without equity plans will become ineligible for new CERC awards; earlier this month, Kirsty Duncan attached the same condition to the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.

(A quick reminder here about how the Chairs program works.  There are two types of awards: Tier 1 awards for top researchers, worth $200,000/year for seven years, and Tier 2 awards for emerging researchers, worth $100,000/year for five years.  There are 2000 awards in total, with roughly equal numbers of Tier 1 and Tier 2 awards.  Each university gets an allocation of chairs based – more or less – on the share of tri-council funding its staff received, with a boost for smaller institutions.  So, University of Toronto gets 256 chairs, Université Ste. Anne gets one, etc.  Within that envelope institutions are free to distribute awards more or less as they see fit.)

The problem is, as the Minister well knows, all institutions already have equity plans and they’re not working.  So she has attached a new condition: they also fix the demographic distribution of chair holders so that they “ensure the demographics of those given the awards reflect the demographics of those academics eligible to receive them” by 2019.  It’s not 100% clear to me what this formulation means. I don’t believe it means that women must occupy 50% of all chairs; I am fairly sure that the qualifier “of those eligible to receive” means something along the lines of “women must occupy a percentage of Tier 1 chairs equal to their share of full professors, and of Tier 2 chairs equal to their share of associate and assistant professors”.

Even with those kind of caveats, reaching the necessary benchmarks in the space of 18-24 months will requires an enormous adjustment.  The figure I’ve seen for major universities is that only 28% of CRCs are women.  Given that only about 15-18% of chairs turn over in any given year, getting that up to the 40-45% range the benchmark implies by 2019 means that between 65 and 79% of all CRC appointments for the next two years will need to be female and probably higher than that for the Tier 1s.  That’s certainly achievable, but it’s almost certain to be accompanied by a lot of general bitchiness among passed-over male candidates.  Brace yourselves.

But while program rules allow Ottawa to use this policy tool to take this major step for gender equality, it will be harder to use it for other equity categories.  Institutions don’t even really have a measure of how many of their faculty have disabilities, so setting benchmarks would be tricky.  Indigenous scholars pose an even trickier problem. According to the formula used for female scholars, Indigenous scholars’  “share” of CRCs might be 1%, or about 20 nationally.  The problem is that only five institutions (Alberta, British Columbia, McGill, Montreal, Toronto) have 100 or more CRCs and would thus be required to reserve a spot for an Indigenous scholar.  An institution like (say) St. FX, which has only five chairs, would have a harder time.  It can achieve gender equity simply by having two or three female chairs.  But how would it achieve parity for Indigenous scholars?  It’s unlikely it could be required to reserve one of its five (20%) spots to an Indigenous scholar.

Many institutions would obviously hire Indigenous faculty anyway, it’s just that the institutional allocations which form the base of this program’s structure make it difficult to achieve some of what Ottawa wants to achieve on equity and diversity.


September 04

Costing an Inuit University

There is an interesting initiative afoot to create something called the Inuit Nunangat University.  A workshop report on the concept is here.  Today, I thought I would contribute to the debate by looking at what such an initiative might cost.

Some background: the idea of an Arctic university is not new.  Many people have noted that Canada is the only member of the Arctic Council that does not have a university north of the Arctic Circle.  This largely has to do with a lack of major population centres, but no matter.  The Gordon Foundation wrote about this problem a few years ago.  At the time, my take on it was that the Arctic could probably support a small university on the model of the University of Greenland – roughly a dozen faculty working mainly in language and culture, with a bit of professional programming (i.e. BEds) thrown in.

Now, this new proposed university is somewhat hazy regarding scope (not surprising given that, at the moment, it’s just a workshop report).  It’s clear given that the proposal is for an Inuit university, rather than a University of Nunavut, that culture and language are going to be at the centre of the institutional mission: this proposal is less a University of the Arctic than it is an Inuit version of First Nations University.  Clearly, the authors have some big hopes for the future – programs in Science, Medicine, and Engineering are proposed – but equally clearly, any northern university is going to be fairly small for a long time.  The Inuit population of Canada is about 72,000; the population of Nunavut is about 35,000.  The territory only churns out about 240 high school graduates each year, and the local college (Nunavut Arctic College) already enrols about 1,300 students per year.  And some university-bound students will choose a southern university regardless of local options.  Put all that together and you’re very unlikely to see enrolments at such a university reach 1,000 for a long time, and 500 is probably a more realistic upper band.

In Canada, there are a number of similarly-sized stand-alone universities.  For instance, there is Université Ste. Anne (370 FT students), Canadian Mennonite University (480 FT) and The King’s University, Alberta  (670 FT students).  And while these universities are usually pretty tight  for money, they are all viable.  But they don’t have research programs to speak of, and they definitely don’t have Engineering or Medical schools attached to them.  These sorts of professional schools simply aren’t feasible without much larger student numbers.

For argument’s sake, let’s say a future Inuit Nunagat University ends up at about 600 students.  That’s close to the size of King’s University in Alberta, which somehow (honestly not sure how they do it) manages to staff faculties of Arts, Social Science, Science, and Business with about 45 full-time professors, on an annual operating budget (in 2013-14) that was just shy of $14 million.  That’s about $21,500 per student – but it doesn’t include any programs that might be considered “high-cost”.  It also assumes you can do all your programming in a single spot, rather than via distance education and community delivery; but that’s anathema in a territory that spans 2 million square miles and three time zones.  And there’s also the fact that staff costs are higher in the north.

To get a sense of what kind of adjustment factor you’d need to make to translate the $21,500 into a Nunavut context, consider the case of Nunavut Arctic College.  It provides programming in something like 25 locations across the territory, and does so at a cost of about $41,000 per student (excluding free services provided to the college by the Government of Nunavut, which would add another $7,700 or so).  That’s roughly two and a half times the per-student cost of college in the rest of the country.  So it seems fair to assume that a King’s-like institution would cost about $21,500 x 2.5 = $53,500 per student.  And that’s just for low-cost programs: no medicine, or engineering, or anything like that.  Total annual cost?  About $32 million.  And that’s before you get to any capital expenditures, or any of the other things on the workshop wish-list, like low tuition, grants, student housing, etc.

Now $32 million is a mind-bogglingly huge amount in the context of Nunavut own-source tax revenues, which are only about $180 million per year.  But since close to 90% of the Nunavut budget comes from Ottawa, it is actually only equal to a little under 2% of the entire territorial budget.  That’s still not a small ask, but it is in the realm of the financially possible, provided ambitions around program offerings remain modest.