Top Ten

April 3, 2013

Athabasca U faculty urge administration to dismiss ministry's directives

The Athabasca University Faculty Association (AUFA) says the institution should not sign on to "unprecedented" directives handed down by the Alberta government, because doing so would mean giving up its autonomy and jeopardize academic freedom. In an open letter to Athabasca U's board, AUFA says it is "deeply concerned" with the letters of expectation Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk sent to the province's PSE institutions. AUFA says in its letter that it is "concerned that Alberta's post-secondary institutions are being pressured to agree to terms and conditions of public funding that counter the public interest." The Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations echoes AUFA's concerns, saying the letters of expectation go far beyond the goals outlined in mandate letters sent in the past by the government to universities. Lukaszuk says it's unfortunate the faculty associations see the changes as jeopardizing academic independence. He says he is trying to bring together PSE leaders to better manage resources. Edmonton Journal

PSE cuts "short-term thinking," argues Edmonton mayor

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel is lashing out against the Alberta government's PSE funding cuts, saying the government could "shackle the creativity of our brightest people" and undermine institutions that are essential to Edmonton's growth. It is "short-term thinking" and "not real leadership," Mandel said in his state of the city speech on Tuesday, arguing the cuts threaten quality and academic integrity. "It's lacking in leadership and is unlike what I would expect from Mayor Mandel," said Minister Lukaszuk of the speech. He argued that the mayor is "without a question" primarily upset about Alberta's refusal to commit funds to a new NHL arena. Mandel's "very ill-informed" objection to university funding cuts "is another story," the minister said. University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera applauded Mandel's speech, saying she is "grateful that he has had the courage and the conviction to stand up and articulate so powerfully what needs to be done and why these cuts to postsecondary education -- and the reason for the cuts -- are, as he's put it, ill-considered. And [the cuts] can have potentially huge consequences for Edmonton, but more importantly for Alberta, and therefore for Canada." Globe and Mail

MRU students concerned about budget-related delays

Mount Royal University students say they are already feeling the effects of recent provincial budget cuts. Students say the fall schedule is not posted, delayed until decisions are made about potential program cuts for September. Some prospective students say they have received letters saying MRU is not offering early admissions due to the uncertainty. Admissions for a BA or an applied degree are going ahead. Current students are being hurt by the delay in posting the fall class schedule, says the student association's president. "They're really disappointed because now they are not sure how to plan for September or it's too late to apply to any other institution." An MRU professor says it's going to be hard for Alberta to attract the best students and teachers. "People (are) pulling out because they're concerned about the uncertainty in Alberta." CBC

Work-integrated learning popular with Ontario PSE students

Work-integrated learning (WIL) options such as co-ops, internships, and field placements are popular with Ontario PSE students, with 68% of college students and 48% of university students surveyed graduating with some form of WIL experience. The study, conducted by Academica Group for HEQCO, is based on findings from a survey of more than 10,300 graduating students at 13 Ontario PSE institutions, and was conducted as part of a multi-year project. The research found that WIL is accessible to diverse groups of students, although first-generation students were less likely to participate in WIL programs. Not being paid was the top challenge for both college and university WIL students, and financial challenges were greater for college students than for university students. The study found that WIL had a greater impact than paid employment on helping students understand career interests, influencing their career goals, and increasing their confidence about future job prospects. The report recommends further research to understand the barriers to WIL participation of first-generation students and to evaluate the effectiveness of wage subsidies that would enable more employers to compensate WIL students. Research Summary | Full Report

OCUFA paper explores university "productivity"

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations has released a research paper that examines recent proposals around boosting university productivity. Reviewing the available evidence, the paper argues that the discussion in Ontario has no clear definition of productivity, which makes serious or useful discussion of the issue difficult. The paper also argues that the province's universities have already made significant productivity gains -- decades of underfunding and rising enrolment have meant that faculty are already teaching many more students with much less public funding; proposed productivity enhancement, such as increased teaching loads and increased use of online learning, are properly seen as secondary to the broader goals of greater student success and research effectiveness; and over-focusing on these secondary elements is ineffective and may harm larger productivity goals. OCUFA News | Paper

