McGill states its case

"Don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg," Principal Bernard Shapiro warned the National Assembly's Commission de l'éducation on September 10. Stating that universities are central to the growing knowledge economy, Shapiro argued that reduced support for education will weaken growth and compromise the economic future of Quebec society as a whole.

He noted that in terms of global competitiveness, our university system is falling behind. Over a 20-year period, public financial support per student fell 43%, or, in constant dollars, from $8,900 to $5,100. Meanwhile, in the United States, public support rose by 15% during the same period.

"It's not surprising that Quebec universities are having more trouble attracting and keeping the brightest students, and as a consequence may be losing some very promising research potential as well," said Shapiro, who led a delegation of McGill administrators in making the University's presentation to the commission.

He further noted the potential loss of excellent teachers due to retirement and recruitment from institutions outside the province. However, Shapiro also said that Quebec should be proud of how much progress the university system has made since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. He added that it's not too late to prevent further deterioration.

"It seems to me," he said, "that Quebec universities have done their part by absorbing nearly a half-billion dollars in budgetary cuts." He suggested it's time for the government to put higher education back on its list of priorities.

Karl Jarosiewicz

Our docs are tops

While McGill's medical researchers have been busy ploughing their way through stacks of grant applications recently, they've been able to draw strength from a happy thought. The Faculty of Medicine received more money for research projects from the Medical Research Council this spring than any other medical school in the country.

McGill and its affiliated hospitals received $22,904,298 in grants, outperforming its closest competitor, the University of Toronto and its affiliated hospitals, by $774,275. In all, McGill received 15% of the total amount granted by the MRC.

"Furthermore, we garnered half of the MRC senior scientists awards and a full 25% of all the MRC studentships handed out across the country," declares Dean of Medicine Abe Fuks.

The federal government's recent move to allocate more funding to the MRC -- after years of cutting the granting agency's budget -- is a further boon to McGill's medical researchers. "That certainly helped. More people are getting grants," says Dr. Robert Mackenzie, the faculty's associate dean (graduate studies and research). "I think we're all going into this year's competition feeling more optimistic."

Butler's new role

There is a new man on the scene helping to guide McGill's research efforts. Chemistry professor Ian Butler became the new associate vice-principal (research) over the summer, taking over from Dr. Bernard Robaire.

The former chair of the Department of Chemistry, Butler's own research interests include the effects of extreme pressure on the bonding between metal and carbon atoms. In 1997, he won the Spectroscopic Society of Canada's Gerhard Herzberg Award for outstanding achievements in spectroscopy.

Although the federal government increased funding to the major granting agencies in the last budget, Butler says McGill researchers can't relax just yet. The increases were spurred "by a lot of lobbying by a lot of people" in the university community. Butler believes those efforts must continue so that governments don't lose sight of the importance of university research.

He says one of his priorities will likely involve ensuring that research links between the new McGill University Health Centre and the rest of McGill are tight.

Butler notes that granting agencies are focusing more of their support on interdisciplinary research involving teams of scholars, sometimes from different institutions. "The barriers between departments are breaking down." He thinks McGill is well placed to take advantage of this trend because of its interdisciplinary strengths and international activities.

"Looking at my own example, I collaborate with researchers in mining and metallurgical engineering and in the teaching hospitals as well as with people in other countries like France, Brazil, Mexico and the U.S."