Top Ten

August 11, 2010

BC advanced education minister defends funding for VIU

BC Advanced Education Minister Moira Stilwell says the province is putting "record spending" into BC's post-secondary institutions, despite criticism the government has not kept up with rising operational costs at Vancouver Island University, which has had to trim $4.7 million to balance its budget, cutting costs through staff and course section reductions. Meanwhile, enrolment at VIU is expected to increase by 14% this fall, and officials warn there will be longer waiting lists for the more popular courses. Both VIU and its student union say a lack of provincial funding is to blame. The university says government funding makes up about 40% of its budget, compared to 60% in 2000. Stilwell says BC is spending more on PSE despite the recession, and government funding makes up closer to half of VIU's budget. The minister expects that a future economic recovery will balance out the current high demand for education. However, VIU officials have said they expect enrolment to continue to rise with a health economy, as the region becomes more reliant on knowledge-based industries requiring additional training. Nanaimo Daily News

Private, for-profit education growing in Canada, says CUPE

CUPE members at universities across the country are questioning the decision by administrations to partner with Navitas, allowing the Australia-based education firm to set up private, for-profit programs on their campuses. Navitas has been in Canada since 2006 starting at Simon Fraser University, and in 2008 entered a partnership with the University of Manitoba, whose administration was criticized for negotiating the deal without informing the campus community. Navitas has pursued similar arrangements with McMaster University, Dalhousie University, and the University of Windsor, and is also pursuing a deal with Carleton University. "We can only expect the pressure to grow as Navitas aggressively seeks new markets while its Australian base seems to be in decline," CUPE says. CUPE News

New report shows summer student unemployment rate at 20%

According to a new survey of Canadian university students, student unemployment in June was nearly 20%, nearly double the rate reported by Statistics Canada. This is because of definitional differences, as the student survey counts students enrolled in summer school as "looking for work," while StatsCan's Labour Force Survey does not. The report says it is important for policymakers to understand that StatsCan's definition "produces results that underplay the difficulty students are actually experiencing in obtaining work." With a substantial proportion of students for whom summer work is simply not an option, the report says governments should either make some financial aid provision to relax their summer work contribution requirement for students, or do a better job of explaining to students and families choosing summer school over work that they are likely to see a sizable gap in their funding package for the following year. Read the report

uAlberta president profiled in The Walrus

The September issue of The Walrus includes an article profiling the University of Alberta and its president, Indira Samarasekera. What makes the president so popular with politicians and CEOs, the article says, is her belief in the knowledge economy -- the notion that the strength of a society and its economy are largely informed by the quality of its education systems. Much of the article focuses on how "universities are increasingly defined by the commercial forces around them, including governments that actively reward growth-friendly research and scholarship," resulting in a narrowing of society's field of inquiry. Samarasekera makes it clear that she does not oppose commercialization of research; however, some uAlberta researchers do see cause for concern. The article also delves into the "unhappy campus," mentioning last fall's student-initiated poster campaign criticizing Samarasekera's comments on male enrolment, the introduction of a $290 non-instruction fee many saw as a cash grab, and declining morale within the professoriate, particularly in the humanities. The Walrus

Ontario teacher ed confirmations highest in last decade

New statistics from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre show that as of August 4, there are 8,241 confirmed acceptances for teacher education at Ontario universities, the highest figure recorded in the last 10 years. Confirmations rose slightly over August 2009 with a 0.8% increase. An increase in confirmations was the highest at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, where the rate rose by 11.3%. Teacher Education Confirmation Statistics -- August 2010

NB invests nearly $4 million in uMoncton residence upgrades

On Tuesday, the New Brunswick government announced a $3.8-million investment in updating and redesigning accommodation units at Résidence Lefebvre, located at the Université de Moncton's main campus. The renovations include the modernization of mechanical and electrical equipment, repairs to the exterior walls and foundation, and updating and reconfiguration of the residence's interior. NB News Release

Alberta elementary school program allows students to choose "majors"

A pilot program at an Alberta elementary school will see students as young as 7 placed in classes according to their interests, giving them a kind of childhood "major." In connection with the University of Calgary, teachers at R.J. Hawkey Elementary School, in Airdrie, will teach the mandated provincial curriculum from Grades 2 to 4 through one of 4 specialized "lenses" -- the arts, scientific inquiry, sports, and humanitarian/environment. Each interest stream will be exposed to other classes' teaching, and students will have the chance to change their specialization at the beginning of every school year. The school's principal says the goal of the program, which is unique in Canada, is to boost classroom engagement. uCalgary researchers will assess the program, analyzing factors such as whether students feel correctly placed, student engagement, parent satisfaction, and academic achievement. The program's announcement has sparked a flurry of angry letters from students and teachers to the Airdrie Echo. National Post | Airdrie Echo | Editorial | Letters to the editor (June 16) | Letters to the editor (June 23) | Letters to the editor (July 4)

CASA objects to proposed Access Copyright royalty rates applied to PSE

In a statement of objection to the Copyright Board regarding the recently proposed Access Copyright royalty rates specific to post-secondary institutions, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations believes the proposed tariff lacks recognition of rights under Fair Dealing or other exceptions. CASA also takes issue with the exorbitant rate proposed -- a 10-fold increase from the previous inflation-indexed royalty rate. CASA states the reporting requirements mandated by the proposed tariff may compel academic institutions to breach non-disclosure agreements, collective agreements, and other contracts. CASA statement of objection | Copyright Board

NYU open-courseware project may free up profs for personalized instruction

In an ambitious experiment, New York University wants to explore ways to redesign the roles of professors in larger undergraduate classes, using technology to allow more time for personal instruction. This fall, the institution will begin publishing free online videos for every lecture in as many as 10 courses. NYU plans to created souped-up versions of the material for its students only, with these video courses containing live links to sources mentioned by professors, as well as pop-up definitions and interactive quizzes. NYU's dean of social sciences, who is leading the project, says that with one fewer course to teach, professors can now take on the role of "faculty curators," meeting with students in person and online, requiring them to attend events such as departmental seminars, and involving the best ones in their own research. The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)

Computers have not improved students' study skills, US research finds

A new US study observes that computers alone cannot keep college students from falling into the same weak study habits from their pen-and-paper days. Researchers found that students tend to study on computers as they would with traditional texts, by mindlessly over-copying long passages verbatim or building lengthy outlines that make it hard to connect related information. Meanwhile, undergraduate students in the study scored 29 to 63 percentage points higher on tests when they used study techniques such as recording complete notes or crafting practice questions on their computer screens. As students spend more and more study time on computers, it will be vital for them to learn better ways of processing and making use of information, says one of the study's authors. University of Nebraska-Lincoln News Release