The value of the U15

You may have heard the term “U15” used at the university, and you may wonder what it means and why is it something we want to be a part of.

The U15 is a group of 15 of Canada’s top research intensive universities – a prestigious group we were invited to join in 2011.The members of the U15 count:

  • 47% of all university students in Canada
  • 71% of full-time doctoral students in Canada
  • $5.3 billion in annual research income
  • 80% of all competitively allocated research funding in Canada
  • 80% of Canadian university patents and start-ups

So what does this mean and why is it important to us?

First, being a part of the U15 helps others see us for who we are; it shines a light on the accomplishments of our faculty and students. And second, it helps us learn from and collaborate with our peers. U15 membership makes a difference both in perceptions and in practical actions and collaborations.

Our U15 identity makes a distinctive statement about who we are and what we bring to Saskatchewan: we are and will be for a long time the only research-intensive university in our part of the world. That gives us a special obligation to do the kind of research and research-informed teaching that connect Saskatchewan to the global community. In many respects, if we don’t do it, it won’t happen in our province.

U15 membership reflects the commitments we have made in our foundational documents and integrated plans. In 2010, within Renewing the dream, former President Peter MacKinnon, indicated four strategic directions: 1) attract and retain outstanding faculty; 2) increase campus-wide commitment to research, scholarly and artistic work; 3) establish the University of Saskatchewan as a major presence in graduate education; and 4) recruit a diverse and academically promising body of students, and prepare them for the knowledge age. Our role as a research intensive institution is key to fulfilling each of these strategic directions, directions which then flow in to our priorities in our integrated plan. As we move forward with Vision 2025, research will once again play an integral role in defining our priorities.

Being part of the U15 helps us learn and benchmark. As a member of the U15, we participate in the U15 Data Exchange, providing us access to directly comparable data, such as graduate student funding, retention rates, and graduate and undergraduate degrees awarded. This exchange is a valuable resource, providing us with the information required for better planning and decision making.

Being part of the U15 helps us partner. Recently the U15 joined a global network of research institutions – including representation from the USA, Europe (including a group specifically within the UK), China and Australia. Most countries have groups of universities similar to the U15. When those universities or their governments are looking for Canadian partners, they will see us, recognize us and understand the U of S more quickly because they will know us as part of the U15.

Being research-intensive does not mean we neglect teaching, though it does mean some additional opportunities for students. In a recent article on the U15 website, titled The Research/Teaching Nexus, President Busch-Vishniac indicated that, “attending university where research activity is high exposes students to the same general level of teaching quality that one would find elsewhere, and taking advantage of opportunities to be exposed to research methods within or outside of the classes improves satisfaction with the learning experience.” We whole-heartedly agree and believe our students and faculty, and as a result our province, greatly benefit from us making research a priority at our university.

Our strategy is not to offer Saskatchewan residents a cheap general-purpose education, but rather access to one of the world’s 139 leading research universities. At the end of the day, we rely on funding from taxpayers (through the provincial operating grant) and from our students (through tuition), to allow us to keep our doors open. Therefore, it is important for us to deliver exceptional educational value and to prioritize careful in everything that we do.

Brett and Greg

5 thoughts on “The value of the U15

  1. Is there an equivalent of the U15 in the USA?

    Also, it seems rather odd to be counted among the top 139 institutions. (Although it is a prime number so I suppose that adds some lustre….) Where do we sit in that top 139?

    • Hi Kevin,

      Yes, there is – it is the AAU, which I believe stands for American Association of Universities.

      The 139 refers to the members of the U15, AAU, and other national associations who have signed the Hefei statement. The group is defined by membership and there is no internal ranking; for that we would have to look to international ranking instruments.

  2. Re:”Our strategy is not to offer Saskatchewan residents a cheap general-purpose education, but rather access to one of the world’s 139 leading research universities.”

    The U of S recently joined a global network of research universities and signed onto the “Hefei statement”.
    One of the “Ten characteristics of Contemporary Research Universities” from the Hefei statement states:
    “4. A commitment to teaching at both the undergraduate and (post)graduate levels, to produce broadly educated graduates able to contribute to the national welfare across a wide range of activities.”

    and earlier in the document:
    “Research universities are increasingly under pressure to shift from fundamental to applied research to produce short-term benefits and to narrow their curricula in pursuit of increasingly instrumental educational objectives. It is critical that all relevant policies recognize the broad, pervasive and long-term benefits of university research and education and provide the support and environment that will ensure that these institutions continue to flourish; sustaining the foundational characteristics that make research universities an invaluable part of any national infrastructure.”

    I think that Brett and Greg’s denigrating comments about a “cheap general-purpose education”, besides being highly insulting to a broad range of disciplines, speaks to a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of the aims of the U15 Universities and the global network with which the U of S has recently decided to align.

    • I agree with you on the value and significance of the Hefei statement and all that it contains. It is what I read immediately before writing the blog post. As we said in the blog, nothing about being a research-intensive university is incompatible with a broad commitment to teaching – in fact, the two go together in important ways. So I believe you have misread the comment in the blog. Its purpose was to point out that the U of S does not try to compete by being inexpensive and generic. We aim to be of moderate cost, high quality, and distinctive as approved in the university’s key planning documents.

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