Top Ten

April 30, 2013

Minister vows salary overhaul for Alberta PSE institutions

Alberta Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is promising to overhaul compensation for PSE administrators as opposition parties criticize what they say is a golden handshake for recently retired SAIT Polytechnic president Irene Lewis. She retired last month but will continue to collect her salary -- up to $340,00 -- over the next year. Lewis was given a contract extension last fall to cover the period until her successor, David Ross, was able to replace her. That extension retained a clause from the old contract granting a year's salary upon Lewis' departure, a provision that has drawn heavy criticism from faculty and staff unions. Lukaszuk says he is disappointed to see the payout, given the province's call for restraint in the PSE sector. The minister says he has "made very clear that I will be opening the legislation for post-secondary education this fall and the manner in which we set salaries and remunerate individuals in that sector needs to be one of the things that we review for certain." Lukaszuk has not said whether that would mean stricter guidelines regarding compensation, but he wants to ensure salaries are in line with other public servants. He says he does not take issue with SAIT's contention that the contract provision is standard in Alberta. A SAIT spokeswoman says the clause was always part of Lewis' contract. A Wildrose MLA says Lukaszuk should step in to try to reverse the contract payout, which comes as the PSE sector faces steep budget cuts. The minister says he cannot make changes to the contract in this situation. Calgary Herald

Ontario announces $295-million Youth Jobs Strategy

On Monday, the Ontario government launched its Youth Jobs Strategy to help more young people find jobs and ensure employers can hire the skilled workers they need to thrive in today's economy. The strategy involves a series of funds that focus on jobs, entrepreneurship, and innovation. To be available as early as September, the $195-million Ontario Youth Employment Fund aims to create new job opportunities for youth across the province. The Ontario Youth Entrepreneurship Fund will support the next generation of entrepreneurs through mentorship, startup capital, and outreach. The Ontario Youth Innovation Fund is designed to support youth to lead and manage industrial research, development and commercialization, as well as support young entrepreneurs at colleges and universities. The Business-Labour Connectivity and Training Fund will bring together business, labour, educators, and young people to better prepare youth to develop the skills they need to succeed. The government says the entire strategy would be supported by a total investment of $295 million over 2 years, and would create 30,000 new job opportunities. Colleges Ontario applauds the announcement; CEO Linda Franklin says the investment is essential as Ontario struggles with a skills mismatch where many people seeking work do not have the qualifications and skills to fill job vacancies. Ontario News Release | Colleges Ontario News Release   

Reports call for improvement to PhD students' career development

PhD enrolments in Ontario have nearly doubled in the past decade, with about two-thirds of PhD students hoping to become university professors. But according to 2 new reports published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the demand of full-time faculty positions vastly exceeds supply. Estimates are that less than one-quarter of PhD students in Canada will secure full-time, tenure-stream research and teaching positions, prompting rising angst among current and newly minted PhDs about their preparedness for life in a non-academic career. Despite the shortage of academic positions, many PhD programs, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, continue to train and mentor students for academic careers that are getting harder to secure. PhD students who pursue non-academic careers often feel at a loss post-graduation, particularly if they have had little contact outside the academic world. According to a qualitative study by researchers from McMaster, York U, and Mitacs, a majority of PhD students and graduates participating in focus groups said their graduate education had not adequately prepared them for non-academic careers. Some said they feel unable to talk openly with their supervisors about their thoughts or plans outside of academe. While universities are making efforts to provide PhD candidates with internships and other exposure to non-academic career paths, they are largely voluntary initiatives and are not part of the requirements of most PhD programs. The reports call for several improvements, including creating a central repository of all opportunities that support student professional skills development and career training, and providing students with access to information on career options and skills required. Governments are urged to consider their objectives in promoting increased PhD enrolments and monitor whether the investments are resulting in desired outcomes, while graduate programs should acknowledge that the majority of PhD graduates will not secure full-time academic positions. Students are advised to consider whether a PhD program is really suited to their personal goals, interests, and labour market aspirations. They should speak with other students and recent graduates about their experiences, inquire about professional development opportunities, and insist that their academic program provide data on labour market outcomes and career pathways of recently graduated students. HEQCO News Release | McMaster/York U/Mitacs News Release | So You Want to Earn a PhD? The Attraction, Realities and Outcomes of Pursuing a Doctorate | Beyond Labs and Libraries: Career Pathways for Graduate Students

