Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BC Cabinet shuffle creates ministry of science and universities

Ida Chong - a former Minister of Advanced Eduction - is to take the helm of the new ministry, something UVIC VP Research has described as positive. Denmark has a similar ministry. (Any Danish students have insight into this model?)

The Vancouver Sun has described the shuffle as uninspiring (and the cabinet as too large).

According to the Vancouver Sun

[Chong will] now be responsible for university financing, degree approval, student financial assistance and research, innovation and technology. Although universities are mainly self-sustaining, Chong will oversee annual university spending of more than $1 billion a year across B.C.

She'll also oversee millions in provincial research grants, matched by federal and private partners.

This is curious as when asked about BC's high rate of student debt and tuition, Chong asserted in an interview on CBC Radio Victoria that taxpayers (note, not citizens) pay 70% of the cost of the university, and that BC tuition is mid range. (Too bad they cut the BC Grad Scholarships, which would have made BC more competitive with Ontario).

UVIC's audited statements (2009) shows BC contribution to UVIC is 40% of UVIC's funding, and all government funding combined adds up to 54% of UVIC's funding- just enough to continue to be called "public" universities. Tuition accounts for 24% (up from 12% in my day) and almost as much comes from sales of services (books, residency and meals anyone?).

Hopefully this change will see an increase in graduate student support in the sciences - but won't indicate neglect of the other important fields of study in our universities.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

oil company funding for university energy research comes under scrutiny

BP and nine other major oil companies's funding for research into alternative energy has come under scrutiny in a report by Jennifer Washburn at thinktank the Centre for American Progress.

What makes the report particularly interesting is the detailed analysis of the contracts between the universities and the oil companies, and the amount of control given to the companies in the contracts.

The contracts characteristics are highlighted in the report:

"• In nine of the 10 energy-research agreements we analyzed, the university partners failed to retain majority academic control over the central governing body charged with directing the university-industry alliance. Four of the 10 alliances actually give the industry sponsors full governance control.
• Eight of the 10 agreements permit the corporate sponsor or sponsors to fully control both the evaluation and selection of faculty research proposals in each new grant cycle.
• None of the 10 agreements requires faculty research proposals to be evaluated and awarded funding based on independent expert peer review, the traditional method for awarding academic and scientific research grants fairly and impartially based on scientific merit.
• Eight of the 10 alliance agreements fail to specify transparently, in advance, how faculty may apply for alliance funding, and what the specific evaluation and selection criteria will be.
• Nine of the 10 agreements call for no specific management of financial conflicts of interest related to the alliance and its research functions. None of these agreements, for example, specifies that committee members charged with evaluating and selecting faculty research proposals must be impartial, and may not award corporate funding to themselves." (Washburn, October 2o10, p 6)
The author was interviewed on Democracy Now about the study October 18.

Washburn, Jennifer. October 2010. Big Oil Goes Back to College. Centre for American Progress. found October 15, 2910 at http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/10/pdf/big_oil_lf.pdf