The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

University looks to boost reputation over next four years: Third Integrated Plan emphasizes research, aboriginal engagement

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The university’s spending and planning will see a heavy focus on research for the next four years, as outlined in the Third Integrated Plan.

The integrated plans, first introduced in 2003, set multi-year priorities for the University of Saskatchewan, with the third plan set to come into effect in early March once the university council and board of governors approve it.

In 2008, the last time administrators set a new four-year agenda, improving the student experience was the top priority. Now, with a third plan almost approved, the focus has shifted.

“Number one: research. It’s about intensifying research and impact of research,” said Brett Fairbairn, university provost and vice-president academic.

The U of S spent more than $206 million on research in 2010-11, an increase of 47 per cent from just four years earlier.

Despite such high spending, however, the university still doesn’t have the reputation or the influence it wants. A draft version of the Third Integrated Plan available online laments that the U of S is 14th out of 15 medical-doctoral schools in awards of prestigious Tri-Agency funding from the federal government.

The document also says the university’s performance in rankings, which is important to recruitment efforts, “continues to stagnate in part because of our poor performance in citation indexes and reputational surveys.”

In other words, U of S research isn’t being cited enough by other scholars and the school still isn’t perceived as the research powerhouse it has worked to become over the last decade.

“The University of Saskatchewan remains a work in progress,” said Fairbairn. “I think we are among the best universities in Canada. I think we’d like to keep making our institution more successful, increase our reputation and have our students’ degrees be even better regarded than they are.”

In rankings and compared to others in the U15 — the country’s medical-doctoral schools — Fairbairn said “we do relatively better on teaching related measures. We do less well than we’d like on research and reputation related measures.”

The Third Integrated Plan, according to the provost, is about “ramping up and rounding out” — continuing to invest in the university’s areas of strength while building up other programs and their calibre of research. The U of S has picked six “signature areas,” ranging from water security to aboriginal education, in which it can gain a global reputation.

Key to its research goals, the university plans to aggressively pursue Tri-Agency research grants, which comprise natural science and engineering, social science and health science funding. But in a tight race for federal research dollars, Fairbairn says that securing those funds for U of S scholars is not just about money.

“It’s a panel of peers who have identified that it’s quality work.”

After boosting research, the Third Integrated Plan’s highest priority is aboriginal engagement, with an ambitious goal of reaching 15 per cent aboriginal enrolment at the U of S by 2020. Currently, aboriginal students comprise only about nine per cent of the student body.

Some other goals to achieve in this category by 2016: increasing the number of aboriginal grads, with more variety in their graduating programs; building closer relationships with provincial aboriginal communities; and building the long-awaited Gordon Oakes–Red Bear Student Centre.

Asked why the U of S made aboriginal education such a high priority, Fairbairn referred to what president Peter MacKinnon has called the university’s “foundational imperative” — namely that the institution should address the biggest social and economic issues facing the province.

“In the early 20th century, that meant that we focused on agriculture,” he explained. “In the early 21st century, it means the success of aboriginal people because of the importance to the future of the province.”

Photo: On Campus News

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