SPECIAL REPORT

A WORLD OF ITS OWN

The Université du Québec is a unique network of campuses scattered across the province

BRUCE WALLACE November 9 1992
SPECIAL REPORT

A WORLD OF ITS OWN

The Université du Québec is a unique network of campuses scattered across the province

BRUCE WALLACE November 9 1992

A WORLD OF ITS OWN

SPECIAL REPORT

The Université du Québec is a unique network of campuses scattered across the province

It was born out of the ferment of Quebec nationalism in the late 1960s—a university created to give the province’s francophones greater access to higher education. Since then, the Université du Québec has become the little university that could, and “accessibility” has been its mantra.

The university is, in fact, many universities: a network of six constituent universities and five specialized institutes scattered across the province, reaching from downtown Montreal to smaller centres such as Chicoutimi and Rimouski. And it has' tailored many programs to the needs of adult and part-time students. As a result, the Université du Québec now boasts 88,000 students. But despite the growing recognition of its accomplishments, the Université du Québec placed last in this year’s Maclean’s ranking of comprehensive schools.

That, however, need not have been the case. Officials from Université du Québec expressed outrage at last year’s ranking, where Université de Québec à Montréal (UQUAM), its largest school, placed 45th on a list of 46.

They argued that any attempt to rank their universities with the rest in Canada was, in the words of UQUAM rector Claude Corbo, like comparing “apples to potatoes.”

This year, university officials suggested that Maclean’s rank six of its schools individually. Maclean’s agreed, and sent out six questionnaires in mid-July. However, six weeks later, as all other questionnaires were being returned, Université du Québec officials announced that they would not take part. Two weeks later, they changed their minds, offering to submit data for one combined ranking. In the end, they left most of the survey blank, saying that the questions were either inappropriate or too complex.

Dropping the university from the ranking was never a consideration at the magazine; it is simply too central an institution to be excluded. As well, many other universities had made extraordinary efforts to complete the questionnaire. Maclean ’s used the submitted information, but the return severely damaged the school’s final standing. Corbo defended the decision not to participate on an individual basis. “Last year’s ranking was so upsetting to our 43,000 students that I felt we could not risk participating again,” he said. “You cannot play lightly with morale.” Conceived in the flush of the activist Quiet Revolution, the

Université du Québec was modelled on California’s state university system of scattered campuses. Said Yves Martin, who was deputy minister of education in Quebec during the university’s genesis: “The government had a vision of a university that would offer more education to adults, women, working people. It was an enormous challenge just to start it up.” As the university added campuses, it also gained prestige. In 1972, the respected Armand-Frappier Institute, a leading health and environmental research centre, joined the network. And Martin argues that the presence of university campuses in small cities such as Trois Rivières and Rouyn-Noranda, which benefit from the resources of the whole system, has brought a vibrancy to those communities.

Unlike its partners in the system, UQUAM is not the only university in town. The Montreal campus is a labyrinth of tunnels and often-windowless classrooms built on top of a subway station—a location well suited to adult students attending night classes. In order to survive in a four-university city, UQUAM has developed links to the other universities, offering joint programs with Concordia. Said Corbo, “The Montreal network may be informal, but it is as real for us as the Université du Québec network.” Needing to cultivate those links, UQUAM sought and acquired an associate status within the university in 1979.

In fact, this year’s Maclean’s survey revealed that UQUAM is fourth in Quebec on the reputation ranking. “It is a must to have a university which is closer to the people than the McGills of this world,” said Pierre Péladeau, chairman of the publishing giant Queg becor Inc. Péladeau has endorsed that o support, donating $1 million to UQUAM æ for a new concert hall, g But as UQUAM grows, Corbo ac| knowledges a shift within his school. u “We have to reconcile this tradition of

accessibility with the need for research,” said Corbo, a forceful and well-liked promoter. “But if you open your doors, you must give people the best. Research improves the quality of education.” Unfortunately for Canadian students—and for the Maclean’s survey—they will have to wait for another year to get a better measure of UQUAM’s quality.

BRUCE WALLACE in Montreal