Questions Remain Over University Research

Opinions Diverge in Rimouski During Final Pre-Summit Meeting

Discussion of university research in Quebec was met with a flood of conflicting opinions during the final preparatory meeting for the province-wide summit on education, now just weeks away.

Held at Université du Québec à Rimouski, this was the fourth meeting held by the Ministère l’enseignement supérieur, de la recherche, de la science et de la technologie in the lead up to the summit, and was set to focus on “the contribution of educational institutions and of research to Québec’s overall development.”

While the meeting highlighted research achievements in Quebec, it also exposed concerns about how research is being done—and paid for—in the province’s universities.

“Everybody thinks that research is important, it’s one of the three missions of every university,” said Martine Desjardins, president of the Federation etudiante universitaire du Quebec in an interview with The Link on Jan.31.

“How much money is needed for every type of research is maybe one of the disagreements.”

The FEUQ proposes that Quebec funding through the Fonds de recherche du Quebec, which currently favours health research, should be divided evenly between all areas of study. It also calls for more bursary funding and an equilibrium between basic and applied research.

Funding Model Debacles

The way university research should be financed, as well as the rise of public-private partnerships in university research and the role of the technology transfer industry (where skills, knowledge and technologies developed in universities are sold to companies) was also discussed at the meeting.

Carole Neill of the FTQ, for example, warned against what she called the “American model” of research management, in which teaching and basic research take second place to high-profile, corporate-funded research. She proposed a Quebec charter for universities to establish guidelines and safeguards.

Desjardins explained to The Link that for its part, the FEUQ doesn’t oppose partnerships between university researchers and the corporate world—it does however want to see tighter regulation.

“Students are losing their intellectual rights, because it’s all going to the corporations,” Desjardins said. “We need to reinforce the law.”

The Conférence des recteurs et des principaux des universités du Québec, on the other hand, dismissed the issue of corporate influence as myth.

“The private sector funds only 12 per cent of research in Quebec universities,” said Luce Samoisette, rector of the Université de Sherbrooke. “The truth is, the researcher is the governor of his research.”

“Students are losing their intellectual rights, because it’s all going to the corporations. We need to reinforce the law.”
—Martine Desjardins, FEUQ President

Questioning The Cuts

University research was hit with funding cuts in December, in conjunction with the ending of the Strategie Quebecoise de la recherche et de l’innovation.

“We need that money back, this is very urgent,” Desjardins said, adding that the FEUQ was particularly angry about the cuts because they will result in losses for student research bursaries.

“The government needs to step back on this proposition they made because it’s not going well for our students,” she added.

During a press conference Friday afternoon, higher education minister Pierre Duchesnene announced that conferences would be held in April to establish a Politique nationale de la recherche et de l’innovation that would outline funding options for the future.

At the same press conference, Duchesne made it clear that a final decision on tuition would come out of the summit which will be held on Feb. 25 and 26.