Lack of money is the major cause of the province's universities lying near the bottom of the technology heap, according to a review done last semester.|
The information technology (IT) review is a response to the MacKay Report, which looked at the status of Saskatchewan universities in the fall of 1996. The three-member IT review team spent two days at each of the universities in November and concluded that a defined plan, as well as millions of dollars, is needed.
The team's report places the University of Regina in the bottom quartile of institutions in regard to technology, placing the blame on the pressure caused by cutbacks. The U of R's Vice-president Administration, David Barnard, who heads the committee which commissioned the report, says the campus is aware of the work that needs to be done.
"I suspect that there is already an agreement on campus that we're not doing as well as we could or should be in this area (IT)," he says.
At both universities, IT committees are going to hear views from concerned faculties, staff, and students. At the U of R, the report has been posted on the Internet (http://www.uregina.ca/presoff/
it) and everyone at the U of R is invited to e-mail or phone with their comments on how the university should pursue technology.
Chris Nicol, an economics professor who has been heavily involved with IT at the U of R, says everyone should give their input, because the next few months
| are when a plan for the university's direction vis-a-vis IT will be developed.|
"The university, in my view, doesn't have a clear idea of where it wants to go. It's really important that people tell the university where they want to go."
He compares technology to electricity and water: a necessary resource for the work that needs to be done at universities.
"Information technology is getting to be like electricity," he says. "If you want to be able to do the work, you have got to have the resources."
He admits that not everyone agrees with that view, as there are offices on campus without computers because that is how the professor chooses it to be. However, Nicol is adamant in maintaining that in order to be competitive in almost all fields, being able to work with up-to-date technology is essential and the university must be able to support this.
Bill Maes, director of library and information services at the U of R, agrees. He, with Nicol, says the government has to realize the importance of capital funding for technology.
"In a way, the reports are a good reflection on the universities, because we are both in the same situation," he says. "The review is a reflection of the underfunding - as opposed to mismanagement of funds."
The authors of the report, Ken King (of Ken King and Associates), Andrew Bjerring (President and CEO of CANARIE Inc.), and Russell Vaught (Senior Director of the Center for
|Academic Computing at Pennsylvania State University), have a warning against continued underfunding:|
"Any continuation of the 'hand-to-mouth' and ad-hoc approach to funding capital needs in this area will doom Saskatchewan's two universities to an inevitable slide towards academic mediocrity and ultimately oblivion."
While Barnard admits mediocrity would result from underfunding, he is optimistic that more funding from the government will be coming the university's way for use in IT.
His counterpart at the U of S, Tony Whitworth, is also hopeful that the government will continue in its support of capital funding, which increased in last year's budget.
Whitworth says the reports of the review committee confirmed what both universities already knew - that they haven't been able to make the investments they would like to.
"But it should be noted the government has only begun to realize that we need to make investments in information technology," he says.
Whitworth also notes that the U of S has also been thinking of the option of going to the private sector for money, because keeping pace with the challenge of technology will be difficult in the years ahead.
The report's authors have a warning for private involvement as well.
"The worst nightmare for higher education is that education will become a commodity industry with many vendors competing for a niche in this market."