Top Ten

April 22, 2013

Minister calls for 3-year salary freeze at Alberta PSE institutions

Alberta Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is calling on boards at PSE institutions to adopt a salary freeze for instructors and staff in the next 3 years with a 2% increase in the fourth year. In a letter to board chairs, Lukaszuk asked all institutions to "examine provisions in their collective agreements to help achieve this goal," raising concern among faculty associations and sparking talk of a lawsuit by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees over collective agreements. Lukaszuk says he doesn't necessarily expect institutions with collective agreements in place to open those agreements. "That's up to the boards to make that choice." But he warns he will review the level of salary and wage settlements when he approves each institution's budget this spring. Edmonton Journal

uAlberta targeting $25 million in savings this year

During a campus forum last Friday, University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera provided an update on the institution's fiscal situation. The university faces a $67-million funding shortfall for 2013-14 due to a $43-million cut to its operating grant, the loss of a promised 2% increase, and an ongoing structural deficit. Samarasekera said uAlberta is targeting a further $25 million in savings this year by reducing evergreening and matching funding for IT equipment, reducing dollars for library collections, and finding alternate funding sources other than operating dollars. The president recognized these changes and future ones will have a direct impact on the campus community. Layoffs have already begun and will continue over the next 6 months. Samarasekera said uAlberta is looking to achieve 20% of the net budget savings this year, followed by 40% in each of 2014-15 and 2015-16. uAlberta News

SIAST financial situation "not acceptable," says president

Saskatchewan Advanced Education Minister Don Morgan is defending the level of government funding allotted to the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology after the NDP Opposition raised concerns about the amount of funding the Saskatchewan Party government is giving the institute. In last Thursday's question period, the NDP quoted a letter from SIAST president Larry Rosia, who wrote that SIAST will face a $5.4-million shortfall in 2013-14 if it maintains status-quo operations, despite a 3.1% increase in its provincial operating grant. "This situation is not acceptable nor sustainable," says the letter, noting SIAST has "undertaken a contingency planning exercise," while trying to "minimize the impact on students and employees." The letter does not include additional details about how SIAST plans to balance its books. Morgan notes that SIAST has indicated it is able to meet the demands placed on it -- increasing programs and graduating more students than in the past -- and that efficiencies will be found "on an operational and administrative level." Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

UPEI considers combining arts faculty departments

Big changes could be coming for the University of Prince Edward Island's arts faculty if a proposed move to reduce the number of arts departments goes through. UPEI is reportedly proposing to combine the departments into 4 clusters (humanities, liberal studies, social sciences, and languages and literature) and reduce the number of department chairs to 4. UPEI's political science chair says faculty and support staff have serious concerns about the damage that type of change would do to the university's reputation. A UPEI spokesman says the proposed merger won't impact the quality of the education students receive. He says the focus is looking at departmental administrative structures, and there has been no mention of modifying courses or making significant program changes. Charlottetown Guardian (April 19) | Charlottetown Guardian (April 20)

MRU postpones library plans pending government funding

Mount Royal University has postponed designing its long-awaited new library until securing the rest of once-promised government funding. However, president David Docherty is optimistic the institution will land the $55-million capital funding needed to move forward. In 2007, MRU drew up plans to construct a 16,000-square-metre facility with about 1,500 student seats. Building the new library was widely billed as an important step in transitioning Mount Royal from a college to a university, and Docherty has declared it his number-one priority since becoming president 2 years ago. In last year's election campaign, Premier Alison Redford pledged to spend $650 million over 3 years on PSE construction projects, including $85.5 million for MRU's Library and Learning Centre. But now the government is stretching that commitment to 5 years. MRU will still get $30 million over 3 years under the new budget, and Docherty expects the remaining sum to come the following year. He says campus administrators are looking for a written promise on the rest of the funding before hiring a construction firm and project managers. Calgary Herald

Ottawa invests $15 million in new uCalgary international policy program

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced last Thursday a $15-million federal investment toward a new program in international policy at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy. The program is designed to help Canada diversify its economy, markets, and trades relations by identifying and addressing key international issues. 4 priority areas have been set out as a framework for the program: international economics; extractive resource governance; Asian market diversification; and security of state, resources, and relations. UToday

U of King's College releases draft strategic plan

Halifax-based University of King's College has posted online the draft of its 2013-16 strategic plan, and it is welcoming feedback on the document by May 1. The document outlines 5 priorities: enriching the academic mission; enhancing the King's experience; strengthening advancement and recruitment; improving physical facilities; and focusing on stewardship and public accountability. Efforts related to these priorities include encouraging student-driven extracurricular activities involving all members of the institution, alumni, and the wider community; growing student numbers moderately, and at the same time ensuring the institution maintains the sense of King's being "small and collegial"; and initiating a capital campaign to support an enhanced academic mission, more scholarships and bursaries, and refurbished physical facilities. U of King's College News | Draft Strategic Plan

US education department approves College for America program

The US Department of Education has approved the eligibility of Southern New Hampshire University to receive federal financial aid for students enrolled in the university's new College for America program for working-adult students. The program is billed as "the first degree program to completely decouple from the credit hour," where students do not have courses or traditional professors. Gaining access to the program through their employers, students make progress toward an associate degree by showing mastery of 120 competencies, which are phrased as "can do" statements. Students demonstrate mastery of skills by completing tasks, which are shipped out for evaluation to a pool of part-time adjunct professors. Southern New Hampshire University also assigns "coaches" to students to help them establish their goals and pace, as well as asks students to pick someone they know as an "accountability partner" who checks in with them and nudges them along. The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)

Survey finds US high schools, colleges at odds on students' preparedness

A new survey from American College Testing (ACT) demonstrates the continued gap between those who teach in secondary school and those who teach in PSE when it comes to their perceptions of the college preparation of today's students. Close to 90% of responding high school teachers told ACT their students are either "well" or "very well" prepared for PSE-level work in their subject area after leaving their courses. But just 26% of college instructors surveyed reported that their incoming students are either "well" or "very well" prepared for first-year credit-bearing courses in their subject area. The percentages are virtually unchanged from a similar survey conducted in 2009. ACT News Release | Inside Higher Ed

Parent-outreach recruitment program a success at Texas Tech University

Texas Tech University is taking some creative measures to expand its reach in a bid to increase its enrolment to 40,000 students by 2020, up from about 32,500 as of last fall. Through its parent-outreach program, parents of current students call parents of prospective students to share their experiences and act as a resource for future questions. Recipients of calls must be parents who have an admitted student to the university who seems likely to attend, or is at least on the fence. The parent ambassadors are asked to cover certain topics like safety and homesickness, whether prospective parents brought them up or not. Parent ambassadors are also asked to record some key information gleaned from the calls, including their sense of how interested the parents they contacted and their students were in Texas Tech. All of that information is put into the university’s data system. The program has worked well for Texas Tech so far, and the university had a higher yield rate for students in the Houston area whose parents had been reached by phone than for those whose parents had not. The Chronicle of Higher Education (free access)