The collective exercise of reflection on the Quebec University of the future held under the aegis of the Chief Scientist of Quebec, Mr. Rémi Quirion, ends this week.
The deliberative sessions allowed for fruitful exchanges between the sixty or so representatives of the university community who took part. What should we retain at the end of this work, which we expect to feed into a body of recommendations intended for the new Minister of Higher Education? The question is fraught with consequences. The future of our universities does not only concern the thousands of people who study and work there, or the campuses that host them, but also the future of Quebec society.
Working together to go further
In fact, one idea has transcended all discussions so far. It is possible to “go further”, but, above all, it is important to do so collectively, by promoting inclusion and focusing on academic freedom. In other words, we have to join forces and recognize that we gain by working together, rather than continually seeking to pull the cover on our side, for example because of a funding model that promotes competition. The university of the future must tackle head-on the inequities and disparities that undermine the consistency as well as the proper functioning of Quebec universities and which ultimately undermine the potential of citizens in search of knowledge. Following the example of the Interuniversity Cooperation Bureau (BCI), we recognize the extraordinary wealth that emanates from this “plurality of universities of the future” with which Quebec is endowed, but at the same time we want it to express more concretely the values of collaboration and complementarity that exist within it.
Insufficient professional recognition
Among the lecturers, research professionals and those responsible for practical training that we represent, a majority is of the opinion that inter-institutional collegiality should be encouraged, but that it is also necessary to mobilize forces already present within universities. For example, many lecturers have cutting-edge expertise in their field and obvious research skills. Still others benefit from a unique perspective due to their position at the intersection of academic and professional circles. However, due to a lack of institutional ambition, their integration into research groups is extremely rare and their contribution to efforts to decompartmentalize between knowledge and society, largely underused. In a consultation conducted by the Federation last month, only 45% of lecturers claimed to have adequate professional and institutional recognition.
Job instability and job insecurity
Another example, the vast majority of research professionals who support key scientific activities for Quebec do not currently benefit from any job stability. Some even see their contracts renewed monthly. Our consultation revealed that 56% of them live in a precarious professional situation. Their invaluable expertise, often acquired after decades of practice during which they have seen a succession of researchers – and students parade – is undermined, and in doing so, the entire Quebec research sector is losing. . These jobs should however be promising in the future in addition to offering a highly coveted path to continuity for those who wish to use their knowledge and pursue their career in academia. It is simply shocking that just 33% of these research professionals say they are satisfied with their career prospects.
From words to deeds
Quebec needs its universities. In order to respond to the challenges that are looming on the horizon, the university of the future will have to move from words to deeds, outline the outlines of a consultation that more faithfully responds to our collective aspirations and put the members of its community, its main artisans, at the heart of its project.
President of the Federation for Research and University Education of Quebec (FREUQ-CSQ)