But President Peter Stoicheff said the University of Saskatchewan is well-positioned, with the right people in place who are firmly focused on the future as we begin 2018.
“We have greatly strengthened our senior leadership team and I am very cognizant of the fact that at least 60 per cent of our current faculty were hired in the last 10 years, so we have a vigorous, fresh, committed and extremely creative and community engagement-minded faculty complement here,” said Stoicheff. “So, I see only really great things coming out of that kind of workforce excellence at this university.”
Now in his third year as president of the U of S, Stoicheff is supported by a new chancellor and new provost, as well as new deans in the College of Arts and Science, Dentistry, Engineering, Nursing, the Edwards School of Business, and the University Library. There are also new executive directors in the School of Environment and Sustainability, and in the School of Public Health, as well as the university’s first chief athletics officer in Huskie Athletics, as senior leaders were recruited from across North America in 2017.
On campus, Stoicheff was proud to help the university celebrate the 100th anniversary of the alumni association as well as commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation with major events. Those landmark activities and occasions served as a backdrop to the university’s steady progress in a number of key areas, including revitalized research funding and enhanced enrolment, while also climbing in three of the four major international university ranking systems.
“There were many highlights, and I would say the fact that we again showed that we are a very strong institution with regards to research, and that our percentage increase in research funding was the best of any university in the country, was one sign of that,” said Stoicheff, noting that the U of S increase in research funding was 25.6 per cent higher than the national average.
“I am also glad to see that our overall student numbers are increasing again this year. We are delighted that so many students, including an increasing number of Indigenous students, want to be a part of our great university.”
Total enrolment continued to climb in the 2016-17 academic year, up 2.3 per cent to 24,571, including an 8.2 per cent increase in the number of Indigenous students (2,979). Registrations rose again to start this 2017-18 academic year, up 1.8 per cent overall in the most recent fall census and featuring a 5.7 per cent increase in the number of self-declared Aboriginal students.
Supporting more Indigenous students on campus than ever for the president in 2018, as the university continues to work to answer the calls to action for post-secondary institutions in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada final report.
“We are continuing to move ahead on reconciliation and the Indigenous priorities that this university has set for itself and I want to be able to say that every year,” said Stoicheff. “This is going to go in stages and the first stage was to change the conversation and make sure that everybody was talking about it. Next is what does acting on it truly look like?
“We have had significant input into the national conversation on reconciliation. We were the best represented visiting university by far at the most recent national forum on building reconciliation, in Winnipeg. We signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the FSIN (Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations) to work together to improve academic success for First Nations students, we hired our first vice-provost Indigenous engagement, and we again saw an increased number of Aboriginal students enrolling and graduating.”
Building on its commitment to community collaboration, the university also recently signed partnership agreements with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra as well as with Remai Modern—each the first of its kind in Canada. The university is now in the process of finalizing an MOU with the City of Saskatoon, which will also be one of the first of its kind in the country.
“Cities deserve and need great universities, and cities themselves are the sites of enormous influence now in the country, with the population having become more urban overall,” said Stoicheff. “So, I am really excited about that partnership.”
Stoicheff is also excited about the possibility of partnering in one of five planned national supercluster innovation hubs—and sharing a whopping $950 million in funding— that the federal government plans to announce in March. The U of S is one of nine shortlisted supercluster proposals across the country.
The president is also looking forward to receiving the final results of the accreditation visits for the Edwards School of Business, the College of Medicine and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.
Other highlights in 2018 will include the openings of two new state-of-the-art academic and athletic facilities on campus, with the Collaborative Science Research Building on schedule to open in the spring and the Merlis Belsher Place multisport complex on track to be completed in the fall.
“I think the Prairies region protein supercluster proposal has a good chance to be one of the final five, and that’s another example of how we have a strong impact, economically and in so many other ways, on the region,” said Stoicheff, noting that the university was ranked first in the country in per capita economic impact ($1.2 billion annually) in a recent study.
“And I would be remiss if I didn’t say that being able to raise the funds for Merlis Belsher Place in 18 months, which allowed us to begin construction of that rink in 2017, was a sign of the tremendous alumni support that we have, certainly in this case across country, and even internationally. That’s a really positive sign for the future.”
One area that continues to concern Stoicheff is the budget, specifically dealing with the major reduction in the provincial operating grant that the university faced in 2017.
“There’s no doubt that it’s a challenge. You can’t get a budget shift to your operating grant of 5.6 per cent and pretend that it didn’t happen,” said Stoicheff. “Nonetheless, what we learned from previous experiences at the university was that we need to keep our eyes on our mission and keep our swagger. We will not deviate from being one of the top research-intensive universities in the country. That is not going to change. We will govern ourselves not only on the basis of what we want to be, but what the world needs us to be.”
To that end, the university has been working on implementing a new university plan in 2018, a strategic framework that will guide the institution’s planning and priorities through to 2025.
“That is certainly a top priority and I have watched that plan circulate around the university through the different council committees, through different colleges, and through the senior leadership forum, and have witnessed a lot of excitement about it,” said Stoicheff. “It is a truly creative first-of-its-kind plan, in terms of its presentation and its format, but also in its vision. And we’ve really tried to identify the things that are unique to this university that we need to make great strides in over the next six or seven years.”
That timeline could feature a number of potential additions to academic programming at the U of S—initiatives led by the provost’s office such as possibly establishing an architecture school or adding occupational therapy and speech language pathology—while also continuing to expand on creative campus collaborations in signature areas of research.
“This university is really good at imagining new and creative interdisciplinary programming that represents the future aspirations of students and I do foresee that we will be able to continue in that direction,” said Stoicheff. “That’s another way of saying that the budget won’t define us. We will continue to think creatively and to think big. And academic programming is one example of that.
“Another example is we have had a good record of community-engaged research and I think with time, that will continue to strengthen and become more prominent as well. Another thing I am looking forward to is continuing to be a talent magnet in terms of domestic students, international students, faculty and staff. Talent attracts talent. That’s what makes a university great and what makes a city great.”