2005 was a watershed year for higher education in Ontario. After decades of under investment, Bob Rae’s compelling case for re-investing in our universities and colleges inspired a long overdue response from the provincial government. The Ontario budget announced last May promised the highest level of multi-year funding for postsecondary education seen in this province for 40 years. Later in the year, the stars seemed to align as all four federal parties and all 10 premiers identified post-secondary education as a national priority.
Here at Western, we strengthened our reputation for delivering the best student experience among Canada’s leading research-intensive universities. Once again, Western fared the best of all major Canadian universities in the Globe and Mail’s University Report Card, which invites students across the country to rate their university experience. Western also placed among the top three medical-doctoral universities for the fourth year in a row in the Maclean’s annual rankings. Credit for these accolades belongs entirely to Western faculty, staff and student leaders, whose spirit, expertise and commitment to the quality of the student experience within a research-intensive environment truly sets our university apart.
Despite the good news, many challenges still lie ahead. If Ontarians and Canadians are to compete effectively in the global knowledge economy, we must increase the proportion of our citizens who obtain post-secondary degrees. Provincial grant commitments made in 2005 will only bring Ontario universities up to Canada’s national average – a situation that hampers our ability to compete on a global scale. Indeed, Western and other Ontario universities still lag behind per-student funding ratios afforded our peer institutions in the United States.
A recent study on university participation rates in 20 developed countries, ranked Canada 13th – well behind the leaders. Comparison with the US on enrolment in graduate studies is particularly revealing: a Council of Ontario Universities study, which I chaired, showed that if the province could double PhD enrolment over the next decade, Ontario would only reach the number of PhDs conferred per 100,000 people which the US achieved five years ago. This is where we have put our emphasis: Western will double our PhD enrolment by 2010 over their 2000 levels.
Western entered a new round of strategic planning in the fall and consultation with campus and community leaders is well underway to identify the key priorities Western should pursue in support of its mission, while focusing on four key groups: faculty, staff, students and alumni. While drafting our new strategic plan remains a work in progress, some priorities are clearly evident. With the increase in provincial funding, Western is committed to improving student/faculty and student/staff ratios, enhancing our library system and improving student support services. I also expect the Strategic Planning Task Force to identify new initiatives on both student and faculty recruitment and to look at the future development of Western’s campus.
Looking ahead, our advocacy for increased government funding will continue, and alumni and private sector support will remain critically important to Western’s success. In return, Western faculty, staff and students contribute in countless ways to our local community, across Canada and internationally. We know our interactions with our many constituencies are central to delivering Canada’s best student experience, and strengthening those ties will continue to be a priority.