University of Saskatchewan

September 23, 2014   

Building Research Success at U of S

Increasing Research Intensiveness
at the University of Saskatchewan

Research Committee of Council
February 2000


Major universities, like the University of Saskatchewan, are not research institutes, degree factories, or simply storehouses of knowledge. They acquire their distinctive character by their capacity to unite scholarship with teaching. Scholarship involves the discovery of new knowledge, its integration and synthesis, and its application to new or persistent problems (Framework for Planning, 1998).

Research and scholarly work are fundamental activities of a university. These activities differentiate universities from other educational institutions. These activities, in conjunction with teaching, also define the role of university faculty as teacher-scholars. As teachers and scholars, the faculty at the University of Saskatchewan play a key role in promoting the intellectual, economic, and cultural vitality of Saskatchewan and Canada.

The University of Saskatchewan's resources for supporting and conducting research have significantly eroded over the past decade. The faculty complement has shrunk, while teaching and administrative responsibilities have grown. Some research areas have experienced serious decline in recent years. Unless current threats and deficiencies can be addressed, the University's ability to meet its mandate is seriously challenged.

In recognition of the recent challenges facing the University's research activities and the centrality of research and scholarly work in facilitating the teacher-scholar model, University Council adopted the goal of enhancing research intensiveness at the University of Saskatchewan in the Framework for Planning document. The purpose of this document is to build on that framework by setting out the priorities necessary to enhance research intensiveness and to outline some strategies for how these priorities can be achieved.

Themes and Priorities

The University of Saskatchewan is committed to the goal of establishing itself as one of Canada's leading research universities in the next decade. To reach this goal, the University endorses five priorities.

  1. Supporting and facilitating individual, collaborative and multi-disciplinary research by cultivating a productive research climate at the University of Saskatchewan
  2. Recognizing the centrality of research as the University proceeds with faculty renewal, and appreciating that faculty renewal involves both new and existing faculty
  3. Supporting growth in size and quality of graduate education and graduate research programs
  4. Developing appropriate research infrastructure and administrative processes to facilitate research intensiveness
  5. Promoting, encouraging and celebrating research excellence

    Research Climate

    In a university, an obligation rests on every individual faculty member to embody the role of teacher-scholar by participating in research and scholarly activity and by engaging students through instruction. No faculty member can opt out of either task. As a result, the University must strive to establish, reinforce, reward, and celebrate faculty members' scholarly activities and innovation by creating a climate in which both teaching and research are highly valued activities.

    The drive, inspiration, and innovation for research comes first and foremost from faculty members and students. The University must create a supportive environment that encourages and rewards successful research activity. It must assist Colleges and Departments to foster a research culture to nurture scholarly activity in all sectors of the University. This includes consideration of research success in faculty tenure and promotion standards, as well as expectations of continued research activity throughout every faculty member's career.

    Scholarship is key to all research activity, whether conducted by a single scholar working in isolation, as is common in some disciplines, or by scholars working in collaboration or as members of a research team, as is increasingly common in many disciplines. The University fosters both individual and collaborative research in several ways. The profound interrelation of teaching and research can be highlighted and encouraged by the University, as adopted in the teacher-scholar model. Ways of doing this include:

    • encouraging faculty members to involve students, both undergraduate and graduate, in their research.
    • identifying research themes that extend across disciplines and draw on the research strengths of many sectors of the University. Within the context of research themes, the University must strike a balance between emphasizing themes and maintaining the flexibility to encourage successful ongoing research activity.
    • recognizing and promoting the value of research partnerships between our researchers and those in other universities, the cultural sector, hospitals, government, NGOs, the private sector, and labour. International partnerships should be explored and encouraged through the efforts of individuals and the University of Saskatchewan International.

    Faculty Renewal

    Like most other universities in Canada, the University of Saskatchewan is going through a period of renewal in which the faculty cohort hired in the 1960s is being replaced with new faculty. To attract excellent new tenure-track faculty and to encourage research intensiveness in their careers requires resources. These resources involve initial funding to faculty for equipment and research operating funds and additional funding to Departments and Colleges to facilitate teaching assignments consistent with research expectations. New faculty members require both time and institutional financial support to help ensure that they can establish successful research programs and be competitive in national and international granting competitions.

