Top Ten

February 24, 2012

MITx opens registration for first free open learning course

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology opened registration last week for its first online course through MITx, its new online initiative that allows the public to enroll in an online course at no charge, and pay only for a credential upon completion. Students taking the first course, "Circuits and Electronics", will watch a series of 5- to 10-minute video tutorials, read an e-textbook, and complete homework assignments, virtual labs, and 2 exams (which will be graded by computer). An e-learning innovation MIT developed for the course is a browser-based "virtual circuits laboratory" in which students drag and drop chips and resistors to construct a virtual circuit board. At the end of the course, stud ents will receive a cumulative grade and a certificate from MITx. Registration is free, and there is no enrolment cap.  Inside Higher Ed

York U president requests report following on-campus gun incident

Following charges laid against a York University law student who allegedly fired a 12-gauge shotgun through a residence room door on February 18, York U president Mamdouh Shoukri says the institution will continue to work closely with police as the investigation progresses to learn more about how the incident occurred and to determine what the university might still need to do to further enhance safety. Shoukri has asked the institution's VP Finance and Administration, as Chair of the Management Safety Committee, to provide a report within 90 days. "I want to assure everyone that the safety and well-being of all our community members -- students, faculty, and staff -- is paramount at York," says Shoukri. President's Statement | National Post

MTCU "3 cubed" report urges PSE savings through online courses, accelerated degrees

An Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities policy paper, not yet made public but obtained by Canadian Press, advances a "3x3" framework that will see colleges and universities realize 3% savings in each of 3 years by offering one-third of their courses online, adding a summer term in a trimester system, and launching more accelerated 3-year degrees. (Apparently institutions will need to find the 3% budget reductions, whether they participate in the strategies or not.) The recommendations echo previous plans for an Ontario Online Institute, and the recommendations of the recent Drummond Report to address the province's deficit. CFS and CAUT are surprised that such a major overhaul would be proposed without consulting faculty or students, and reiterate their concerns about the quality of online education. Canadian Press  | Toronto Star

uSask campus safety to be reviewed following report of sexual assault

A University of Saskatchewan official says the institution lacks a formal policy about reporting violent incidents such as sexual assaults on campus, but a review of campus safety procedures will consider one. Some members of the university community have raised concerns about how uSask officials reported an alleged sexual assault of a 20-year-old woman at a student residence on New Year's Day. The institution informed students, staff, and faculty about the assault in an e-mail sent on February 17. Finding out about the incident at the same time as the rest of the campus, the student union says the assault should have been reported earlier. uSask considers the assault an isolated incident that posed no immediate threat to others. Details of the attack were sparse when it was reported to police, but new information and a request from the victim's family prompted uSask officials to issue the report, says the AVP of student affairs. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

CAUT raises academic freedom concerns about York's partnership with CIGI

A $60-million partnership between YorkU and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a Waterloo-based think tank funded by RIM founder Jim Balsillie, has come under criticism by the Canadian Association of University Teachers. CAUT notes that the agreement, which has been signed and is up for approval at a York senate meeting next week, requires a panel of 5, including 2 representatives from CIGI, to give unanimous approval of the hiring of the 10 research chairs in international law. "York has given away the store," says CAUT's James Turk. York VP Patrick Monahan argues that a protocol signed by both parties ensures "the promotion and protection of the academic freedom of individual researchers and teachers… including the freedom to pursue research that may criticize the parties or a financial contributor." CAUT has previously criticized CIGI's undue influence over the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Toronto Star  |  CAUT statement

UK undergraduate course offerings cut by 27% over 6 years

New research shows that British university students had fewer choices when selecting courses in 2012 than they did in 2006. According to the Universities and Colleges Union, there were 70,052 undergraduate courses in 2006, but only 51,116 in 2012. The reduction was most severe in England, at 31%, where students have faced dramatic increases in tuition, compared to a decline of only 3% in Scotland, where local students do not pay tuition. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) course offerings declined by 14.6%, social sciences by 12.8% and arts and humanities by 14%.  BBC

NSCAD president to step down

NSCAD University president David B. Smith has announced he will be stepping down from his post at the end of this school year, just as the art institution enters one of the more pivotal periods in its history. "I feel both privileged and honoured to have served my alma mater to the best of my abilities over the last six years, and I remain firmly committed to working with the Board to submit a solid sustainability plan to the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education in the coming weeks that will ensure the autonomy and vitality of NSCAD for the next 125 years," Smith says. A university spokesperson says Smith's decision "was unanticipated," but NSCAD has made "good progress" on the sustainability report, and "we expect to make the deadline." NSCAD's board chair notes that Smith's leadership ensured $8.4 million in private donations, the most funds raised in the institution's history. The board will strike a committee to appoint an interim president and search for Smith's permanent replacement. Message from the Chair | Globe and Mail

