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Michael Stevenson

Stevenson pans ‘big five’ university demands

October 22, 2009

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SFU President Michael Stevenson took a diplomatic swipe during his fall convocation speech at a proposal by Canada’s "big five" universities that they should pursue world-class scientific research and train top graduate students—while other schools concentrate on undergraduate education.

"I do not agree with the equation of size and excellence," Stevenson said. "Where open competition and peer review rather than politics rule… the biggest universities are not the most productive, they do not make the most impact on scholarship and they do not produce the greatest economic return on investment."

The presidents of the universities of B.C., Alberta, Toronto, McGill and Montréal said in interviews with Maclean’s magazine in July they want more research money, more international students, fewer undergrads and the ability to concentrate more on graduate education.

But funneling more support to the "big five" than they already receive "would be like advocating the use of steroids in the Olympics but restricting steroid supply to the biggest and wealthiest nations on earth," said Stevenson.

"Open and fair competition in the academic world, as in the athletic, is the key to success. And in an environment of relatively open competition and strategic collaboration, SFU’s regular ranking as the best of Canada’s comprehensive universities reflects the competitive strength of our faculty and students."

Stevenson went on to list a string of recent SFU faculty and student awards and success stories in science and engineering, business, the arts and athletics.

He concluded, "So, ladies and gentlemen, do not be put off by the gunfire from the big game hunters of the ‘Big Five’. Go out into the world knowing that you have been privileged to attend a great university, and determine to continue promoting the values and commitments that have made it so."

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