Boréal opens Mini TFO media centre for childhood education

At Monday's opening of the first Mini TFO Centre for Early Childhood Education, at Ontario-based Collège Boréal, the college and Groupe Média TFO signed an MOU of understanding to promote access to the media resources offered by its education division, TFO Éducation. Mini TFO is a media world for pre-school-aged children, designed to stimulate their development and their imaginations in an environment that combines play with learning. By recreating the world of Mini TFO at Boréal, the new centre will also facilitate learning for the future educators who study there. Students in the French-language program will have direct access to TFO’s educational resources at all times by installing the TFO application on their iPads and using it to access the TFO websites. tfo.org/education is the platform used to distribute more than 4,000 different resources to teachers and students to French-language schools in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia. Boréal News Release

uAlberta remains interested in downtown arts centre

The University of Alberta's arts dean says the institution is still on-board to become a major tenant at Edmonton's proposed downtown performing arts centre. uAlberta wants to move its school of music, faculty of art and design, and one other faculty or department to the $850-million centre, which would help cover the project's cost by leasing approximately half the space. Although the province cut uAlberta's operating grants by 7% in last month's budget, the arts dean says the university remains interested in the plan. "This is a very different budgeting process than the operating budget...This would be a new development," she says, adding that the music school has needed extra space for 30 years. The government must approve the additional money needed for the expansion. While the dean couldn't say how much that would cost, she says initial discussions with government officials have been favourable. Edmonton Journal

NL invests $3.6 million in new MUN distance-ed master's nursing program

Memorial University’s School of Nursing, in collaboration with the Centre for Nursing Studies, has launched a new nurse practitioners master's program. The master of nursing nurse practitioner program began in January 2013 with significant funding support from the Newfoundland and Labrador government. The province is investing approximately $3.6 million in the MNNP program over 5 years. The 2-year nurse program is being offered through MUN in collaboration with the Centre for Nursing Studies. Over the past 2 years, faculty from both sites worked together to develop curriculum for the new program. The program is unique in that it is offered through distance education, which allows nurses to advance their education while continuing to work in their field. The MNNP program is one of 2 new graduate programs at the university’s School of Nursing. The other, a PhD in nursing, will begin this fall. MUN News Release | NL News Release

BMO Financial's $1.25-million gift to support WLU business school

Wilfrid Laurier University's School of Business & Economics announced yesterday a $1.25-million gift from BMO Financial Group, which will support entrepreneurship and global education initiatives for students. The donation from BMO Financial will fund a professorship in entrepreneurship that will support curriculum, program development, and research in entrepreneurship across all faculties at WLU. The gift will also support students involved in international exchange programs, as well as provide 210 academic scholarships and grants. With more than $2 million donated to the university over the years, BMO Financial Group and WLU have enjoyed a long-standing partnership. WLU News Release

Low-income secondary students in Ontario likelier to be in applied courses

Over the past decade, Ontario has had great success in boosting secondary school graduation rates and sending more graduates on to PSE or apprenticeships. But some students still do not share equally in that educational success, and many of them are taking applied courses in Grades 9 and 10, according to a new report from People for Education. Since 1999, Ontario has revised the high school curriculum and today most students take academic or applied courses in Grades 9 and 10 for required credits such as English, math, and science. In theory, the same material is to be covered, with the academic being more theoretical while the applied is more hands-on. The report observes that students in applied courses have a reduced chance of graduating from secondary school and that schools with a large proportion of students taking applied mathematics in Grade 9 have lower average family incomes and lower levels of parental education. Some students take applied courses because they believe they are easier. But the report notes that data show that, ironically, students in applied courses are less likely to be successful. For example, a 2012 report from the Toronto District School Board showed that students in applied courses in Grade 9 were 29% less likely to graduate within 4 or 5 years and half as likely to pursue PSE. People for Education's executive director says the findings show that "it is time to look more closely at who is choosing applied courses, why they are being chosen, what advice parents and students are receiving in Grade 8 when the choices must be made" and whether the academic/applied system automatically handicaps already vulnerable students. People for Education News | Toronto Star | Report

First pan-European MOOC opens for business

Partners from 11 European countries, including the UK's Open University, have signed up to OpenupEd, which currently provides access to around 40 free courses in 12 different languages. Supported by the European Commission, the site contains a database of courses ranging from mathematics to fiction writing, which each partner institution offering its courses via its own website. The OpenupEd site has university partners in France, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, UK, Russia, Turkey and Israel. Courses are available in all of the countries’ native languages, as well as Arabic, and range from 20 to 200 hours of study. All courses may lead to recognition such as a certificate of completion or a credit certificate that may count towards a degree. Times Higher Education

Students' study habits not predicated on parents’ education, US study finds

According to a new study out of the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, parents' levels of education do not directly influence whether students demonstrate behaviours associated with deep learning. 9,000 students at 80 institutions in the US were surveyed and asked how often they applied knowledge to solve practical problems, integrated information from different sources outside class, and interrogated their existing views on a subject. These and other questions were intended to reflect the extent to which students engage in higher-order, integrative, and reflective learning. Though the overall differences were small, students whose parents earned baccalaureate degrees were the least likely to engage in deep learning. The study's author found that not only did these students lag behind those whose parents held advanced degrees, but they also engaged in deep-learning behaviours less often than those whose parents had attended but not completed college, or who never went at all. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)