NationTalk: ENC Education News Canada – From a remarkable rise in world university rankings and record enrolment, to the launch of the largest comprehensive campaign in the history of the province, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) charted a new course to success in 2023.
“As a university, we really have the wind in our sails now,” said USask President Peter Stoicheff, in his annual year-end interview with On Campus News. “We are moving ahead in all aspects of our mission and vision, in research, scholarly and artistic work, in teaching and learning, in outreach and in our connection to community, all of these are moving ahead so powerfully now. And that is why it is exactly the right time to be in the final stages of a comprehensive campaign. You can’t be in a campaign of this magnitude if you aren’t really excelling at what you do as a university. We are moving forward in so many areas and looking forward to a great year ahead.”
On a memorable day that was years in the making, the university launched its Be What The World Needs campaign on April 18, 2023, with a goal to raise $500 million to support student success, lead critical research, inspire Indigenous achievement, and create visionary spaces. Since that announcement in front of an enthusiastic crowd of students, staff, faculty, alumni and other supporters at Merlis Belsher Place, the campaign has been creating donor-driven development opportunities for USask, helping to advance a number of the university’s priority areas.
“It has been tremendously successful so far,” said Stoicheff, who is beginning his ninth year as the 11th president in the history of the university. “We are 77 per cent of the way to our goal now, and that is due to having so many supporters who are eager to take advantage of the opportunity to do what they can for the university, to the absolute best of their ability. And sometimes that is smaller amounts and sometimes that is larger gifts, but it all makes a huge difference.
“There are so many alumni and other supporters who are very visionary about the university. They know what they would like to see the university be able to accomplish and they imagine ways in which they can support us financially to reach those goals. There are a lot of people who feel deep emotional ties to the university and believe it is going in the right direction and they want to support us.”
Over the past year, USask enrolment has climbed three per cent to a record 26,000+ students, including notable increases in the number of Indigenous students as well as international and graduate students.
“In terms of universities in our sector in this country, a three per cent overall increase is a significant increase,” said Stoicheff. “That doesn’t happen by accident, and is a testament to the fact that the faculty we have are excellent, and all the people who support everything faculty do in our various missions are also excellent. We are continuing to get better and everybody knows it, and families want their children to come to this university. When you break down the categories, we are also seeing an increase in Indigenous students, and for a U15 institution that aspires to Be What The World Needs, we are also seeing increases on the international student front and on the graduate student front.”
USask student success received international attention in 2023, with two scholars among only 11 from across the country awarded prestigious Rhodes Scholarships in November, the first time since 1991 that the university has had two Rhodes recipients in the same year. Nursing student Taron Topham and biological studies student Rachel Andres have been selected to join 2022 USask Rhodes Scholar Cassidy Serhienko overseas at the University of Oxford in 2024.
“The fact that we received two Rhodes Scholarships was incredible, in addition to the one in 2022, after several years of us not receiving any,” said Stoicheff. “I think this is a really positive signal that everybody in the university community should be proud of. What we are seeing here is not that we suddenly have students who are Rhodes material. We’ve always had students who are Rhodes material. But we have now become successful in advocating for them and supporting them and helping them to be successful in their Rhodes applications. And there are many people, including faculty members, who have helped make this possible.”
In addition to producing superb students, the university’s reputation is also on the rise in key categories in a number of influential world university rankings. USask climbed more than 100 spots up to 345th – out of 2,963 participating institutions – in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings in 2023 and also moved up to 89th – out of 1,403 universities – in the QS Sustainability Rankings. Among other top rankings, USask climbed higher than ever before in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, leaping more than 100 spots to enter the 351-400 tier, out of 1,904 universities from across the globe.
“The rankings are huge, because we can talk all we want about our successes, but it is extremely important to have what we are saying and believing about ourselves independently and externally verified and that’s what the rankings are doing for us,” said Stoicheff. “And I don’t know of another university in the QS or the THE institutional rankings that has made as much progress, in terms of placements in a single year, as this university has. We didn’t just move up a few places, we shot up from one category leaping over another to yet another. I still believe that we deserve to be ranked even higher than we are, but this was tremendous progress and I think people across the university should feel proud of the fact that they have achieved this.”
Support for USask research is also on the rise, after being ranked first in the country for percentage of research income growth among medical universities in the Research Infosource Inc. rankings in early 2023. USask also ranked highly in the recently released Infosource analysis of percentage growth in research income over the past five years: first in not-for-profit; second in corporate income; and third in international government income. That builds on the $170 million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) Major Science Initiatives (MSI) Fund in 2022 to support the university’s four national research centres: the Canadian Light Source (CLS); Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO); Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN); and the new Global Water Futures Observatories (GWFO).
