Top Ten

April 11, 2013

Increases in Quebec university rector salaries to require ministry approval

Quebec Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne has confirmed the adoption of a new rule that will require provincial universities to receive approval from the ministry before increasing the salaries of rectors, vice-rectors, and deans. Duchesne says the government is closely monitoring universities' salary policies for senior management, ensuring there are no unreasonable increases. The government does not intend to reduce salaries or compensation policies already in place, the minister says. "They are able to fix (set) their salaries, but the ministry can fix some objectives." CJAD 800 | Journal de Qu├ębec (in French)

Staff cuts part of UVic's effort to reduce deficit

The University of Victoria's board of governors has approved a balanced budget of $314 million for 2013-14 with a 2% tuition increase and a 4% cut to all faculties and departments. UVic plans to eliminate most of its projected $4-million deficit by cutting 82 positions, of which 36 are already vacant. University officials hope to limit layoffs by relying on retirement and voluntary departures. UVic blames the cuts on rising costs, negotiated staff salary increases, and reduced grants from the BC government. It expects to receive $441,000 less from the province this year with further annual cuts of $1.8 million and $2.2 million to come. Victoria Times-Colonist

MRU students, faculty protest budget cuts

More than 300 students and professors from Mount Royal University gathered Wednesday to protest PSE cuts introduced in the Alberta budget, taking the rally to Premier Alison Redford's constituency office near their campus. Students carried placards reading "education cuts never heal" and "strong education = strong economy." The protesters rallied peacefully but vocally, chanting slogans such as "Cuts, job losses? Money for the bosses!" MRU students have been told they cannot register for fall courses until April 29 when the timetable is finalized. Faculty members feel the new timetable will offer fewer programs and significantly fewer classes. A student dropped off a petition with hundreds of signatures, demanding a meeting with Redford and education officials. Meanwhile, Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk promises that students fearful of potential fee increases in the wake of cuts will hear more on the issue soon. He signalled upcoming announcements related to the issue of non-instructional fees and "market modifiers" as he responded to questions from a legislative committee about his department's budget. Lukaszuk has pledged that the government will maintain the current tuition cap, but students are worried institutions desperate to fund programs will find ways to add on other fees. Calgary Herald | CBC | Edmonton Journal

Medical research a priority, says uSask president

University of Saskatchewan president Ilene Busch-Vishniac has a vision for the institution to be recognized as one of the most research-intensive in North America. In a state of the university address to faculty Wednesday, Busch-Vishniac said being recognized as an "eminent research-intensive" university depends on repairing systemic problems at the medical school and making broad strides in attracting Indigenous people to uSask. Although every university has its strengths and weaknesses in attracting research funding, Busch-Vishniac says the College of Medicine in particular needs to step up. One professor asked her why uSask is eliminating about 150 jobs before completing its TransformUS review, in which every academic and administrative program will be evaluated for its value to the institution. Busch-Vishniac said introducing job cuts up front, before the review is complete, is a strategic move. "Every dollar we save now means fewer programs we have to trim permanently when TransformUS is finished," she said. There are no further rounds of job cuts planned for this year, but more are possible after the review is complete, she said. Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

Federal public service cuts affect uOttawa co-ops

In the wake of cuts to public service jobs, University of Ottawa co-op programs are looking to the private sector for help with more than 350 students still trying to secure placements for the summer. The federal government "used to hire 60 per cent of our students," says the director of uOttawa's co-operative education program. "Last year because of all the cuts in the federal government that number went down to 54, so we have a significant shift in our portfolio." The co-op program has grown in popularity among students since it launched 4 years ago, but with so many seeking positions, it might not be able to accommodate as many students in coming years. The director says the co-op department will only increase or maintain admissions for programs it knows will have a high placement rate. Ottawa Citizen

Quality challenge ahead for Ontario PSE system, says HEQCO report

Compared to other Canadian provinces, Ontario's higher education system is efficient and productive, but quality is the key challenge ahead, observes the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario's first annual performance indicator report on Ontario's PSE system. The report calls quality the new frontier in PSE and says that provincial funding needs to reflect a new priority. "A policy and funding framework that privileges growth needs to be retooled to emphasize quality outcomes," the report states. "A measurement framework that assesses quality in a convincing manner needs to evolve rapidly." The report also calls for better alignment between PSE skills and labour market, as well as a greater focus on defining and measuring learning outcomes -- described as "the next generation of core quality indicators." HEQCO notes that the absence of learning outcomes "is notable among the many data gaps identified in the performance indicator exercise, perhaps second only to the stark absence of national comparators for Ontario's college sector." HEQCO News Release | Report

Ontario universities' undergraduate applications surpass 542,000

According to new data from the Ontario Universities' Application Centre, applications to undergraduate programs at Ontario universities total 542,814 for the month of April. The number of applications from high school students totals 417,414, up 4.1% from last year. The number of applications from non-secondary school applicants for this month is 125,400, an increase of 4.6% over last April. This month's total application numbers are the highest recorded in the past decade. OUAC Undergraduate Application Statistics -- April 2013

Fanshawe to offer MOOC in applied sustainability

Beginning in May, Fanshawe College, in partnership with educational software provider Desire2Learn, will launch a free, 6-week open online course on applied sustainability. Students from anywhere around the world will participate in online field trips, perfom hands-on tasks, discuss issues, and be eligible to receive a letter of completion from Fanshawe. The college chose the subject area for a first-time massive open online course (MOOC) because it considers itself a leader in incorporating sustainability into much of its curriculum, as well as its daily operations. The course will differ from most traditional MOOCs as it will offer practical, hands-on learning. Another way Fanshawe's MOOC differs is in offering graduated levels of completion. These will range from Fundamental to Platinum, each requiring higher levels of student participation. To obtain the Fundamental level, students only need to pass weekly quizzes. Higher levels require monitored participation in discussion forums and hands-on tasks, with the Platinum level requiring students to complete a design project to be evaluated by the MOOC team. Fanshawe News

Academica study explores use of "access codes" in post-secondary learning

On Wednesday, Campus Stores Canada released a new study, conducted by Academica Group, on the use and perception of "access code" learning materials among Canadian students and faculty members. Access codes are a form of digital learning material; specifically, they are online course content that is password protected. The survey found that two-thirds of students had purchased an access code, with two-fifths of those who had bought one this year doing so because it was required. Just more than 40% of faculty members had integrated an access code into their course(s). Technical challenges were a common problem for users, the survey found. About one-quarter of responding students reported having challenges using the software, and instructors were usually the first point of contact for technical support. A significant number of the nearly 1,000 faculty respondents flagged this as a problem, suggesting they were spending too much time helping students just operate the software. There is also widespread belief that access codes are unfairly priced, with three-quarters of students thinking they are too expensive. Campus Stores Canada News Release | Report (purchase required)

Florida legislation would require colleges to grant credit for unaccredited courses

Florida lawmakers advanced a bill this week that would allow state officials to accredit individual courses on their own, including classes offered by unaccredited for-profit providers. The Florida bill is similar to one in California; both would force public PSE institutions under some circumstances to award credit for work done by students in online programs unaffiliated with the schools. The Florida bill would first create "Florida-accredited courses" -- anyone could create a course and seek "Florida-accredited" status. The vagueness of the language worries faculty unions and other state lawmakers, with one warning it was inviting "scam artists." The second major part of the legislation is a new regime of state-wide tests for K-12 and undergraduate students to get credit for certain general education requirements based on their knowledge rather than taking any specific course. Florida International University's provost says both key parts of the bill are "certainly concerning" because they take the university out of the picture: faculty would not offer the instruction and not design nor administer tests. Inside Higher Ed