U of L leads way in establishing ACCRU

This story by Léo Charbonneau appeared in the Sept. 12 edition of University Affairs. It is re-posted here with their permission.

There is a new university group in Canada: the Alliance of Canadian Comprehensive Research Universities.

Created at a meeting in Ottawa in June, ACCRU brings together the vice-presidents, research, of the smaller comprehensive universities in Canada that have "a strong commitment to research," said Dan Weeks, vice-president, research, at University of Lethbridge.

The creation of the alliance is in part a reaction to the group known as the U15, which advocates on behalf of what it calls "Canada's 15 leading research universities."

A graphical representation of ACCRU.

That group, previously called the G10 and then the G13 before it expanded to its current 15 members, has given those institutions "a strong unified voice for consultation and lobbying activities on their behalf," said Dr. Weeks.

However, ACCRU is not meant to be a lobbying group, he stressed. Rather, the aim of the new alliance is to discuss the challenges and issues that these smaller universities face, and to pool resources and best practices with like-minded colleagues.

"If we do have advice and things that have policy implications, the route would be through either AUCC [Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada] or our individual presidents," he said.

Dr. Weeks set the ball rolling for the new group with a letter he sent to colleagues this past January.

The letter reads in part: "There are a number of unique challenges associated with conducting world-class research at Canada's small institutions. Effectively meeting these challenges and ensuring that research investments made in our institutions are of maximal benefit to all Canadians prompts me to suggest that Canada's 'small' research universities might benefit by informal discussion of the merits of forming a group or forum. This would give us the opportunity to discuss and react collectively to issues we face now or that will arise."

The response was "absolutely fantastic," said Dr. Weeks. "Everybody was excited about getting together." The respondents agreed on a date and venue for the event, and of the 25 universities initially contacted, 19 sent representatives to the Ottawa gathering – in most cases, either the vice-president or associate VP research.

While stressing that membership in ACCRU is "meant to be inclusive," Dr. Weeks acknowledged he had to come up with "some sort of algorithm" to choose who to invite.

He and William Bridger, a former vice-president at the University of Western Ontario, devised a plan. First, they said the university had to describe itself as a comprehensive university.

Second, they did a rough calculation of the percentage of tri-council funding that each university receives, and "there was a pretty obvious breakpoint, and so we invited everybody below that line," said Dr. Weeks.

But he added, "I really wouldn't put too much stock in this 'who's in, who's out' type of thing. It's really more about the scope of your operations and would you benefit from being at these discussions."

The attendees to the Ottawa meeting "talked a lot about faculty recruitment and, related to that, the general perception of small universities by the public and by other institutions," said Dr. Weeks.

They also discussed research ethics, infrastructure, animal care, research centres and institutes, contracts, "and all the things that we have to fulfill in terms of policies and regulations" but often with far fewer resources than the larger universities, "so we have to be more clever about how we get some of these accomplished."

Katherine Schultz, vice-president research at the University of Prince Edward Island, attended the meeting and said the conversations "were frank and open." She noted that, unlike vice-presidents, academic, there is no national meeting for VPs research, so this group "fills a gap that many of us perceived. … It's a forum for information exchange that didn't exist."

André Manseau, dean of research at Université du Quebec en Outaouais, said it was "very enriching" for him to have his colleagues share their experiences. "We face many similar issues," he said. "Our offices are of relatively modest size and we don't have a lot of specialized personnel."

The ACCRU members agreed to meet again in Ottawa in early December, before the annual Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council's leaders meeting (of senior university administrators who serve as points of contact with the council).

The alliance also created three working groups that will report at the December meeting: one looking at best practices, one on governance of the group itself, and a third tasked to craft a mission statement.

Universities represented at the ACCRU meeting in June:

* Acadia University
* Bishop's University
* Brandon University
* Brock University
* Cape Breton University
* Lakehead University
* Nipissing University
* St. Francis Xavier University
* Saint Mary's University
* Thompson Rivers University
* Trent University
* Université de Moncton
* Université du Québec en Outaouais
* University of Lethbridge
* University of Northern British Columbia
* University of Prince Edward Island
* University of Regina
* University of Windsor
* Wilfrid Laurier University