Top Ten

January 23, 2012

Pension shortfalls taking a bite out of university operating budgets

Facing staggering pension plan deficits, some Canadian universities are struggling to continue funding plans and are resorting to desperate measures such as dipping into operating budgets and negotiating higher employee contribution rates. The University of Toronto's pension plan has posted a shortfall of nearly $1 billion, and Dalhousie University's pension deficit has risen to $270 million. An independent researcher says his analysis of 20 years of university spending data suggests that an increasing proportion of operating expenses are being diverted to pay for employee benefits. CAUT's assistant executive director of collective bargaining says universities have asked staff to help with pension deficits by accepting higher contribution levels and reduced benefits. Both institutions and unions need to get serious about reforming pension plans, says one pension critic. Possible solutions, he says, include raising the retirement age, not allowing retirees to collect full pension and come back to work, and basing calculations on average career salary instead of end-of-career salary. University World News

Labour grievances proliferating at Algonquin College

Algonquin College officials and labour relations experts agree that the large number of outstanding grievances filed by the college's faculty union suggests there is a problem, with one expert saying the "spectacular" number of grievances points to widespread and blatant violation of the collective agreement by the college's administration. The OPSEU Local 415 currently has over 450 outstanding grievances against Algonquin, while similarly-sized unions at other Ontario colleges have fewer than 2 dozen, a handful of which are sent to arbitration. Algonquin's dean of arts, media, and design agrees the large number of grievances is clear evidence there is a problem, but he thinks there is a gap between the union leadership and rank-and-file members. "By and large, our relationships with our members of the faculty, our teachers, are excellent." The VP of human resources agrees, saying the majority of faculty members do not get "caught up in the union issues." Ottawa Citizen

RDC video showcases college's future direction

At an event Friday to release its annual report to the community, Red Deer College presented a video outlining its vision to design meaningful learning opportunities and world-class facilities. This includes a health, education, and wellness centre that presents new allied health program opportunities, a multiplex dedicated to learning, sport, and recreational activities, new learning spaces, and new student housing. RDC president Joel Ward says it is not about grand facilities, but about creating collaborative space that enables people to learn to the best of their ability. Watch the video

Ontario teacher ed applications down nearly 9%

Figures from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre show that as of January 2, there are 29,134 applications to teacher education programs at Ontario universities, down 8.9% from the 31,986 applications recorded in January 2011. The number of applicants for this month totals 9,311, down from 10,302 a year ago. Teacher Education Application Statistics -- January 2012

LSUC proposes options to address articling crisis

In an effort to address Ontario's articling position shortage, the Law Society of Upper Canada has proposed 5 options for the province's licensing process: the status quo; the status quo with quality assurance improvement; the replacement of a pre-licensing transition requirement with a post-licensing transition requirement; a choice of either articling or a practical legal training course; or only a practical legal training course. There was widespread support for the fourth option from attendees at a public consultation last week. A member of LSUC's articling task force says the fourth option would better suit students planning to practise at a small firm or become a sole practitioner as the law society would encourage those types of lawyers to offer placements. Canadian Lawyer

UBC expands use of broad-based admissions

The University of British Columbia announced yesterday it is expanding its use of broad-based admissions -- an application process based both on grades and personal experiences -- to all applicants of direct-entry undergraduate programs at the Vancouver campus this year, making the institution the largest university in Canada to include non-academic criteria in its application process on this scale. Applicants will be required to answer 4 to 6 "personal profile" questions in addition to submitting high school marks. The questions give applicants the opportunity to talk about their learning, experiences, and goals. UBC News Release

PEI wants more medical students to practice in province

The PEI government wants to make it mandatory for Island students who access provincially-funded seats at Memorial University to work at least 3 years in PEI after they graduate. PEI's health minister spent the weekend at MUN talking to medical students about practising in PEI. He told the CBC that his message was not welcomed by Island students at the university. "The med students feel they don't want to be pegged in or locked into a commitment early on in their time of study, but at the same time it is a substantial investment," the minister says. "I was very clear that in order for us to continue to make investments, I'm really concerned about our inability to retain the number of students from Memorial." The minister says the number of provincially-funded MUN medical students who came back to work in PEI has been low for 5 years. The PEI government currently funds 4 seats for Islanders at MUN, at a cost of $50,000 per student. The province plans to increase the number of seats it funds to 6 in 2013. CBC

New visa rules allow international grad students to work in field while studying

Recent changes to limited student visas for international graduate students now allow them to find work in their field while completing their degree, eliminating restrictions on working off campus in their chosen field. International grad students typically receive about 3 or 4 years of funding, although it can take longer before they defend their thesis and complete their degree. Many return home to find work while writing their dissertation before coming back to Canada to defend it and complete their education. Over the past 2 years, those restrictions have been quietly lifted, so international grad students can now work up to 20 hours in a job related to their education while in Canada. After the students complete it, the federal government grants them a 3-year work visa and allows them to transition into a full-time job in their field. Calgary Herald

GradProSkills helps Concordia grad students succeed in Montreal

Concordia University graduate students have a new program to help them remain in Montreal and join the workforce once they have completed their degree. Launched in August 2011, the GradProSkills program helps grad students and post-doctoral fellows make an effective transition from academia to the workforce. Concordia is the only Canadian university to offer French language training as part of this type of skills enhancement initiative. GradProSkills offers workshops on how to plan and manage projects, be entrepreneurial, understand and apply ethical practices, work effectively as leaders and in teams, and develop a valuable curriculum vitae. The program has attracted more than 3,600 participants with another 350 interested grad students on a waiting list. Concordia News Release

Students make final financial contribution to Queen's Centre

The Alma Mater Society Assembly at Queen's University has voted to approve the final transfer to the institution of student-fee contributions toward the Queen's Centre project. The investment to the student and athletics facility, which opened in December 2009, will total approximately $10.6 million. In recognition that the original vision of the project was not feasible in the current fiscal climate, the AMS and Queen's agreed that the students' original financial commitment needed to be adjusted. An MOU between the AMS and the institution specifies the revised amount of the student contribution, while providing for further investment in other student life spaces. Queen's News Centre