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This article was published 8/9/2014 (2332 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The University of Manitoba has pinned its future on an enormous increase in graduate students -- from 12.5 per cent of enrolment to 20 per cent by 2023.

That's a jump from 3,748 graduate students last year to at least 6,400 by 2023.

The increase will primarily be in research-based programs -- such as science, engineering, agriculture and medicine -- and will be driven by an equally huge increase in self-declared indigenous students on campus.

The board of governors has passed the strategic enrolment management plan, which sets ambitious targets for 2018 and even more ambitious targets for 2023.

The U of M had its highest-ever enrolment ever last year, with 29,111 students in September, but it wants to have 32,000 by 2018-19.

And that plan is based on last year's numbers -- preliminary figures this year in the first week of classes have overall enrolment down 96 students and grad students down a whopping 442, though those numbers could change substantially by the end of September.

The university wants fewer dropouts, it wants students at all levels to finish their degrees in fewer years, it wants many more indigenous students, and it will be satisfied with fewer international students than it has now.

How will all this happen?

Those details are still being worked out, but an announcement could be made soon for a capital campaign of hundreds of millions of dollars with a primary focus on student financial aid, labs, classroom space and endowed chairs to hire the professors necessary to attract and to work with those graduate students.

"We had to take a look at what our academic mission is within the national sphere and within our international aspirations," said Susan Gottheil, vice-provost of students. "Let us be more intentional -- do we have the mix of students we would like? One of our goals is to have 20 per cent of our students be graduate students -- we're not close to that."

The enrolment plan responds to the school's comparatively poor showing in various categories compared to U15, the formal organization of Canada's largest universities.

"The university recognized we have limited resources. We were letting students in with an open door, but not really planning the size of the university," said Gottheil.

She said the U of M expects, at best, to maintain its undergraduate numbers, thanks to attracting more indigenous students and retaining more students, despite its expectation the number of students coming out of Grade 12 will drop in coming years.

"We'd like to encourage more Manitobans to stay in Manitoba -- more than half our graduate students are coming from outside Manitoba," even though the U of M receives three applications for every space in graduate school. "Employers are asking for it, students are asking for it."

The university set a target in the late 1990s of having 10 per cent of enrolment come from international students; with that long since exceeded, it will ease back on recruiting out of country, and target indigenous students.

Grad students need financial support, lab space and housing, Gottheil said. "Many of these students have families. We have the demand now, if we had the support.

"We're talking about research-based masters, not course-based masters... science, engineering, agriculture, medicine" rather than majors such as education or social work, she explained.

The U of M has to work out, "What's the space we need, both classroom and support? What are the human resources we need?"

The U of M could see hiring financed through the capital campaign -- donors could establish an endowment fund to hire faculty as research chairs, she suggested: "Either individual donors or industry could endow faculty."

The professors union wants to know where the U of M will find the money.

"We haven't enough information. (The goals) are pretty loose in general -- always a concern is, where is the money going to come from?" asked Prof. Thomas Kucera, president of the U of M Faculty Association.

Grad students need a faculty supervisor, and each professor can supervise only so many grad students, he pointed out: "Our members are not underemployed, we're stretched to the limit. We need more help at the faculty and department level to accomplish those goals."

Kucera cited the math department's loss of top graduate students from here to Alberta, Queen's, British Columbia, McMaster, and McGill, because they "all offer substantially more money" in student financial aid.

The Canadian Federation of Students wants to hear more details, said Manitoba representative Zach Fleisher, but "It's exciting to see the university is looking to include more of an indigenous presence."

U of M Students Union president Al Turnbull said administration has assured UMSU undergrads will not see their educational opportunities reduced in any way by the proposed plan.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca