Top Ten

April 12, 2013

uCalgary receives $40-million gift for teaching and learning institute

The University of Calgary announced Friday a $40-million donation from the Taylor family to create the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Through this institute, uCalgary will research the most effective methods for engaging students, support faculty to be the best teachers they can be, and provide some of the most innovative learning spaces available anywhere in North America, says uCalgary president Elizabeth Cannon. The institute, set to open in early 2016, will also provide students with a wealth of new hands-on learning opportunities. Undergraduate students from a range of faculties will be brought together to collaborate on social issues, acquiring research, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. The Taylor family has been a strong supporter of uCalgary, with its legacy including the Taylor Family Digital Library and the Katthy Taylor Chair in Vascular Dementia. The family's $40-million donation is the largest single gift in uCalgary's history. uCalgary News Release | Globe and Mail

Alberta PSE institutions have until September to revise mandate letters

Alberta's colleges and universities now have until September to revise the contentious mandate letters sent out by Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk after a meeting between him and 26 presidents. While the letters "have been embraced" by all presidents, "we need to flesh them out at each school level," says Lukaszuk. The presidents have time to go back and seek input from their institutions, then revise the letters into an MOU between the province and each specific institution, the minister says. The new letters, or MOUs, will have 3 parts: to define the role of each institution, its role in the PSE system, and its role in the province. The presidents agreed "on a full commitment" to collaborate to increase student access, create more portability between schools, and share resources where possible. To foster closer collaboration among the institutions, Lukaszuk created 3 new "tables" or conferences that will meet separately with the minister 4 times a year -- the presidents, board chairs, and student councils of all 26 institutions. Edmonton Journal

McGill med school reform faces opposition

A new curriculum being introduced this year in McGill University's medical school has some physicians worried that McGill will lose its edge in the research realm and become a "family doctor factory" that will diminish the institution's status. Some doctors involved in teaching at McGill oppose the direction of the new curriculum, arguing that it cuts back on the foundational science required for medical school students and will jeopardize McGill's ability to produce high-calibre clinician scientists. But supporters of the new curriculum say it is necessary in order to produce more family doctors and that not only will it give students more exposure to family medicine, it will also teach them how to learn independently. The current lecture-intensive first year will instead entail morning-only lectures and small-group sessions with patients or problem-solving in the afternoons. This has left many physicians wondering how students will acquire the foundation of science needed to become doctors. A Quebec Health Department spokesperson says medical schools have been asked to promote family medicine to help the province meet its goal of having an equal number of residents in family medicine and specialties, and because Quebec is still short more than 1,000 family doctors. A Université de Montréal medical school official says the university has already started working to "create excitement" about family medicine. Université Laval's medical school has already built a new curriculum around promoting more interest in family medicine, says an official with the school. Montreal Gazette (McGill) | Montreal Gazette (Family Medicine)

uRegina to build new residence

The Saskatchewan government and the University of Regina announced Thursday a construction project that will result in a new student residence, childcare facility, and a underground parkade on campus. The project will provide an additional 605 residence beds, 90 new childcare spaces, and 150 underground parking stalls. The province and uRegina are jointly funding the project. The government is investing $11 million -- $10 million provided in the 2013-14 budget for affordable housing and $1 million provided in 2012 for planning and design. uRegina president Vianne Timmons notes the new $73.7-million project will help the institution attract more students from across Saskatchewan and around the world, and help increase retention rates because students who live on campus are more likely to stay enrolled. Construction is slated to begin this spring with completion set for fall 2015. Saskatchewan News Release | uRegina News Release | Regina Leader-Post

Trent students approve fee for new student centre

Trent University undergraduate students have voted 63% in favour of helping to pay for an estimated $19.2-million student centre. Students would pay about $13.7 million of the estimated cost with Trent covering the remainder for the centre, which will be dedicated to academics and support services. The student-operated space would include a pub, a café, multipurpose rooms, club and group offices, and lounge-style areas where students can socialize. Undergraduate students would pay an extra $95 each year for 25 to 30 years, depending on the length of the mortgage on the building, to pay for construction. The annual fee would then be reduced to cover ongoing maintenance and operating costs. Construction will probably begin by late next year and be completed in early 2015. Peterborough Examiner