New identity for uCalgary Dinos

Yesterday the University of Calgary revealed a refreshed look for its Dinos athletics, including a wardrobe makeover for mascot Rex. The university community agreed that Rex needed a fresh look (the previous Dinos logo was last updated in the 1990s). Extensive consultations with students, alumni, faculty, and staff last fall revealed a collective desire to boost its "fierceness" factor while making the entire identity system simpler and more flexible in how it is used across the university. The refreshed identity incorporates uCalgary's red and gold colours and features a ferocious-looking T. Rex ready to pounce from behind the Dinos name. uCalgary also announced a 5-year partnership with T. Litzen Sports, the exclusive service provider of the Nike Team program, to outfit the Dinos in the iconic "swoosh." The agreement brings Nike Team/T. Litzen Sports on as a significant corporate sponsor and will see Nike-branded Dino products available in the campus bookstore, with a portion of sales to be reinvested in supporting student-athletes. UToday | 2013 Dinos Identity

First-choice applications to Nipissing up 12%

Nipissing University reports that the number of secondary school applicants who selected the university as their first choice has risen by 12.2%. According to data from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre, 653 high school applicants have indicated Nipissing as their first choice, an increase of 71 first-choice applicants. In total, Nipissing has received 2,577 applications from secondary school students. The rise in first-choice applications is especially prevalent in Bachelor of Physical Health and Education (39% increase), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (35%), Bachelor of Science (31%), Bachelor of Business Administration (27%), Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Commerce (25%), and Bachelor of Criminal Justice (21%). Nipissing News

UNBSJ updates mobile app

The University of New Brunswick's Saint John campus has updated its mobile application for smartphones. The free app, available for Android, Apple, and BlackBerry devices, is new and improved with the addition of more useful links. The updated app provides instant access to the Desire2Learn learning management system, the campus radio station, and the university's YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitter feeds. UNBSJ welcomes feedback on the app so it can be continuously improved. UNB News

California bill proposes awarding exam-based degrees at faculty-free colleges

The California Assembly is considering a bill that would create a fourth division of the state's PSE system that would provide no instruction and would issue college credit and degrees to any student who could pass a series of exams. The bill would create the "New University of California," an institution with no professors and no tuition that, like the University of California, would be governed by a board of 11 trustees and one chancellor. Under the legislation, the university would allow students to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to pass the exams from any source, such as paid courses, self-directed study, and massive open online courses. Once students felt prepared, they would pay a fee to write an exam and, upon passing it, would receive academic credit. Students would earn a degree after attaining "sufficient academic credit in prescribed courses." If passed, the legislation would also give the university the power to contract with "qualified entities" to develop and administer the exams. The Assembly's Committee on Higher Education will consider the bill on April 23. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)

Postscript: Apr 23, 2013

A bill is dead to establish a fourth PSE system in California to award credit and degrees to students but offer no courses, according to the chairman of the state Assembly's higher education committee. The legislation would have created the "New University of California," which would have issued credit and degrees to anyone capable of passing certain exams. The legislation received criticism and media attention even though it had an uphill battle to become law: its sponsor is a rookie Republican lawmaker in a Democratic-majority legislature. At the present time the bill's author has decided to pull it, the chairman says. "This bill, and others like it, must be closely reviewed and solution-oriented to ensure that they meet our state's higher education goals and prepare our students for a robust career in the workforce." Inside Higher Ed

Stanford partners with edX on online-learning software

Stanford University announced this week it will develop online-learning software with the only one of the 3 massive open online course (MOOC) providers not founded by a Stanford faculty member. Stanford and edX -- the non-profit MOOC provider founded by MIT and Harvard -- will collaborate on the development of edX's software platform, which will soon be freely available to developers worldwide. In joining with edX's development effort, Stanford has implicitly distanced itself from Coursera and Udacity, the 2 for-profit MOOC providers founded by Stanford faculty. Stanford's vice provost for online education says the university will continue to make courses available through Coursera, but Stanford will also be creating its own Stanford-based approach using software jointly developed with edX. Stanford courses will not appear on edX's site but instead on a university-branded and -hosted site. The vice provost says Stanford's "initial interest" in the edX software is so the university can offer material to current students on its campus or to students enrolled in Stanford classes for credit online. Inside Higher Ed