Top Ten

January 21, 2013

Dawson College student expelled after exposing vulnerabilities in student portal

Hamed Al-Khabaz, a 20-year-old computer science student at Dawson College, was expelled in November after reporting a security flaw in an online student portal he and a colleague discovered while they were working on a student-oriented mobile app. In late October, Al-Khabaz met with Dawson's IT director about the security hole, which allowed access to confidential student data, and was told it would be fixed immediately. He later ran software to check if the problem was fixed, prompting a phone call from Skytech president Eduoard Taza, whose company makes the portal software. Al-Khabaz told the National Post that Taza said he'd call the RCMP and have him arrested if he didn't sign a non-disclosure agreement. Taza acknowledged mentioning police and legal consequences, but denied having made any threats, and suggested Al-Khabaz had misunderstood his comments. Taza said Al-Khabaz should have known better than to use the testing software without permission, "but it is very clear to me that there was no malicious intent. He simply made a mistake." Dawson administration proceeded to expel Al-Khabaz for a "serious professional conduct issue." The CÉGEP's student union has launched a campaign to get Dawson to reinstate Al-Khabaz. National Post | Montreal Gazette | Dawson Student Union News Release

Postscript: Jan 23, 2013

Hamed Al-Khabaz, who was expelled from Dawson College after uncovering a security breach in a system used by students across Quebec, has been offered a scholarship by Skytech, the company behind the software, to finish his diploma in the private sector. The company's president has also offered him a part-time job in information technology security. Al-Khabaz's effort to test system security was deemed a cyberattack. Dawson stands by its decision to expel Al-Khabaz for breaking the CÉGEP's code of conduct. In a statement to the CBC, a Dawson spokeswoman said the process leading to expulsion includes a step in which a student is issued an advisory to cease and desist the activities for which the student is being sanctioned. "When this directive is contravened by the student by engaging in additional activities of the same sort, the College has no recourse but to take appropriate measures to sanction the student." CBC | Dawson Statement

FNUC students warned of potential disease exposure during lab class

First Nations University of Canada is sending warning letters to 289 health sciences students who could have been exposed to blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis during a lab exercise to learn how to determine blood type. Participating students pricked their finger with handheld devices that contained a small disposable lancet, drawing a tiny blood sample for the test. After each use, a new sterile lancet was put into the device, a FNUC official said. But the devices themselves were cleaned and then reused a second time during the lab. In December, a FNUC school nurse realized the US-based Centre for Disease Control had advised against the practice of reusing the device. Sending letters to the involved students is a precautionary measure, said the FNUC official, noting there is an "extremely low risk" any students actually contracted HIV, hepatitis, or any other infection. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

McMaster part-time students say they deserve refund following association spending review

Part-time students at McMaster University say they deserve a refund after learning their association spent student fees on lavish gifts, unexplained salary increases, and a trip to Italy. The McMaster Association of Part-time Students (MAPS) terminated its executive director and vowed to replace its entire board Friday, a day after the Hamilton Spectator reported that Sam Minniti received $101,116 in retroactive pay in 2011 in addition to a $126,151 salary. McMaster announced Friday the end of a 7-month investigation into MAPS finances and outlined a list of conditions the association must meet before it can access student fees, which the institution withheld last spring after initiating the review. So far, neither MAPS nor the university has suggested a refund is forthcoming. Hamilton Spectator

uSask students want input in program prioritization process

University of Saskatchewan students say they want their voices heard as the university undergoes a program prioritization process that aims to cut $25 million in spending. Sitting on the board of governors, the student union president has been privy to some high-level discussions about uSask's spending priorities, but he says he has not been told how the process will work and the criteria involved. Since their education is at stake, students need to have input in how programs will be ranked, the student leader says. uSask's provost said in a written statement that "students can certainly be involved by providing input to the task force." Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

CSA launches mental health campaign

Along with its member institutions, the Ontario-based College Student Alliance has launched a mental health initiative called #Blue2013. The campaign will highlight services available on and off campuses through social media, on-campus representation, and on-campus activities for students. #Blue2013 began yesterday with most campuses combining this initiative with their mental health awareness campaigns over the next few weeks. 15 campuses across Ontario will be taking part in this initiative, aiming to have the campaign in both the fall and winter terms with all schools across the province participating. CSA News Release

Ontario university applications keep rising

According to data from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre, the number of high school students applying to first-year programs rose by 2.4% over last year. A total of 92,554 high school students applied. Since 2000, the number of high school applicants to Ontario universities has grown by 56.3%, a trend that is expected to continue. Early indications show the number of non-secondary student applicants is up by 2.3% year-over-year, although this figure will rise as they continue to apply to university programs. The total first-year applicants to date from both secondary school and non-secondary school pathways is 117,700. COU News Release

Business schools help students hone soft skills

Following the recession, business schools are aware that it is no longer sufficient for graduates to say, "I have an MBA." Now, a future business leader needs to display soft skills, such as communication and a strong work ethic, to show potential employers how and why an individual will make a good employee. MBA students in the University of Victoria's Peter B. Gustavson School of Business have the option of doing a co-op term to help develop competencies defined by the school, with core elements including personal management and social responsibilities. Each student in the program is assigned a coordinator, who evaluates the student's level for each of the competencies. As part of their program, Queen's University MBA students spend an intense networking week in Toronto developing their interviewing, communication, and interactive skills with prospective employers. Prior to the To ronto trip, the business school runs mock networking events to help "reinforce the soft skills by making them practise the soft skills before they get into the real game," says the school's business career centre director. Globe and Mail

UNBC launches new website

The University of Northern British Columbia has redesigned its website, whose homepage features a large, rotating graphic banner that highlights the institution's Northern Exposure Award, Timberwolves athletics, and standing in Maclean's rankings, and also links to a photo gallery. Through the homepage, visitors to the site can learn about environmental efforts at "Canada's Green University" and take a virtual campus tour. UNBC website

US paper argues for putting student work at centre of accountability initiatives

2 US PSE leaders say students would be likely to learn more in college and academic rigour would be increased if professors and accountability proponents focused on the following idea: ask students to produce original work and assess them on it, not on how they do on standardized tests or how many hours they spend in class. This idea underlies a new paper and its afterword released last week by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. The documents elaborate on the Degree Qualifications Profile the Lumina Foundation released in 2011. The paper says the degree profile pushes professors to assign students tasks in which they must produce something, such as a class project or research paper. "Merely identifying a 'correct' answer from a set of posed alternatives is not a production task," says the paper, referring to the common use of multiple-choice tests. "Simply put, the construction of the assignment must unavoidably elicit a demonstration of the competency." The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) | Paper

Kentucky college offers free last term to boost retention rate

For Christmas, freshmen at Kentucky's Union College received the following gift: the promise of a tuition-free final term for those who earned good marks and got involved in campus life. To qualify for the free semester, students must participate in designated "Inaugural Class" events, partake in at least one extracurricular activity, remain enrolled full-time, perform at least 75 hours of community service, and maintain a GPA of at least 3.5. The initiative is designed to increase retention, with which Union has long struggled -- on average, just half of the first-year class, which starts at around 240 students, returns for a second year. The "Inaugural Class" program is meant to inspire students and professors to make the most of each student's time at the college. Union's president hopes the program will send the message to faculty members that student success -- and graduation -- is the top priority. Inside Higher Ed