uWindsor at critical turning point, says president

With applications rising "far above the provincial average," an improving reputation, and the construction of new facilities at the main campus and downtown, the University of Windsor has reached a critical turning point in its development, says president Alan Wildeman. While Ontario has shown an increase of about 2% a year in university applications, uWindsor has exceeded that in the past 2 years. The university expects a 20% increase in applications in arts and sciences programs this spring over last year, amounting to 300 more undergraduates for the coming school year. Wildeman says rising enrolment numbers indicate that uWindsor is now recognized in the province as a place "where the student experience is as fine as anywhere else." He agrees the reputation of the university is improving, reversing the image created over the past 2 decades of low standings in national surveys, such as the annual Maclean's rankings. Windsor Star

Research funding critical, says new Cambrian president

Peter Lawlor, the newly appointed president of Cambrian College, says research dollars are the main fix to financial woes in PSE. Institutions across Canada have struggled to balance their books in recent years, and Lawlor says the key is landing research funding the federal government is offering to institutions that do work that directly benefits industry. "I think the college needs to be a first stop for applied research, and the assistance we can provide to business and industry with respect to their operations," Lawlor said. "I think there's an opportunity there for us." Even though he's currently a trades dean at NAIT and is a certified carpenter by trade, Lawlor says that doesn't necessarily mean the community should expect a larger trades emphasis at Cambrian. "Whatever industry and business in the community needs in that region, then that's what we should be focusing on." Helping Cambrian become a "first choice for our young people" is also something Lawlor hopes to promote. CBC | Northern Life

Ontario secondary school graduation rate rises to 83%

The Ontario government announced last week that the province's high school graduation rate has risen for the eighth consecutive year. Last year, 83% of secondary school students graduated, an increase of 15 percentage points from the 2003-04 rate of 68%. This means 115,500 more students have graduated than would have had the rate stayed at the 2003-04 level. The government is committed to reaching an 85% graduation rate. Ontario News Release

University rankings' focus on elite universities, scientific research concerns in new report

The number of global university rankings continues to rise, transforming a crowded and increasingly controversial field with new methodologies and new uses for rankings and the data gathered to produce them. The European University Association has published a new report outlining recent developments and trends, following up on its 2011 report on rankings. Since the last report, although criticism of rankings has intensified, reliance on them has expanded, and they are increasingly being used to shape university and public policy, the new report states. One of the report's concerns is the tendency of rankings to focus on elite universities. The methodologies of many of the best-known rankings, such as Times Higher Education and QS, rely heavily on publication and citation data and academic-reputation surveys. The report says those methodologies "are not geared to covering large numbers of higher-education institutions, and thus cannot provide a sound basis for analyzing entire higher-education systems." Another drawback of many of the rankings is that they continue to overlook the arts, humanities, and social sciences, and remain focused primarily on the scientific research universities produce. Teaching is also given little weight. The report outlines several developments designed to counter the biases of dominant rankings, including the advent of user-driven rankings, which allow users to select the criteria they value. In what it calls a "welcome development," the report says the rankers "have themselves started to draw attention to the biases and flaws in the data underpinning rankings and thus to the dangers of misusing rankings." The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)

Youth who text heavily more likely to have shallow thoughts, study finds

New research from the University of Winnipeg observes that students who are heavy texters place less importance on moral, aesthetic, and spiritual goals, and greater importance on image and wealth. Those who texted more than 100 times per day were 30% less likely to feel strongly that leading an ethical, principled life was important to them, compared to those who texted 50 times or less per day. Higher texting frequency was also consistently associated with higher levels of ethnic prejudice. The study involved more than 2,300 introductory psychology students who completed a one-hour online survey that included measures of texting frequency, personality traits, and life goals. Data were collected at the start of the fall term for 3 consecutive years. The main goal of the study was to test the so-called "shallowing hypothesis," which speculates that ultra-brief social media encourages rapid, relatively shallow thought and consequently very frequently daily use of such media should be associated with cognitive and moral shallowness. Despite the findings, the researchers note that daily immersion in texting, Twitter, and Facebook has not prevented the "digital native" generation of young adults today from becoming more tolerant and accepting of human diversity than any previous generation. The researchers see little reason for moral panic over "moral shallowing" at the present time, but conclude the topic may warrant greater research attention. uWinnipeg News Release