A cradle for creativity, discovery and innovation
“If U of T is so concerned about improving the student experience, why does it emphasize research so much?” This question is one that alumni among others ask me from time to time.
I suppose there are occasional tensions between education and research in any university, but, in general, I believe the two core missions of U of T converge beautifully. The synergy of these missions is most obvious in professional or graduate programs where students are often required to research and write a major thesis. It is also evident in many third- and fourth-year undergraduate courses, where students are asked to undertake research projects, and increasingly apparent even in the early years of first-entry programs where students have the option of taking research electives or joining small-group seminar courses with leading scholars.
It may seem odd to emphasize research so early in the undergraduate experience. But what makes education at U of T distinct from other universities is the idea that undergraduate students need to learn not only the basics, but why the basics are believed to be the basics. We want students to graduate from U of T thinking independently and creatively – and with the ability to challenge conventional wisdom. This aspiration can be fulfilled only if our professors are at the forefront of research and scholarship in their fields.
The good news is that U of T is already Canada’s research powerhouse, judged by three common measures of research performance: the level of research funding obtained from Canadian public sources; the number of publications – and citations of those publications by other researchers – reported by Thomson Scientific; and the number of research-related awards and honours received.
For many years, U of T has received more funding from the three federal granting councils than any other Canadian university. We also bring in the most infrastructure funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation – over $350 million, or about $100 million more than UBC, our nearest competitor. With our hospital partners, U of T is the largest research entity in Canada and the third-largest in North America, spending $3 million a day on creating new knowledge.
The strength of our research enterprise is perhaps best characterized by the fact that from 2000 to 2004 U of T professors produced more publications in the fields indexed by Thomson Scientific than faculty at any other public research university worldwide. Including the leading private American universities, which are extraordinarily well resourced, the University of Toronto stands second only to Harvard in publications among all private and public universities. This is an extraordinary achievement.
U of T professors have also taken far more than their proportionate share of the nation’s most prestigious academic awards. Since 1980, U of T faculty members, who constitute only about seven per cent of the faculty at all Canadian universities, have won at least 25 per cent of the Steacie, Killam and Molson Prizes. They have also won 29 per cent of the highest awards given out by the federal research councils.
The gap between U of T and all other Canadian institutions is even larger when one looks at international honours and awards. U of T faculty account for more than half of all Canadian members of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Our success is similar with Britain’s renowned Royal Society of London, where 44 per cent of the Canadian members come from the University of Toronto.
What conclusions can we draw from these data? First, as a research enterprise, U of T is in a league apart from other Canadian universities, competing with some of the best research institutions on the planet. Second, most attempts at ranking or rating Canadian universities simply don’t reflect our dominance in research or the pre-eminence of our graduate and professional programs.
Finally, returning to “the question,” research excellence – creativity, discovery and innovation – is what sets us apart. We attract the best and brightest faculty, staff and students because we are Canada’s research powerhouse.
If U of T is to continue to be the educational institution of choice for Canada’s leaders, our enterprise must be shaped at all levels by the spirit of open inquiry. That’s why, as I see it, excellence in research and education go hand in hand.