President sets direction for coming year

The direction The University of Western Ontario will take under a new presidency is coming into focus with the release of Amit Chakma’s priorities for 2009-10 at the Senate meeting Friday.

Based on consultations with the campus community, key stakeholders and the wider community, Chakma has outlined five key areas to focus on in the coming months:

  • strategic leadership
  • students
  • graduate education and research intensity
  • financial accountability
  • the external community

“This is really a work in progress,” says Chakma.

“What I was trying to do is send a signal of my priorities. What I hope people will see is students remain my priority No. 1, both graduate and undergraduate; (and) research intensity remains my priority.”

In the 22-point document, Chakma lays the groundwork for a plan to strategically position Western as a major player on the international stage and to effectively respond to challenges facing the post-secondary institutions.

The Senior Operations Committee of the Board of Governors approved the list at its meeting on Tuesday.

To learn more about the direction Western will move over the next year, Western News takes a closer look at some of the president’s priorities.

Strategic Leadership

Over the next year Chakma hopes to increase the university’s international profile and reputation through the establishment of one major international initiative. What the initiative will look like is still taking shape.

“We are at the very early stages; there are several we are looking at,” he says. “It is very likely one that will involve us creating a program that will allow us to send our students to Europe for a study abroad program, but a more co-ordinated one.”

Providing transferrable credits and the possibility of sending professors abroad to teach such courses at a partner institution are aspects under review.

The university will also plan for “a modest expansion in undergraduate enrolment, recognizing that this will necessitate an increase in housing for students.”

No final decisions have been made on the expansion, as this move will depend on government policies and available funding, says Chakma.

The university is planning various scenarios related to undergraduate growth. In spite of the extra students, Western will continue to guarantee first-year housing. 

Students

As a key component to Western’s success, Chakma is looking to improve the student experience. Part of this lies with increasing international student enrolment.

“For the 2010-11 admission year, I am suggesting that we admit 100 additional international students,” he says. “I have also suggested that we should gradually increase international student enrolment at the undergraduate level to the provincial average.”

Graduate Education and Research Intensity

Among the priorities on the list are the expansion of professional master’s programs and establishing at least one major research cluster.

In many fields of study, an undergraduate degree is no longer sufficient, says Chakma. To help graduates continue their education, he feels Western should explore offering course-based master’s programs.

“A major university like ours has the capacity to meet the needs of a diversified group of learners. Many great institutions such as Harvard offer programs for a wide variety of learners ranging from high school students to post-doctoral fellows,” he explains.

Building on the professional master’s programs does not conflict with Western’s commitment to research intensity, but will supplement and strengthen graduate studies, says Chakma.

“To grow and to sustain our research-based graduate programs at the current level, we need to bring in more research dollars … To grow further, we need even more resources,” he says, noting revenue from course-based master’s programs can help close this gap and meet a need in the community.

“There is a growing need to cater to that demand and if we don’t, somebody else will.”

Chakma also wants Western to become a hub for specialized research.

Research clusters “create critical mass of scholars to advance research ideas and projects which could benefit from the collaborative work of a group of scholars. The proposed Canada-US institute is one such example of a research cluster,” he says.

Financial Accountability

With limited money guaranteed from the provincial government in the coming years, Chakma reiterates the need to develop an income diversification strategy, including non-government sources, to provide new revenue streams.

External Community

For Western to make a mark on the international stage, it needs to start locally. One way to strengthen connections with the City of London is by initiating at least one major collaborative project with the city.

Chakma has met this priority with the recent announcement of a joint collaboration between Western, Trojan Technologies and the City of London to develop a Wastewater Treatment Technology Centre, a unique test-bed facility for researchers.

In November, Western, the City of London and Fanshawe College also announced the creation of an advanced manufacturing industrial park.

Although he can check these items off his list, Chakma says there is “more work to be done.”

“We have a few other things that are in the works.”

Overall, Chakma says the list of priorities is not conclusive, but will serve as a guide for the coming years.

“Most of the activities outlined will continue beyond 2009-10. The goal would be to advance these activities as far as possible,” he says.