Top Ten

July 16, 2013

Montreal in danger of losing university-city status, report

Montreal may lose its status as a university city if the provincial government does not change some of its policies, especially those regarding international student tuition and funding provisions, reports the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal. The report is a follow-up to a summit on higher education held in February, and reiterates the need to address chronic underfunding and problematic student fee policies in order for Montreal to continue competing on a global field. Currently, surplus fees gathered from non-Quebec students are pooled by the province and then redistributed among PSE institutions, regardless of where the students study. There are 6 programs exempt from this rule, but McGill University and other institutions are pushing for full deregulation. McGill is facing a $43-million budget cut, which could be softened by full collection of student surplus. Last year, McGill had a student-fee surplus of almost $76 million, but only got to keep $24 million. Montreal Gazette

UBC launches new international college

The University of British Columbia has launched a new college for first-year international students from countries with school systems that are significantly different from Canada’s. Students at UBC Vantage College will complete a 12-month program that includes English-language and academic study, and then if successful, will advance to the second year of a UBC degree course. The first cohort, to begin in September 2014, will enrol 300 students and can grow to a capacity of 1,000 students. The Vantage students will live on-campus in student residences along with students from other undergraduate programs, and will have full access to all the UBC campus facilities. Study Travel Magazine

McGill avoids large-scale staff cuts

McGill University has avoided any large-scale job cuts while coming close to reaching its $43.5-million operating budget reduction. This past spring, McGill’s principal, Heather Munroe-Blum, announced that wage reductions, salary freezes, a Voluntary Retirement Program (VRP) for staff over age 60, and potential layoffs would be necessary to achieve the cuts. McGill reports, however, that the VRP has allowed the university to avoid major cuts or freezes. More than 250 employees opted to take early retirement under the VRP terms, which is much more than McGill anticipated. The university reports that a gap remains between the money saved and the $43.5-million target, which will be closed using plans that include further position reductions, “but these can be achieved largely by not renewing some term contracts, attrition, and ‘workforce efficiencies, and reorganisations resulting in strategically targeted position abolitions.’” McGill Reporter

COU launches new job resources website

The Council of Ontario Universities this week launched a new website designed to help students, graduates and entry-level employees match their education, skills, desires and goals with jobs. www.MyCareerInfo.ca features resume and interview tips, online budgeting tools, information on job market trends, and links to job listings. It also provides links to Ontario university career and student services, and will be updated regularly with the latest news from the marketplace. “MyCareerInfo.ca is an extra resource to help students find the help they need to translate their skills into meaningful work,” says Max Blouw, COU chair and Wilfrid Laurier University president. COU News Release | MyCareerInfo.ca

Academy Canada expands ABE to 11 new locations in NL

Independent career college Academy Canada will be expanding its adult basic education programs in Newfoundland and Labrador, from 2 to 13. Director James Loder is excited about the expansion, calling it the “next natural step” for the academy. According to Loder, there will be lower rates for student training, due to competitive bids for contracts; “this allows us to expand and help support and build rural Newfoundland in a way we’ve wanted to do (for) a long time.” Most of the new spaces are close to being finalized, and all locations will be ready for the start of classes on September 6. Academy Canada is nationally accredited by the Canadian Education and Training Accreditation Commission (CETAC). The Telegram | VOCM Radio News

Work-to-rule campaign could harm Canadian PSE

A work-to-rule campaign by workers who handle visa application processing in key visa application centres such as Beijing, Delhi, Sao Paolo, and Mexico City could affect the many international students set to begin studies at Canadian PSE institutions this fall, according to the Association of Atlantic Universities. Contract negotiations between the federal government and the union representing diplomats and immigration officers abroad have been ongoing for months, causing a significant slowdown in visa processing. International students who planned to attend a Canadian university may choose to go elsewhere if their visa application is not processed in a timely manner, causing the loss of significant revenue to institutions. The work-to-rule campaign is also hurting international graduates who wish to remain in Canada for work placements. CBC

New cabinet not expected to shift Ottawa’s science policy

The Globe and Mail is reporting that observers of the Canadian government’s relationship with the country’s researchers are estimating that there won’t be “a substantive change in federal science policy” following this week’s cabinet shuffle. Greg Rickford, who has replaced Gary Goodyear as science and technology minister, has not been closely associated with science and technology issues in Canada. Rickford’s new boss, the federal industry minister has similarly little experience with science and technology issues. “Both of these guys are starting from scratch,” says Paul Dufour, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa. Furthermore, Rickford’s riding was the home of the Experimental Lakes Area, a research station that lost its government funding and caused protests from scientists. However, in May Rickford announced that the government had signed a MOU with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, based in Winnipeg, to transfer operation of the ELA. Globe and Mail

UK non-profit launches Libre open-access review platform

A trio of academics is launching a new open-access platform in October that will host open reviews of manuscripts solicited by the authors themselves. Libre, the new platform to be run by Open Scholar in the UK, is designed to allow researchers to take control of peer review from journals, thus “removing academic publishers’ justification for charging high prices for their titles.” Pandelis Perakakis, a Spanish researcher and co-founder of Open Scholar, says he does not want to see journals go away, and that the pressure on academics to publish in the high-status journals is too great to expect Libre to be used exclusively. But he believes that rather than being the “gate keepers of quality,” the role of journals should be “to detect the most interesting articles and combine them in meaningful collections for specific audiences,” and at a lower cost. Also frustrated with the escalating cost of academic journals, Harvard University last year encouraged faculty to make their research freely available through open-access journals and to resign from periodicals that keep articles behind pay walls. Times Higher Education

PSE caught in “a MOOC delusion,” opinion

Ghanashyam Sharma, an assistant professor in writing and rhetoric at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, discusses in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog that the PSE sector should develop some healthy skepticism” about the commonly-held idea that MOOCs are a great way to “do good” by making quality teaching available globally. Sharma argues that in order to have any meaningful effect by “educating the whole world from the convenience of our laptops,” more research is needed on how students learn in MOOC environments, and particularly how students from different academic, cultural and social backgrounds fare in such environments. Sharma suggests that a solution to these types of barriers may be to encourage foreign participants “to start by taking courses on the fundamentals, including terms, concepts, cultures, practices, and worldviews underlying the broader education system in which they want to participate." She suggests MOOC “platforms seem unwilling to go beyond 'efficient' but disingenuous solutions such as literal translation of course materials, analysis of 'big data' for understanding students’ experience, and machine and/or outsourced grading.” Chronicle of Higher Education

Institutions increasingly seeking alternate sources of funding

A Chronicle of Higher Education blog discusses the recent trend in which PSE institutions in the US are using outsourcing as a way of looking beyond traditional sources of income in the uncertain government funding outlook. Blogger Eric Kelderman cites the example of Ohio State University, which signed a $483-million deal to lease its parking facilities to an Australian company for 50 years, adding 20% to the value of the university’s endowment. The University of South Florida earns $100 million annually through agreements with companies that manage its sports arenas and other auxiliary arrangements. According to its spokesperson, North Carolina State University’s  endowment, which is being managed by an outside nonprofit company, is earning more in the market than are endowments at most universities. The article points out that these alternate sources of funding do come with some risks. For example, the company that North Carolina State hired was at its nearby rival, the University of North Carolina. The move made some staff members uncomfortable, saying the university was giving up control of its investments to an institution that had different goals and a more conservative investment strategy. Chronicle of Higher Education