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UQAM in Montreal.

Christinne Muschi/christinne muschi The Globe and Mail

In Quebec, the '60s were a time when thinking big was the norm. From Expo '67 to the development of the Métro, projects were large. Education was no exception.

The decade began with the province overhauling its primary and secondary school curriculum and creating a province-wide system of CEGEPs. The decade would end with an even brasher project: In 1968, Quebec started building a university system.

The Université du Québec would become a network of nine universities, stretching from Abitibi-Témiscamingue to the Outaouais. It was based on models that existed in places like California and Wisconsin, where individual universities such as UCLA and UW-Madison were able to thrive inside a network that also comprised smaller, more regional campuses.

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The UQ (the only one of its kind in Canada) would allow Quebec's more remote areas to go beyond seminaries and two-year business schools and, instead, adopt a system that would stem the flow of students to the big cities, and encourage research investment to the province's outlying regions.

This year, the UQ celebrates its 40th birthday. Over the years its research—from testing de-icing equipment to looking at toxins affecting beluga population in the Saguenay—has focussed on Quebec. And its enormous size—87,000 students and a faculty of almost 2,500—has helped it achieve first-place ranking in research for universities that don't have a fac ulty of medicine.

But, at the same time, the UQ faces challenges. Its flagship, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), has said it would prefer being fully autonomous. And the battle to increase accessibility in regions that don't have a tradition of university enrolment remains a challenge.

Despite the problems, there are great plans for the 40th anniversary including a series of honorary degrees for people such as Pierre Martin, one of the people

who helped push for the UQ system. "This was part of the '60s spirit, to create these substantial institutions that would take their place in North America," says

Mr. Martin. He recalls a great enthusiasm for the project during its inception. Quebec professors who had gone to the United States were suddenly repatriated. The new CEGEPs were able to send their students to local universities. The building of such a network was part of the zeitgeist of big, bold and collective.

UQ president Pierre Moreau says he hopes the university never forgets its name. "We are the Université du Québec, and we have to be Quebec's university

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and to be able to listen to its needs, while also remaining autonomous." And he adds: "Watch what we can do in the next 40 years."

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