Quebec student demonstrations shut down bridge, CÉGEP

Quebec students protesting tuition fee increases shut down the Jacques Cartier Bridge for nearly an hour during Thursday's afternoon rush hour, as a demonstration organizers say drew 15,000 people proceeded through downtown Montreal. 2 groups of marchers were confronted by police as they made their way to the bridge, and the march eventually broke up at about 5:30 pm. Police say one individual was arrested. Meanwhile, student protesters were meeting with school officials in the student dorms near Cégep de Saint-Laurent in Montreal Friday morning following a standoff during which students blocked the college's entrance to both campus officials and police. Approximately 100 protesters blocked the CÉGEP's entrances starting about 4 am in a bid to force officials to allow some students access to campus for classes they said cannot afford to miss. The CÉGEP locked out the students, with its director general announcing that the one-day closure was caused by the students' boycott of classes. Montreal Gazette (bridge closure) | Montreal Gazette (CÉGEP closure)

Ottawa invests $27 million for adult basic education for Northerners

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Thursday a $27-million investment over 5 years to expand adult basic education in the territories. The Northern Adult Basic Education Program aims to improve access to basic skills upgrades, such as improved literacy and numeracy, so working-age adults are better positioned to participate in the labour market. Programming will be delivered through Aurora College, Nunavut Arctic College, and Yukon College. Nunavut Arctic College will receive $11 million of the funding. Yukon College will get $300,000 so far and can apply for more over the next 5 years. Aurora College will receive $620,000 with the potential for more in the future. Canada News Centre | Nunavut News Release | Yukon College News | Canadian Press

British government radically overhauls student visa rules

Under tough new rules to come into effect in April, international students in Britain will be allowed to stay in the country only if they have graduated from a university and have an offer for a job paying at least £20,000 from a reputable employer accredited by the UK Border Agency. "In the past, too many students have come to the UK to work rather than study, and this abuse must end," says Britain's immigration minister. The British government has also announced a new graduate entrepreneur program that will allow PSE institutions to sponsor candidates to remain in Britain for 12 additional months, which may then be extended for another year if the sponsor institution "is satisfied with the progress they have made."  Times Higher Education  |  The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)

Alberta endorses land trust endowment for Keyano

The Alberta government has approved the transfer of more than 600 acres of land in the Saline Creek area from Keyano College to a land trust for the institution. The land will be used for new residential and commercial development in Fort McMurray. Keyano estimates that the trust will generate between $80 million and $120 million in net revenue for the institution over an 8- to 10-year period. Alberta News Release | Keyano News Release

uWaterloo entrepreneurship programs receive $2.3 million in federal funding

On Wednesday, the federal government announced new funding for University of Waterloo programs that help science, technology and engineering graduates work for small companies or start their own. The UW graduate enterprise program, which helps Masters and PhD graduates find jobs with small or medium companies, received $1.4 million. The UW Commercialization Centre, which helps MA and PhD students create their own businesses, received $630,000. With additional sponsorship from the government of Ontario and uWaterloo, this will fund 20 Ontario Science and Engineers in Business Commercialization Fellowships, worth $60,000 each.  uWaterloo News Release  |  Waterloo Record

Ottawa invests in SAIT composite materials centre

Through Western Economic Diversification Canada, the federal government announced Thursday a $3.5-million investment to enable SAIT Polytechnic to establish a centre for innovation to support companies working to develop new products that use composite materials. The centre will offer a range of commercialization services that span from product design and testing to production and packaging. The facility will also create opportunities to train students preparing for careers in the composites industry. Western Economic Diversification Canada News Release | SAIT News Release

SMU "Living Learning" Facebook contest offers $8,000 prize

Last month, Saint Mary's University in Halifax launched the "Living Learning" contest with a Facebook game app that served up information about learning opportunities, both in and out of class, and concluded with a mock newspaper featuring the player's profile picture and a headline about their future achievements. 3,700 contestants in the game were entered into a draw, and 8 finalists are now vying for $8,000 off 4 years' tuition at SMU by writing a 100-word description of a learning experience outside the classroom.  The contest reflects SMU's "living learning" brand and the integrated theoretical and experiential learning emphasized in SMU's latest academic plan. Marketing Magazine  |  Living Learning app on Facebook 

