In developing this plan, more than 50 input sessions were held involving almost 1,200 faculty, staff, students and alumni, who were asked a series of questions related to their perspectives about the future direction of the University. This input was tremendously valuable to the Strategic Planning Committee in considering the types of goals that would have strategic importance to the University of Manitoba over the next five years. The process also served as a rich source of input from members of our community about the context in which we are planning for the future. Several themes emerged from these consultations that speak to the issues preoccupying members of our community, and can be used to guide the approaches that academic and administrative units will take to pursuing the University's priorities.
Sense of community
The need for a more connected community emerged as one of the strongest areas of consensus in the feedback from the consultation sessions. There is a clear sense that the University would benefit both from better communication and engagement within its own structures, and with the broader community as well. Internally, this might manifest itself as greater opportunity for collaboration and teamwork among and between faculties and administrative units, meaningful dialogue as a community about major issues facing the University or decisions affecting the workplace, or - in the case of students - creating better ways to engage students in campus life. In addition, a clear sense emerged from university faculty and staff, students and community partners that all would benefit from greater integration and dialogue between the University and the external community.
Positive working environment
Faculty and staff share a strong desire to foster a work environment where individuals are respected, contributions are valued and recognized, and where opportunities for growth and development are promoted. In addition, staff wanted better work-life balance, which they suggested could be enhanced through offerings such as accessible childcare and flexible work schedules. Faculty stressed the importance of a work environment that respects and fosters collegial decision making and that provides sufficient administrative support in order for them to focus on their primary responsibilities of teaching and research.
Innovations in learning
Students' participation in the consultation sessions provided important feedback regarding what they are seeking from their university experience. They prioritized flexibility in how they are able to pursue their programs, as well as greater opportunities for experiential education and a stronger connection between their studies and their careers of choice. The kind of supports they are seeking include enhanced career services and the ability to develop their ‘job-readiness' skills while pursuing their degrees, through means such as co-op programs. They also promoted an increased emphasis on teaching excellence (both in terms of content and pedagogy) when recruiting faculty and assessing their performance.
Faculty, staff and students alike emphasized the increasingly important role that technology is playing in society in general and in the University's learning and work environment in particular. At the same time, the complexity of using technology and social media as an enabler of learning was identified as a challenge requiring additional support and guidance. In addition, it was acknowledged that a more robust technology infrastructure will be required to support the University's teaching and research programs.
Indigenous student success
A great strength of the University of Manitoba is the diversity of its student body, particularly its growing population of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. There is a shared view among faculty, staff and students that one of the key elements to enhancing Indigenous student success is the availability of academic and student supports that are relevant, culturally affirming and innovative. Many discussions took place at Indigenous-focused consultation sessions about the need to decolonize the University to better support Indigenous students and faculty by offering more Indigenous-based curricula, supporting more community-based research, and increasing awareness about the contributions of Indigenous peoples. Another suggestion was that the University can play an important role in enhancing early Indigenous student success by greater engagement with the pre-university student population through K-12 outreach and mentoring programs. Participants, Indigenous students in particular, spoke about the need for more Indigenous academics and staff on campus. Equally important was the need for engaged and active Indigenous alumni who can serve as role models and mentors.
Changing role of universities
The consultation sessions yielded a wide range of perspectives related to the changing role of universities, the context in which they are operating, and how the University of Manitoba should respond to these changes. Participants spoke about the need both to respond to change while remaining true to the University's fundamental purpose to educate, preserve, create and share ideas and new knowledge for the public good. They recognized the need to create greater connections between students' education and the workplace while expressing concern about a national skills discussion that appears to devalue the benefits of university education in favour of skilled trades. They also acknowledged the need to diversify funding sources while expressing concern about a focus on revenue generation. Though this range of perspectives highlights the need for balance in addressing diverse interests, what was consistent is a view that the University's academic principles must not be compromised, and that institutional resources, whatever their source, should be used so as to maximize their impact in support of the University's mission.
Enhancing the University's reputation as a nationally and internationally recognized leader in its areas of strength was identified as a priority for many participants, who linked reputational strength to the University's ability to compete effectively for high quality faculty, staff, students, grant funding, and support from other sources. Though not universal, there was a commonly held view that building recognition would require choices and selective investments, given the current fiscal reality. In other words, the University of Manitoba cannot afford to be all things to all people.
Considered together, these themes reflect the forward-focused views of our community. They reflect our collective assessment of the opportunities that exist both on our campuses and in our greater society, ways in which our University can uniquely address those opportunities in the communities we serve and the conditions that need to be met to fulfill our role. The themes illustrate that while we've accomplished many things, including those guided by our previous planning framework, there are additional opportunities for our University to be even more responsive.
We recognize the distinctive role the University of Manitoba can play in addressing these opportunities. It is this distinct role that has inspired the title of our updated Strategic Plan. Taking Our Place means employing intentional and strategic measures to the meet the ever-changing needs of our world. It means increasing both our influence in, and our collaboration with communities. And it sets our sights on reinforcing our standing as a leading university.