Government partnership key to pursuit of Western's mission
Last November, I had an opportunity to meet with Ontario’s Deputy Minister of Training, Colleges and University, Philip Steenkamp, to express Western’s strong continued support for the government’s Reaching Higher plan to provide for accessible and high-quality education in our province.
We discussed the Ontario Trust for Student Support, which matches private donations directed toward student aid. Western has benefitted greatly from this program. There is, however, a significant amount of unmatched gifts at Western and at some other universities, and I urged the Deputy to seek special one-time funding to deal with this issue, to keep our fundraising for student aid on track.
In recent years, Western has been tremendously successful in attracting private support of this kind, and as we enter into our next formal fundraising campaign, we are keen to see government incentives in place that will enable us to continue expanding our capacity for making a Western education accessible to students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
We also talked about the importance of increased capital funding to support the ongoing construction and renewal of campus facilities. Having modern, well-maintained facilities is critically important to university teaching and research, which is why Western is investing $230 million in a variety of building and renovation projects over the next several years.
At the same time, however, Western continues to grapple with the perennial problem of deferred maintenance costs. Further government and private sector support will remain essential to meeting our future needs. In that context, we are delighted with the recent Provincial announcement of $13 million for facilities renewal, which will allow us to proceed more quickly with some key projects, including renewal of the Biological and Geological Sciences Building, already approved by the Board
Another important component of the McGuinty Government’s Reaching Higher plan that we discussed is the expansion of graduate education in our province. Through their research, innovation and role in the commercialization of new ideas, today’s graduate students will be the key to attracting tomorrow’s jobs in Ontario’s knowledge economy. Reaching Higher included significant operating funding for additional graduate students, something Ontario universities had been seeking for over a decade. Western intends to double the number of PhD students over the next decade, and Provincial operating funding linked to graduate enrolment is essential to the realization of our aspirations.
Attracting graduate students to our University depends on the quality of our faculty, facilities and programs – and also upon the level of financial support we can offer prospective students. The Ontario Graduate Scholarship program, which matches private support to create new graduate student scholarships, has been an unqualified success. As such, we have joined other Ontario universities in urging the government to increase significantly the number of graduate scholarships, so that we may continue working in partnership to expand our graduate enrolment.
The Reaching Higher plan has made a measurable difference in quality at Western, where after a prolonged drought in the hiring of new faculty due to funding reductions in the 1990s, for the past several years we have been hiring new faculty members in numbers unprecedented since the 1960s. We have also been able to increase our complement of staff, so that students get better support services and have more access to faculty.
These are important measures that signal Western is succeeding in pursuit of its mission of providing the best student experience among Canada’s leading research-intensive universities. And as we embark on our next formal fundraising campaign, we will continue to advocate with the province to continue its historic investment in and commitment to postsecondary education in the years ahead.