    The University must also address the requirements of established faculty members to maintain and enhance their research. One key consideration here too is the assignment of teaching and administrative duties consistent with research expectations. The University must come to the realization that research intensiveness requires concentrated effort on the part of faculty, which means significant amounts of time must be devoted to conducting research, working with graduate students, disseminating results, and securing grant funding. Large teaching and administrative loads can impede research intensiveness. Another consideration is bridge funding for those times when ongoing research is disrupted by a faculty member's failure to win renewal of an external grant. Availability of bridge funding would enable the research enterprise to proceed and would prevent loss of momentum. It would permit researchers to retain personnel, who often possess unique skills not easily replaced, and to continue financial support for ongoing graduate students. As well, seed money or matching funds for innovative projects are sometimes important and necessary.

    Graduate Education and Research

    There is a direct link between research intensiveness and the commitment to and participation in graduate education. Historically, this link between research and graduate education has been stated in terms of the need for students to have advisors who bring research experience into the classroom. Under this view, graduate students and the graduate education process are the primary benefactors of research.

    While this view is important, research-intensive universities also accept that they need graduate students as much as graduate students need them. Indeed, in many disciplines, university research is graduate student research. Furthermore, peer mentoring of undergraduates by graduate students is a powerful tool for introducing and creating enthusiasm for research in undergraduate programs, and for maintaining cutting-edge content in undergraduate curricula.

    Average graduate enrolment in Canadian universities is about 15 percent of total enrolment. At the University of Saskatchewan, graduate enrolment is currently about nine percent of its total. We need more high-quality graduate students. For the University to remain competitive with other institutions in recruiting high-quality graduate students, additional scholarship and fellowship funding is necessary.

    In addition, the current practices of associating (or not associating) "teaching credit" for graduate teaching and supervision must be reconsidered in light of the importance of graduate education to research intensiveness. All Colleges and Departments must recognize graduate teaching and supervision as an important and valid pedagogical activity. Teaching graduate courses or supervising graduate research should never be considered as mere voluntary overload activity — it is a fundamental activity in a research-intensive institution.

    Research Structure and Administration

    An essential role of the central administration of the University with respect to research is to establish procedural and financial initiatives that facilitate research. This involves adequate funding for activities and programs sponsored by the Vice President (Research) and the Office of Research Services.

    Many sectors of the University have experienced erosion in support and infrastructure for research, including loss of research personnel and reductions in internal financial support for research, libraries, and capital funds used for the purchase of equipment and the refurbishing of research facilities. In addition to restoring funds for this basic infrastructure, the University must also explore ways to support research infrastructure. This involves finding ways to:

    • bring research opportunities to the attention of appropriate individuals and groups in a timely fashion,
    • encourage and support individuals and groups in applying for research grants and contracts,
    • provide seed, bridge or short-term funding for promising research ventures,
    • support researchers in complying with various standards, requirements and regulations imposed by outside bodies,
    • modernize and maintain campus-wide research infrastructure,
    • establish measures to compare annually the institution's research activities with other comparable universities,
    • support individuals and groups in sharing research results and ideas.

    Research Excellence and Its Promotion

    In many fields, University of Saskatchewan faculty are respected national and international experts. Many of our researchers have world-class research programs underway and have been successful in attracting major research grants. Maintaining excellence in areas of current strength must not be neglected and should not be negatively affected by initiations of new activities. It must be recognized that maintaining excellence in research programs requires on-going local support, both moral and financial.

    As teachers and scholars, University faculty must be encouraged to excel in their research. Successes need to be built upon and further encouraged. The nationally and internationally recognized achievements of our researchers ought to be promoted and celebrated here at home and also nationally. The value of research excellence must to be made known to our students, the public and Government. Research intensiveness at the University of Saskatchewan must be a major priority at this time and continue to be a fundamental value.