OUSA seeks revision of social assistance program criteria for PSE students

In its submission to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance recommends that the employment earnings of full-time PSE students should be immediately exempt from the Ontario Works (OW) income calculations, without a 3-month waiting period. OUSA also calls for the elimination of the $100 boarder's fee for all PSE students who live with family members on OW or the Ontario Disabilities Support Program, irrespective of earnings. Another recommendation is to have eligibility for the student-loan Repayment Assistance Plan to be based on net income after social assistance deductions. OUSA also recommends that the province should broaden the definition of permanent disability used to assess eligibility for the Ontario Student Assistance Program and the Repayment Assistance Plan for Borrowers with a Permanent Disability to ensure it does not unjustly exclude people with mental illness. OUSA News | Submission

Polytechnics Canada outlines priorities for upcoming federal budget

Polytechnics Canada calls for concerted action in the forthcoming federal budget to improve industry innovation, increase apprenticeship completion, and stimulate entrepreneurship. The organization notes that the College Community Innovation Program -- the only federal granting program that supports college applied research -- cannot meet the current demand from industry for such collaboration without the allocation of modest new funds.  Polytechnics Canada states that at no additional cost, Ottawa should end the university-only restriction on undergraduate industrial research awards, opening up eligibility to college undergraduates studying in over 140 bachelor's degrees in areas such as applied technology and applied science. The organization also calls on the government to end the requirement for apprenticeship students to declare any grants as taxable income, a move that in turn will improve the significant low completion rates for tradespeople.  Polytechnics Canada News Release 

Employment rate for Canadians with PSE stable over 10-year period

In a new fact sheet, Statistics Canada reports that the employment rate for Canadians with PSE was the same in 1999 as in 2009, with no fluctuation by more than one percentage point. The paper states this stable employment rate in relation to large increases in the number of people with a university or college education indicates that Canada's labour market was successful in employing a rising number of highly educated individuals. In 2009, 82% of the Canadian population with a college or university credential was employed, compared to 55% of individuals with less than a secondary school education. Employment rates in Canada for people with a college or university credential were consistently within 3 percentage points of the OECD average between 1999 and 2009. However, in 2009, all but 3 of the dozen peer nations considered in the fact sheet (the US, Japan, and Italy) posted higher employment rates than Canada. In all 12 nations, the proportions of the population with PSE credentials were lower than the proportion for Canada. The paper notes that the economies of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan were successful in generating high levels of employment for both the most and the least educated, in this case individuals with university credentials and those with less than secondary school. Read the fact sheet

Toronto labour market short engineering, IT, and technical sales graduates

In a new report, the Toronto Region Research Alliance offers a supply/demand analysis of more than 60 occupations in business and commerce, engineering, health, information technology, and sciences. The demand was estimated in number of new jobs to be created this year, while the supply was estimated from the actual number of graduates from regional PSE institutions in 2010. The report finds that engineering and IT occupations will be in high demand and undersupplied. Despite a lower demand, occupations in design are projected to be undersupplied in 2012. The report observes a high demand for technical sales skills in the Toronto region. Preparation in sales is generally absent in PSE programs in sciences, engineering, IT, and health, and is elective in most business programs. The report states that local youth interest in occupations is lowest in IT and engineering, and highest in business and commerce.  Read the report (PDF)

Record number of Americans enrolling in British universities

According to data from the UK's Higher Education Statistics Agency, 15,555 Americans were pursuing full degrees at British universities in 2010-11 -- up by 3.3% from the previous year. Postgraduate study by American students rose by 15.2% in the 2 years from 2008-09. The number of American students is slated to increase this year after applications from the US and Canada rose by nearly 10%, up to 5,259 applications for courses beginning in fall 2012. US students currently represent approximately 7% of the international student body in the UK. Times Higher Education

MCAT reforms for 2015 include psychological and social competency

The Association of American Medical Colleges has approved sweeping revisions to the Medical College Admission Test that will require would-be doctors to demonstrate that they understand the psychological and social underpinnings of medicine, and not just the hard science. The revamped MCAT will include 2 new sections: one on the psychological, social, and biological foundations of behaviour, and the other on critical analysis and reasoning skills. It will also have 2 natural-science sections covering material learned in introductory biology, general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physics courses. The new exam eliminates a writing section that was not widely considered. Critics have argued that such a broadening of the scope of the MCAT would burden pre-medical students with more requirements and discourage many from applying, but the association sees it "as giving them freedom" to study what they are really interested in, says the association's president. The changes come into effect in 2015.  The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)