Shapiro, Martin face off

DANIEL McCABE | Canadian finance minister Paul Martin met with a group of university presidents and corporate CEOs on Monday, and according to news reports, Principal Bernard Shapiro gave him an earful.

Local radio broadcasts and a Canadian Press story in Tuesday's Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail said Shapiro chastised Martin's government for not doing enough to support education in this country.

"We need a major change, a real core funding for Canadian universities," said Shapiro. He noted that American colleges receive far more government support than do their Canadian counterparts. The publicly funded University of Michigan gets almost twice the federal funding as the similar-sized University of Toronto, for instance.

Martin replied, "There's no doubt that American universities are far better financed. But it's always been that way." He added that while Canada is making headway against the deficit, there is still plenty to be done before the government can commit itself to new spending goals.

The exchange between the principal and the minister took place during the annual general meeting of the Corporate Higher Education Forum  whose membership includes leaders from academic institutions and the business community.

According to the CP story, Shapiro also talked about the numbers of university professors who have either retired or left their jobs in search of better employment. "We're facing a brain drain. It's difficult to maintain our best people."

In an interview with the Reporter, Shapiro stated that his discussion with Martin wasn't quite as confrontational as the press accounts portrayed it. "He was asking for advice and I gave him some."

The principal's talk about faculty losses comes on the heels of a newly released report from the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada entitled Academic Brain Drain. The report, put together for the AUCC by the ARA Consulting Group, states that in the last two years, Canada has lost about 2,700 faculty members  chiefly to early retirement or buy-out packages, but also to job offers from universities in other countries or organizations outside academia.

Only about half of the professors who have left their jobs have been replaced. "We simply don't have the resources to replace the professors who are going," says Shapiro. "In some cases, when we're lucky, we're able to hire junior people, but there is still a net loss of experience and quality."

Shapiro says that many of the country's best professors are being "actively courted" by richer universities outside Canada or by nonacademic institutions or research agencies.

The government's Canada Foundation for Innovation will be a boost to universities as it will help to set up the quality labs and research equipment they'll need to attract and retain top academics. But a well equipped work-place is only part of the equation, says Shapiro.

"It's all very well to have the pipeline in place, but you have to have the oil to go through it. We have to be able to offer the people who do the research competitive salaries so that they'll work in these improved research facilities."