Strategies for Increasing Research Intensiveness

To meet the goal of strengthening its position as a research-intensive university, the University of Saskatchewan must evaluate and develop its policies and form expectations so that:

  • More faculty are actively involved in research and scholarly work
  • Productivity is enhanced from those faculty involved in research and scholarly work

To achieve these goals, the University of Saskatchewan must make changes to:

  • Faculty development procedures and attitudes
  • Administrative and budgetary practices
  • Provincial government policies, in so far as they are responsive to input from the University.

To this end, the University of Saskatchewan should adopt short- and long-term plans for increasing research intensiveness. The goal of the plans is to have the University of Saskatchewan exceed national norms for research-intensive universities. The plans should lay out specific targets and strategies to increase research productivity and quality. The targets and strategies fall into the five themes described earlier in this document.

Supporting and Facilitating Research by
Cultivating a Productive Research Climate

Over the next five years the University of Saskatchewan faculty should increase the operating funding obtained from the federal granting councils (MRC/CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) and increase total research funding from other sources so that both types of funding exceed the national average.

This target can only be achieved as a consequence of a unified effort and overarching strategy to enhance research productivity. This strategy includes an administrative commitment to becoming a more research-oriented institution. It involves developing appropriate University-wide and College-specific research structures and policies and considering these in the assessment of the academic programs. The University must develop budgetary processes that take into account the budgets, costs, and demands of the teacher/scholar model.

Recognizing the Centrality of Research in
Faculty Renewal and Faculty Development

The University must develop administrative and collegial policies and procedures to enhance research amongst new and established faculty. This might include:

  • reconsidering the policies for the assignment of teaching duties;
  • providing protected research time for faculty in colleges where the practice of professional skills is an important function;
  • funding physical research infrastructure for new faculty;
  • developing a pre-review process for grant applications, employing 'grant writers';
  • offering bridge funding to researchers whose grants are discontinued but who are close to funding decision cut-offs;
  • and assisting departments to attract more candidates with strong research records.

Standards for tenure and promotion of faculty must be reconsidered in light of the current competitive realities of the academic research sector. Time to consideration of tenure should be increased. Standards for academic qualifications and research success should be more rigorously applied in tenure decisions. Appointments to tenure track positions should be made only when a suitably qualified candidate is available and the resources are in place to support the candidate's research.

Increasing the Quality of Graduate
Education and the Size of Graduate
Research Programs

Over the next five years the University of Saskatchewan faculty should increase graduate student enrolment so that the ratio of graduate to undergraduate students approaches the norm for other universities. In particular, the number of doctoral students must be increased.

Strategies to achieve this target include identifying the budgets, costs, and demands of graduate student programs, providing additional funding for support of graduate students, and ensuring that graduate student teaching and supervision are acknowledged in the assignment of duties. Higher levels of research funding seem to be directly related to greater numbers of graduate students. Investing in graduate students may be the single most cost effective means to increased research intensiveness.

Developing Centralized Research
Infrastructure and Appropriate
Administrative Processes

It is necessary to increase support to the Office of the Vice-President (Research) and Research Services to a level comparable with similar universities. Centralized support is required to assist researchers in meeting statutory and regulatory requirements, as well as ethical and safety standards. Resources are required to fund and administer the allocation of start-up grants, bridge-funding between grants, and seed-funding for targeted research. There is a need to better disseminate information about grant competitions, to assist with grant preparation, and to promote research. As the central voice for research at the University of Saskatchewan, this office must focus on developing partnerships with the provincial government aimed at exploiting federal government and commercial funding opportunities. The University should work to persuade the provincial government to increase and diversify its research investment.

Promoting, Encouraging and Celebrating
Research Excellence

Across the University and in all communication with our external publics, research should be given a more prominent profile. This involves informing and educating faculty, students and staff at the University as well as the public and elected officials about the importance of research to the University and the Province. While researchers understand that research is an essential tool in education and economic development, it is crucial that this understanding be shared with others.

Possible Steps for Increasing Research Intensiveness

The strategies outlined above can be carried out in a number of ways and in fact will require multiple approaches if they are to be successful. The following are some possible steps, arranged in order of priority, that could be taken to increase research intensiveness at the University of Saskatchewan. This list of steps is neither exhaustive nor cast in stone — considerable discussion is required on all these items to ensure the proper actions are taken on campus to increase research intensiveness. However, discussion must not frustrate action.

