Top Ten

February 7, 2013

Alberta intends to take greater role in determining university research priorities

The Alberta government wants universities to get on board with its economic diversification agenda -- and make more money -- as it considers a potential restructuring of the $2.9-billion PSE sector. Premier Alison Redford recently shuffled her cabinet, appointing Thomas Lukaszuk as Enterprise and Advanced Education Minister. Redford says she made the move because the province wants to see applied research at PSE institutions focus on economic development and diversification. Lukaszuk says the government "most definitely" intends to play a greater role in determining university research priorities because a "return to the taxpayer" is a priority. The province's intentions are sounding alarms among opposition parties, academics, and students worried about the universities' independence and the fate of programs that provide little financial spinoff. Calgary Herald

Mount Royal could trim staff, programs to close budget gap

Mount Royal University could be forced to reduce staffing levels and cut programs to close an $8.5-million budget gap over the next 2 years, but a spokesperson says those measures would only be a "last resort." Mount Royal presented more definitive figures regarding an operating shortfall during a private meeting Monday, and the VP of administrative services says much work is being done to generate revenue on campus. Some options being explored include increasing summer rentals of on-campus parking and residences, and adjusting and expanding current business agreements. "We are, of course, going to do everything we can to not reduce staffing and do things through other scenarios, other options," the VP says. "But, with the magnitude of cuts that we're going to be looking at, there is potential for adjustments to staffing levels...those decisions haven't been made yet." Mount Royal's projections are based on 2% operating grant increases originally approved by the Alberta government for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. Metro Calgary

NSCAD students present manifesto to provincial legislature

NSCAD University students marched to the Nova Scotia legislature Wednesday to demand that the government preserve the institution. NSCAD students recently prepared a manifesto that called for staffing and program offerings to remain at current levels, and delivered that document to the government. "It's no coincidence that the financial crisis at NSCAD came to a head after years of consecutive budget cuts by the provincial NDP government,” says the chairwoman of Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia. "NSCAD is a pillar of the Nova Scotia arts community and brings students and faculty from across the country and around the world to Halifax. This government needs to recognize the unique nature of a studio-based arts educat ion and fund it appropriately." The province has been pressing NSCAD to get its finances in order. The university has until March 31 to present a long-term plan to the government on how it will achieve financial stability. CFS-NS News Release | Chronicle-Herald

CÉGEP profs may boycott PSE summit

CÉGEP instructors are threatening to boycott Quebec's upcoming PSE summit. The Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) is meeting this week to discuss its plan after the province reneged on a promise to cover the cost of 180 additional instructors hired to help with the make-up sessions needed in August and September due to the student class boycott last year. FNEEQ president Caroline Senneville says Quebec Treasury Board officials told union leaders there was a never a directive to the higher education department not to cover the full cost of hiring the extra instructors, which was $31 million. But the department has been adamant that it will cover just $15 million of the cost, even though it was agreed upon beforehand. "Our agreement was very clear," Senneville says. "It says the ministry will foot the bill for up to 180 teachers." Since the funding has to come from somewhere, Senneville says it means much fewer instructors will be hired in coming semesters, to help recoup some of the cost. "We are so angry and we may reconsider going to the summit," she says. Montreal Gazette

McMaster faces $290 million in deferred maintenance

McMaster University is about $290 million behind in repairing its buildings and infrastructure, and its students are calling on the institution to do something about it. A student union VP says he wants the Ontario government to increase the amount it allocates for deferred maintenance and for McMaster to devote more resources to catching up. According to last year's figures, McMaster needed $150 million to catch up on deferred maintenance. Approximately $50 million of that were repairs marked as urgent, which meant they had to be fixed in the next year. The cost has risen to $290 million, says McMaster's VP of administration, who notes the institution is not the only university with a deferred maintenance backlog. McMaster allocated about $2 million of its budget to deferred maintenance last year, the VP says. It receives about $1.2 million from the Ontario government each year for this purpose. The student union wants the government to increase its contribution to 1.5% of the value of the buildings within McMaster, amounting to about $25 million annually. CBC

