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U of O launches strategic plan

U of O launches ambitious new vision
Photo by Mico Mazza

ON OCT. 21, University of Ottawa president Allan Rock launched Vision 2020, a set of goals the U of O hopes to achieve within the next nine years. The four main areas of focus in the document are student experience, research, internationalization, and bilingualism.
At the top of the list is student experience, a problematic area for the U of O when it comes to Maclean’s University Rankings.
“We decided to focus, number one, on the quality of each student’s experience,” said Rock in an interview with the Fulcrum. “There is a danger that the campus might become impersonal in terms of students, especially in the early years in some of the bigger faculties.”
To improve the student experience, the administration will reduce new admissions to the university. Graduating students will be replaced and only 500 new students will be accepted each year.
“It’s easy for a university of 40,000 to become impersonal and to miss altogether a sense of belonging,” said Rock. “We want every student to graduate thinking they spent the best years of their life at the university, which is not always the case.”
Smaller class sizes will allow for a more personal learning experience. Rock said the administration is working to make more small seminars and discussion groups available for students.
Liz Kessler, vp university affairs for the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa, argues high tuition fees are the number one cause of negative student experiences.
“The reality is the biggest problem students are facing that’s affecting their student experience is high tuition fees,” said Kessler. “People are having to work two or three jobs just to stay out of debt, and what that means is students have less and less time to actually study.”
“But there are also a lot of good things,” she said about Vision 2020. “It’s really good to see they’re addressing the quality of teaching.”
The second focus of Vision 2020 is research, which, for Rock, relates to the quality of teaching. The university will strive to place within the top five universities in Canada in research intensity—U of O is currently number seven on the list.
“Research is key to the future of the nation,” he said. “And furthermore, research goes hand in hand with teaching. A professor who brings fresh insight into the classroom is a professor who’s providing the best instruction.”
In order to further the university’s research and reputation, the third point is introduced: Internationalization. Rock said the university will welcome more international students, find international partners for research, and give current students more international opportunities through exchanges and volunteer opportunities abroad.
“In my view, when I came here in 2008 we had fallen behind many of our competitors in terms of internationalization,” said Rock. “I want you to feel, when you graduate from here, that your degree is of international value.”
Last but not least, U of O will continue to improve the state of bilingualism on campus. According to Rock, meeting that goal will involve recruiting more francophone students, providing students with more access to French courses, and enhancing French research.
“Being the biggest bilingual university in the world gives us a competitive advantage,” said Rock. “It gives us the chance to compete for the best students in the country.”
“There are a few things in [Vision 2020] that are really awesome,” said Kessler. “Such as the commitment to bilingualism, particularly in the classroom.”
Rock said he is confident with the long-term plan, adding he learned a lot from Vision 2010, completed last year. The structure of Vision 2020 will allow the success of the goals to be measured numerically at the end of each year.
“Vision 2010 was the first formal strategic plan the university ever had,” said Rock. “With 2020, we learned from that experience—we learned that there’s an advantage to being more specific. Instead of being more general, we dug down a couple of layers and got much more concrete goals.”
Because of what he learned through participation in the research process and the feedback he has already received, Rock is sure the U of O is going in the right direction.
“I really feel confident now that I understand the main issues. I understand the aspirations on the campus. I have a better sense too of how we’re going to get there,” he said. “Not that I know it all—I don’t. I’m still learning. But I have an increasing sense of confidence that we’re going to succeed and we know what we have to do in order to do so.”
The full text of Vision 2020 can be accessed at Strategicplanning.uottawa.ca

—Jane Lytvynenko