Thank you, Madam Chair.
I would like to thank the committee members for inviting us here today.
My name is François Deschênes and I am the rector at UQAR, the Université du Québec à Rimouski. With me is Étienne Carbonneau, from the head office of the Université du Québec.
UQAR is a university located in the region of Est‑du‑Québec, in Rimouski, but in reality it covers a very large region that takes in Chaudière-Appalaches, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Gaspésie, Îles‑de‑la‑Madeleine and Côte-Nord. In other words, it is an area about the size of Iceland.
The university has about 6,700 students spread across this very large area, which is distinguished by its low population density and the number of rural communities. This means that about two thirds of the students at our institution are first-generation students whose parents did not attend university and do not hold university diplomas. We therefore hope that we are making an enormous contribution to the regions in terms of educating the next generation, but also of attracting and retaining people, so that organizations are able to expand, offer services of equivalent quality, and stay there. Our role is therefore an important one.
As was pointed out earlier, and as Étienne Carbonneau's presence here indicates, we are members of the big Université du Québec network, which consists of ten universities and has just over 97,000 students. This makes it a large network on the Canadian scene.
I want to note one important thing at the outset: I am here before you to talk to you about the research being done in the smaller and mid-sized universities that are often located outside the major centres, in what Quebec calls the regions.
Second, there is a myth I would like to dispel: there are not two categories of universities—research universities and others. Every university has professors whose jobs include doing training and research and offering services to the community. In order for these researchers to make progress, it is important that they have access to research funding.
For example, despite UQAR's relatively small size, it has ranked among the three best universities in its category in Canada for the last ten years in terms of research, intensity, productivity and funding dollars held, but also of quality. In terms of research funding growth, our university has ranked third in Canada, counting all categories, in the last 20 years, with 407% growth. That shows that there are not two categories of universities.
Obviously, we do research for training purposes, but also to develop leading edge knowledge. Our professors live in the community and are therefore well aware of the issues that are specific to the regions where they live, as well. Quite often, that research reflects the circumstances in the community, which means that we are developing knowledge that is transferrable within those regions, and that is important.
For example, we have studies on the organization of health care in remote and rural regions. We also do a lot of research on maritime issues, since we are located along the St. Lawrence River and its estuary. That is also reflected in our research, and as a result we were able to take a leadership role and create the Quebec Maritime Network.
What we have to recall is how difficult it is for small and mid-sized universities to access research funds. At our university, about one third or one quarter of our professors have no research funding. It is more difficult to access. Imagine that: post-docs in Canada do not have the resources to do research.
That illustrates the situation of the Université du Québec à Rimouski, but a number of other universities in Canada experience the same thing, and this deprives us of brains that might come up with new ideas. No one can predict where good ideas will come from. It is therefore important to have programs that are made to match our situations. The situation of a small university is that professors teach numerous, sometimes very different courses, rather than just one or two courses. They therefore have less time to devote to research. That must be adequately taken into consideration in developing programs, but also in evaluating projects, to support the diversity that exists.
In addition, the Canada-wide quotas established for the CFI, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and for the Canada Research Chairs Program are often based on previous funding. There is therefore a built‑in bias that encourages the concentration of funding.
Studies show that the first dollars invested in research and the return on investments are significant. So let's give researchers everywhere the resources to do research.
That is the main message I want to send.