Top Ten

December 14, 2012

Quebec universities urge province to withdraw "draconian" cuts

McGill University's board of governors says there is no way it can cut $20 million -- nearly 5% of its operating budget -- by April, as prescribed by the Parti Québecois government. The government recently announced that universities have the next 4 months to cut $124 million in spending. McGill principal Heather Munroe-Blum calls the belt-tightening measures "draconian, unpredictable, [and] ineffective to running a quality-accessibility university system." McGill's board is asking the PQ to drop the retroactive cuts and restore the commitments to university funding that were in place when the institution approved its budget last spring. Also describing the measures as draconian, Université Laval rector Denis Brière is encouraging members of the university community to support his call for government officials to reconsider their position on the cuts. The deans of 17 faculties at uLaval have issued a statement demanding that Quebec's higher education minister reconsider his decision. CBC | uLaval Rector's Message (in French) | uLaval Deans' Statement (in French)

Ex-uOttawa prof claims former colleague's defamation suit violates institution's "Christian principles"

Former University of Ottawa professor Denis Rancourt, who is being sued by law professor Joanne St. Lewis, told an Ottawa courtroom Thursday that the action goes against the institution's "Christian principles." Rancourt is representing himself in the suit, which alleges he defamed St. Lewis in a blog post. He questions the motives of uOttawa for deciding to cover St. Lewis's legal fees, and he claims the 2 parties agreed to share the potential proceeds of the $1-million suit. In testimony from April 2012, uOttawa president Alan Rock told the court that the institution was compelled to cover St. Lewis's legal costs because she was defamed as a result of work uOttawa asked her to do, namely, to review a student-produced report that alleged systemic racism at the institution. It was in reaction to the review that Rancourt wrote the allegedly defamatory blog post. The judge in the case said Thursday that deciding whether the suit goes against Christian principles is "out of (his) jurisdiction." Ottawa Citizen

UBC releases 2011 data on animal use in research

On Friday, UBC released its animal research statistics for 2011. According to the data, 225,043 animals were involved in 983 research protocols last year (up from 211,604 in 2010, largely due to a rise in new strains of transgenic rodents bred for medical research). Excluding the 15,000 rats and mice bred for research, animal use in research at the university has decreased overall. UBC reports that animal use in basic research, medical and veterinarian research decreased in 2011 while use for regulatory testing remained the same. Use of animals for educational purposes fell by 25%, in line with UBC's efforts to reduce, replace, and refine use of animals in research and education. The only Canadian university to publish its animal research statistics annually, UBC first published data last year as a step toward greater public transparency. This past August, UBC was the first Canadian university to release a detailed assessment report by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. UBC News Release | Vancouver Sun

Mount Royal starts construction of new Conservatory

Friday marked the official start of construction of Mount Royal University's new Conservatory. The facility will feature new instructional spaces for private lessons, rehearsal halls for ensembles of all sizes, a dedicated suite for the Conservatory's Early Childhood music programs, and the 800-seat Bella Concert Hall. The federal and Alberta governments are each contributing up to $20 million, the City of Calgary is contributing $10.3 million, and Mount Royal is investing more than $3 million in land and project costs. A $20-million donation from the Taylor family will be reflected in the naming of the Bella Concert Hall in honour of family matriarch Mary Belle Taylor. Mount Royal News Release

Parental education matters most when pursuing PSE, report finds

When it comes to pursuing PSE, parental education matters more than family income, observes new research from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario that explores PSE access for a number of under-represented groups. Building on previous research that also underscores the impact of parental education, the new report found that the higher the level of parental education, the more likely young people are to participate in university. "The effect of parental education on university participation remained strong even after all other characteristics were controlled," the report states. "Having at least one parent with a university degree has a strong positive effect on a youth’s participation in university but a negative effect on participating in college." The research found that Aboriginal youth and youth with disabilities are more likely to be under-represented in Ontario universities, but not in colleges. Living independently and living in a single-parent household have negative effects on participating in university. Research Summary | Full Report

Taking a behavioural economic approach to grades

Behaviour economists are beginning to experiment in the classroom, testing the effect of financial rewards on student performance. Baiting students with money might not be possible in a university setting, but there may be other methods to engage loss aversion with respect to grades. Behavioural economics might explain why grading sometimes diminishes student motivation: attaching an incentive suggests one is required. When grades are attached to a task, it can signal that the activity must be undesirable. So how can professors frame grades effectively? One uToronto professor stresses that instructors should reflect on their evaluation methods and talk openly with students about their reasoning. Early in his career, a Dal professor restructured his assignments so students could resubmit work after getting feedback on their first try. Such flexibility might tap into students' desire for a fair incentive system, and is also a way to help students sharpen critical skills. One uWaterloo professor takes the focus off marks by constantly reminding students about another incentive: the broad applicability of the skills students learn in his macroeconomics course on the labour market. University Affairs

"Queens U Compliments" Facebook page garners international attention

A Facebook page that lets Queen's University students anonymously compliment one another is gaining media attention worldwide. "Queens U Compliments," which had more than 4,950 "friends" as of Friday, invites users to write positive comments to one another in an effort to combat bullying and foster a supportive student community. The story has been picked up by several international publications, such as Time, the Daily Mail, News Track India, the Zimbabwe Star, and China National News. The media attention has spawned similar Facebook pages at nearly 100 other North American schools. The Queen's students behind the initiative say that so far they have received lots of positive feedback on the page. They're worried about how quickly they are approaching Facebook's 5,000-friend cap and want to ensure that if they expand the initiative, they are able to maintain anonymity. Queen's News Centre | Queens U Compliments

Board members say PSE costs too much, but not at their school, US survey finds

Most board members at US PSE institutions believe higher education costs too much, but a majority also say their own schools' prices are not the problem, according to a survey by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. A report on the survey asked more than 2,500 board members at both public and private institutions about their perception of PSE prices, costs, and outcomes. 55% of responding board members said PSE in general is too expensive relative to its value. But 62% said their school costs what it should. Nearly all boards report that they have the power and responsibility to set tuition and fees. A key finding, the report notes, is that one of every 5 board members disagreed with the following statement: "the United States needs more of our citizens to earn college degrees." That point of view, the association argues, raises a "fundamental question about how board members view their board service and the mission of higher education." The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access) | Report

U. of Iowa first public institution in US to ask applicants about sexual orientation

The University of Iowa announced last Wednesday the addition of an optional question on sexual orientation, and a transgender choice under gender, to its application. To date, Illinois-based Elmhurst College has such questions, but Iowa is the first public PSE institution in the US to add the question to its application about student identity, not interest. Advocates see the university's move as significant, given that it is a flagship institution. "This is a huge deal in that it shows any campus that it can do the same thing," says Campus Pride's executive director. The senior admission counsellor at Iowa who brought the idea forward says that as a gay undergraduate at the institution, he found an "open and accepting environment." But after he graduated and began working in admissions, he says he realized that "there was no targeted recruitment of LGBT students." The move at Iowa is part of an effort to make its undergraduate application one that sends a welcoming signal to all students, and to gather information about the university's success at attracting and retaining students who are not straight. Inside Higher Ed

Open University establishes British MOOC platform

Britain's Open University (OU) has launched a UK-based platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs) called Futurelearn. The platform will carry courses from a dozen UK institutions, which will be available to students worldwide free of charge. Futurelearn will operate as an independent company, majority owned by OU, although details of other investors have yet to be confirmed. OU's vice-chancellor says MOOCs have the potential to bring about "long-lasting change," and describes Futurelearn as "the next chapter in the story of British higher education." Open University News | Times Higher Education