How the U of C stacks up

By Tyler Harris

The University of Calgary is attempting to be named one of the top five research universities in Canada by 2016 as part of their strategic plan called Eyes High, but what measures to use for evaluation have yet to be decided.

The document was developed over eight months and over 4,000 students, faculty and community leaders were consulted.

Research, teaching and community integration are the three goals of Eyes High.

U of C president Elizabeth Cannon said the university will use “key performance indicators that people understand, that can be measured, and can be defended” to determining their rank compared to other schools.

“It’s a fine balance, because we don’t want to move to using metrics that aren’t well understood or well accepted in the community,” Cannon said. “On the other hand, you don’t just want to say, well, it’s Maclean’s that defines it, or it’s one of those international rankings, because they come up with a basket that may not fully represent what our ambitions are and what we feel are important as a community.”

Cannon indicated three key performance indicators for measuring success. They included research funding attracted by the university, the number of graduate students, and the number of full-time professors at the U of C.

“In terms of research dollars, we’re fifth; in terms of full-time profs, we’re sixth; and in terms of PhD students, we’re ninth,” Students’ Union vice-president academic Ola Mohajer said. “With full-time profs, we’re good, but with the research dollars we need to increase that by at least $100 million.”

According to Mohajer, the university brought in $283 million in 2010-2011.

Other metrics include alumni support, development dollars raised and the faculty-to-student ratio.

Although the university says that teaching is an important part of measuring the U of C’s success standards, in the Jan. 31 Student Legislature Council vice-president academic Dru Marshall expressed the difficulty of finding a reliable metric to measure teaching quality.

“Teaching is absolutely a measure that we want to have, and there are a variety of ways to look at this issue, and there isn’t a perfect metric right now,” said Marshall.

Marshall said Universal Student Ratings of Instruction scores do not always accurately portray teacher and performance and the National Survey of Student Engagement is only done every few years.

Mohajer said that while the document initially emphasized research, input from the SU resulted in more focus on teaching.

“There was such a lack of focus on teaching. It was all about research,” she said. “I think now, especially with the kind of open relationship that we’ve had with the people working on the strategy summary and administration, and their willingness to listen to students and take in student feedback, it’s a good document.”

Cannon said the goal this year is to decide what measures are important to include in assessing the U of C.

“Being able to do the benchmarking, and then have clarity about what we need to do to be able to impact those areas that we feel need particular attention to help us reach our goals,” said Cannon.

Vice-president research Ed McCauley told the SU Student Legislative Council meeting in November that early involvement in research for undergraduates will be a major focus of the Eyes High project going forward.

“Traditionally, there has been a dichotomy between teaching and research. However, teaching and research should be woven together to create a singular experience and teach broader problem-solving skills,” said McCauley.

As part of the Eyes High strategy a new vice-provost student position will be created, focusing on increasing student engagement from the perspective of students.

Mohajer said that the research now being conducted by undergraduates is highly engaging.

“I think if you were to talk to any of those undergrads who are currently doing undergraduate research, especially if it’s their own project, I think they’ll speak very highly of it, and with a lot of excitement,” she said.

Cannon said how one defines teaching is important.

“From a student’s perspective, I think we sometimes define teaching as that formal instruction in front of the classroom. We take a broader view that teaching is interacting with students inside the classroom, outside the classroom, with your graduate students, supervising students, and so on and so forth.”

Cannon said that while there are desired specific outcomes, especially in achieving the top five goal, a bigger goal is to instil a sense of pride in being associated with the the university.

“This is about the university reaching its potential, and that students who are here are excited to be here.”

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