Universities reviewing how they run PhD programs

For people about to enrol in PhD studies, the statistics are sobering. The completion times are long and the success rates, though improving, are dismally low in certain fields. But doctoral enrolment continues to rise, spurred by government policies that sought to keep pace with the US and other industrialized nations that outrank Canada in PhD production. "I don't think we have been as careful or as thorough as we should be at looking at PhD programs," says UBC's provost. UBC plans to review its doctoral programs, examining curricular requirements, completion times, graduation rates, and employment prospects for graduates. It plans to post graduation rates and completion times, by program, online so prospective students can easily access the data. In what may be a more controversial move, UBC is also considering limiting PhD enrolment in some disciplines. Initiatives elsewhere include some Queen's PhD programs moving their comprehensive exams to earlier in the process and Concordia offering completion bonuses to students who complete their PhDs on time. While universities continue to grapple with PhD-related issues, there are 2 concrete things they could do to help, says Richard Wiggers of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario: collect and publish more data on PhD students, and be more candid with them about their prospects. University Affairs

Campus Montréal campaign receives $2.5-million gift

Rémi Marcoux and TC Transcontinental have made a $2.5-million donation to Campus Montréal, a $500-million fundraising campaign led jointly by the Université de Montréal, HEC Montréal, and Polytechnique Montréal. The gift will be used to create the Rémi Marcoux Entrepreneurial Track, a program for students to hone their entrepreneurial skills and develop a comprehensive understanding of market forces and the business environment. uMontréal rector Guy Breton says "this donation dovetails perfectly with our fundraising campaign, since entrepreneurship is one of the fields of excellence we champion. Our campus is a veritable hothouse of ideas and talent, which, if nurtured well, can foster the development of innovative new businesses." HEC Montréal News

Georgian College Child and Youth Worker students use Second Life to hone skills

Students at Georgian College's Orillia campus are tackling complex issues that cannot easily be replicated in the classroom thanks to Second Life, an online virtual world. Located on a Georgian College "island" created by Computer Studies students, the Second Life campus features a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder resource centre, a conference centre, counselling labs, and meeting spaces. Currently, Child and Youth Worker students are using the virtual campus to practice therapeutic interventions and sharpen their counselling skills. Plans are in the works to expand the college's use of Second Life. Police Studies is designing a traffic accident scene for an investigations course, and Community and Justice Services is developing an online correctional environment. Georgian College News

American Council on Education recommends 5 Coursera-offered MOOCs for credit

In November, the American Council on Education (ACE) and Coursera announced a pilot project to determine whether some massive open online courses (MOOCs) are similar enough to traditional PSE courses that they should be eligible for credit. Now, ACE has endorsed 5 MOOCs offered by Coursera for credit. ACE's endorsement alone does not mean students can expect savings by redeeming their Coursera certificates -- proof that they have passed its courses -- for credit toward a traditional degree. But if some institutions follow through, ACE's recommendations could go a long way toward straightening the path from free college courses to valuable college credits. The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)

"Monsters University" website parodies college sites

"'Monsters University' may have a better faux commercial than the real ones run by the country's colleges and universities," reports the Huffington Post. In a video Pixar posted on YouTube, "Monsters University" aims to inspire prospective students who might attend the institution and participate in "groundbreaking research and the development of the next generation of leadership" (the research pertains to how a monster can frighten children more effectively). The video is meant to generate buzz for the "Monsters, Inc." prequel, scheduled for release this summer. Pixar has also developed a website for "Monsters University," one that the Huffington Post says "seems to promote a university rather than a movie and rivals or surpasses actual university websites." The site features links to admission information (requirements include Monster Aptitude Test scores), an events listing, a student handbook, and a detailed campus map with which to locate the Scream Energy School, the School of Liberal Arts and Monstrosities, and the School of Scaring. The site also links to an online campus store, where visitors can actually buy gear such as a 4-arm hoodie. Huffington Post | Business Insider | Monsters University website