Building a World Class Institute: the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy

Saturday, December 1, 2007


One year ago, the late Dr. John Prentice (LLD '06) and his family endowed the University with more than $8 million to establish the Prentice Institute for Global Population and Economy. The time since has seen the building of a solid foundation for the world-class institute's future.

Sociology Department Chair Dr. Trevor Harrison has been appointed as the institute's interim director, effective Nov. 1, 2007, to Oct. 31, 2009. He will be responsible for launching the multidisciplinary institute, which will focus on the long-term challenges of the demographic, economic and social issues related to changes in world population patterns.

"Trevor is a respected academic with a proven track record of leadership as department Chair and in his other research capacities. In this new role, he will help to establish the institute's initial research scope and its future directions," says Vice-President (Academic) Dr. Andrew Hakin.

As a researcher with such diverse interests as Canadian society, political sociology and public policy, Harrison is excited by the interdisciplinary research that the institute will stimulate and foster. He will soon be meeting with various U of L faculty in the social sciences and experts at other institutions to begin building research partnerships.

"While we will not forget our grounding here in Western Canada, we want to develop the necessary connections to become an international institute. The world is shrinking, and many of the issues that we face here are shared by other parts of the world. There is a great deal that we can learn from other places without having to replicate their research," says Harrison.

Hakin expects the addition of an institute of this calibre to both grow and enhance social science research within the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University.

"We will establish networks from the University of Lethbridge Prentice Institute to other research institutes around the world and host international conferences and speakers in the areas of demography and economic cycles. This level of research activity will engage current Arts & Science faculty and attract graduate students," says Hakin.

The Prentice Institute will receive governance from its five-member board of directors, which includes Heather Prentice (daughter of John and Connie Prentice), Vice-President (Academic) and Provost Emeritus Dr. Séamus O'Shea, Board of Governors Chair Robert Turner, John Lowton and Stuart Thiessen.

Heather Prentice and O'Shea attended an international conference in Vienna, Austria, in November, and Harrison is attending a conference at the Vienna Institute of Demography in December.

"Before we establish the Prentice Institute's research goals, we need to know what other institutes in this area are doing in Canada and internationally. Conferences are an opportunity to meet with key research groups to gain an appreciation of their various research directions," says Hakin.

The Prentice Institute will contribute to the development of policy options to guide Canadians and their governments on the demographic, economic and social issues related to changes in world population patterns. While some of the Prentice Institute's research will lend itself to immediate policy implications, Harrison says the institute will take a long-range view.

"We will be taking a long and broad view on demographic and economic issues. It's important to act, but it's important to fully understand the issues so that you don't act in a way that makes an initial problem worse," says Harrison.

Plans have begun to recruit both a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair (CRC) and a second Chair funded by the Prentice family endowment. The national CRC search will be coordinated through the Faculty of Arts & Science, and the CRC could be in place as soon as spring 2009.

"We want to ensure these Chairs are leading scholars in their fields who will help to attract the best possible graduate students and post-doctorates," says Harrison.

The University community can expect the Prentice Institute's presence on campus to grow in the year ahead. The new executive officer responsible for many of the day-to-day operations for the institute is expected to be hired shortly, and the necessary renovations to accommodate the institute's temporary home on level 11 of the University Library will begin next summer.

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