New Faculty

All new tenurable faculty appointments are 30-year investments in individuals whose success as teacher-scholars depends on both their commitment to and success in research and scholarly work and an institutional commitment to faculty development. Appropriate teaching release — for example, a reduction of three to six credit units of teaching — is required during the first two years of appointment. As well, adequate infrastructure — such as connection to the Internet and electronic communication, and provision of up to three years of set-up funding covering discipline specific operating and equipment expenses — is also required. Protected time arrangements for research need to be considered in departments and Colleges in which practice of professional skills constitutes a major proportion of a faculty member's responsibilities.

In return for this research encouragement, consideration should be given to requiring new faculty to apply to appropriate federal granting agencies by the second year of appointment to remain eligible for full internal funding. To provide this research encouragement, a renewal fund for new faculty should be considered as part of the budget.

The development of a mentoring system for new faculty should be given serious thought. Because of the competing demands on new faculty for time made by teaching, research, administration, practice of professional skills and public service, this mentoring would include the development and review of grant applications and advice on academic choices and career paths.

Ways need to be found to appoint and award tenure to only highly-qualified faculty. Some of the mechanisms for ensuring this happens include:

  • hiring and considering only people with PhDs or appropriate professional degrees;
  • increasing tenure standards and the time to the consideration of tenure;
  • providing greater flexibility in respect to rank and salary;
  • and requiring the demonstration of at least a national reputation as a condition for promotion to full professor.

Established Faculty

Established faculty require assistance at varying points in their research career. This assistance might include release time for research or preparation of grant proposals, additional clerical or administrative support for major research grants, seed money for initiation of new creative research programs, and bridge funding when grants are discontinued and there is hope for renewal. Protected time arrangements for research need to be considered in departments and Colleges in which practice of professional skills constitutes a major proportion of a faculty member's responsibilities.

Departments and Colleges need to develop policies that formally recognize the supervision of graduate students in the assignment of teaching. For the budgetary implications of this to be addressed, the supervision of graduate students could be documented in terms of equivalents to undergraduate teaching.

Graduate Students

Increasing the commitment to and participation in graduate education can be done in a number of ways. Examples of steps that should be considered include:

  • establishing an explicit goal for the ratio of graduate to undergraduate students that approaches the norm for other comparable universities of approximately 15 per cent;
  • providing additional funding for support of graduate students, and specifically for those engaged in research-based thesis degrees;
  • ensuring that graduate student teaching and supervision are acknowledged in the assignment of duties;
  • and including a substantial contribution to graduate education in the standards for promotion to the rank of full professor.

Research Policies, Budgets,
and Administration

Creating a research-intensive university requires appropriate policies, administrative structures, and budgets to support and encourage the talented and dedicated faculty and students that carry out the research. In the hiring process, departments need more financial and administrative flexibility to attract candidates with strong research records. While the hiring of new faculty is important, consideration should be given to delaying appointments if a suitable candidate is not available and/or if the resources to support the establishment of the candidate's research are not in place.

Consideration also needs to be given to increasing the capacity of Research Services to meet statutory and regulatory requirements, provide administrative support to the Research Committee and others, and aid faculty members in obtaining research funding. The expansion of the capacity of the Office of the Vice-President (Research) to promote the successes of the University research enterprise to the public, industry, and government also needs to be explored. On a more specific basis, to remain competitive the University of Saskatchewan should look at employing 'grant writers' to improve the readability and format of external peer reviewed grant applications.

Attention must also be paid to ensuring that departments have the necessary trained technical personnel and physical infrastructure (e.g., laboratories, graduate student space) required to support research.

Government Policies

The development of a research-intensive university requires the work and effort of more than just the university and its faculty, staff and students. Given its key role in the economy and given that research is an essential tool in education and economic development, the provincial government needs to be made a partner in the goal of increasing research activity at the University of Saskatchewan. Activities that could be pursued as part of this partnership include efforts to obtain greater federal research funding, the establishment of innovative funding mechanisms to carry out new research endeavours, and the funding of research partnerships with the University and other agencies.