“There is no university that has the infrastructure that we have and that’s why we account for 25 per cent of all of the Major Science Initiatives funding that all 97 universities in the country are otherwise eligible for. It’s astounding,” said Stoicheff. “We have made a tremendous leap forward in terms of research income. From VIDO to water security to food security, as well as the fine arts through the humanities and the social sciences and health sciences, our research, scholarly, and artistic work is being recognized far beyond the university.”
USask also continues to move forward in Indigenization and reconciliation by implementing the Indigenous Strategy – supported by the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion policy – to make the university the most supportive and welcoming place it can be for all students, staff, faculty, and alumni. Among important events in 2023 was the revival of the Welcome Back Powwow and Métis Dance Celebration, and the adoption of the deybwewin | taapwaywin | tapwewin Indigenous Truth Policy, recognizing the inherent right of Indigenous Peoples to determine membership/citizenship verification with documentation through customs and traditions, governance and procedures.
“It was wonderful to see the powwow return to campus outdoors in The Bowl and attract thousands of people. There is no greater display of diversity and reconciliation at a university than the powwow on a beautiful day,” said Stoicheff. “It was also uplifting to see so many Indigenous students be acknowledged at convocation in the fall and the spring. And in terms of the deybwewin Indigenous membership/citizenship policy, it’s important to understand how this helps Canada in its reconciliation efforts and it is so important to get this right. And we have been leaders.
“Other universities, in their journeys to the same goal, have used the work that we have done as a model. The work that we are undertaking on reconciliation and Indigenization is some of the most important work that a university can be undertaking in this country. And I am proud that we are participants and not bystanders in that.”
Among other Indigenization advancements, Stoicheff points to a growing number of campus and community connections designed to support Indigenous achievement and research development.
“The Métis Nation-Saskatchewan-supported chair in Métis governance in JSGS (Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy) is but one, and another sign that the relationships that we continue to build with Indigenous governments and organizations are central to who we are and are extremely important and will have a profound positive effect on the research side as well.”
The president is also looking forward to a big second half of the season for the Huskie Athletics programs, with five of eight teams currently ranked in the Top 10 in the country, including the undefeated Huskie women’s basketball team. Meanwhile, the Huskie women’s hockey team is set to play host to the 2024 national university championships from March 14-17 on campus at Merlis Belsher Place.
“We’ve had several highlights so far already this season and so many of our teams are off to a strong start,” said Stoicheff. “The Homecoming Game had the largest regular season crowd at a Huskies football game that we have ever seen and we are looking forward to hosting a national hockey championship in the spring. I go to the PAC (Physical Activity Complex) regularly and I see Huskie student-athletes working out there and I can see how achievement-oriented and team-oriented they are.
“The Huskies are our biggest brand, they are one of the ways in which we are most visible to the local community and at times the national community, and we have a terrific Huskies operation that is fully integrated with the rest of the university. And I think the experience that being a Huskie student-athlete affords those students is one-of-a-kind.”
While proud of the progress so far, Stoicheff said there are key areas the university is continually striving to improve upon.
“Although we hit an all-time high last year, we have an even more ambitious goal for the research income that we will bring to the university. And it’s not just the dollar amount, it’s the fact that research income funds post-doctoral fellows, it funds graduate students, it funds undergraduate students, it funds faculty members, and it allows all of those groups to meet their university and professional ambitions.
“We also have high aspirations on the innovation and entrepreneurship front. We have Sask Polytechnic moving over here and creating a one-of-a-kind-in-this-country cluster of an innovation park, an excellent polytechnic, and an excellent research-intensive university. So let’s build on that. At the same time, there is still a strong community feel here and I think that’s increasingly unusual in the post-secondary world and I am proud that we are able to sustain that.”
As he looks forward to the promise of the year ahead, the president points to an array of priority areas for the university in 2024.
“I want to see us continue to climb in all of the university rankings, because we deserve that,” said Stoicheff. “And I want us to have more Royal Society of Canada inductees because we have many, many faculty who deserve that distinction. I also want to see us continue to make progress on Indigenization and reconciliation because we are the university to lead that. It is also so important for us to successfully approach our comprehensive campaign goal, which will help shape the future of our university. And I think we can always do better at celebrating our successes and ensuring that the rest of the world hears about them, because we do a lot of things extremely well.”
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