Top Ten

August 1, 2013

Ryerson ends contract with unpopular campus food provider

Ryerson University has decided to end its contract with long-time campus food contractor Aramark Canada Ltd. and hire Chartwells, which promises to provide more “local and sustainable” food to campus cafeterias. Faculty and students were upset earlier this year when Ryerson spent more than $5.6 million for running its food operations at a loss. Julia Hanigsberg, Ryerson’s VP Finance and Administration, writes in a bulletin to staff and students that come September, “students can expect ‘high-quality, affordable’ food, healthier, more diverse culinary options and a commitment that 25% of campus fare will be sustainable and local.” However, student officials are still concerned about the fact that Ryerson is simply switching from one large corporation to another. Toronto Star

uWindsor technical, skilled trades staff vote 95% for strike mandate

The University of Windsor’s skilled trades and technical staff voted 95% in support of strike action this week. Dean Roy, president of CUPE Local 1393 (representing the uWindsor staff-members), said the strike mandate will “boost the union during negotiations with the university,” which began in April. “We are in no mood to accept a lot of concessions on issues that are so critical to our members, including job security, seniority rights and our system of job evaluations,” says Roy. Windsor Star

uOttawa professors in favour of strike mandate

There is also an increased chance of labour action at the University of Ottawa, as professors and academic librarians there have also voted in favour of a strike mandate by a count of 563 to 127. The union executive, which represents 1,200 uOttawa professors and librarians, is now authorized to decide if/when a strike is to occur – mediation is set for August 3 and 4. According to the Ottawa Citizen, pension plan reforms, monetary matters and student/professor and student/librarian ratios are among the issues on the table. In addition, the university wants to expand the use of “teaching-focused” positions, which would place heavier emphasis on teaching than on research. Ottawa Citizen

Update: August 7, 2013

The University of Ottawa has struck a tentative agreement with its 1,200 professors and academic librarians, who gave their union executive a strike mandate last week. Specific details of the deal have not been released, but uOttawa president Allan Rock said in a statement, “this deal addresses some of the key long-standing issues, such as pension and tenure track positions. It also offers increased compensation that is in line with what other Ontario professors have received.” uOttawa News Release | Ottawa Citizen

Universities hurt by immigration consulting certification requirement

Canadian universities say they are being negatively affected by a recent bill that bans unauthorized people from acting as “immigration consultants” to prey on people looking for a way into Canada. Bill C-35 was passed 2 years ago, but this past May universities found out a final edict means their staff cannot advise international students on matters like applying for a visa, work permit or permanent residence, unless they are certified to do so. Certification requires 180 hours of course work, a written exam, annual fees of $1,700 plus insurance, and 16 course hours per year. Universities are concerned that the combination of Bill C-35 and the strike among Canada’s diplomats could mean a major hit to next year’s enrolment and the number of students who choose to settle in Canada. Chronicle Herald

Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon top list of most well-read cities in Canada

Amazon.ca has launched a new list of the “Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in Canada,” which places Vancouver, Calgary and Saskatoon in the top 3 spots. To come up with the results, the online bookstore compiled sales data of all Amazon.ca books in print and Kindle formats since June 2012, on a per-capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents. Amazon also used its data to reveal: Vancouver ordered the most books in the Business & Investing category; Saskatoon bought the most novels written by Canadian authors; and Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto bought the most travel-related books. Amazon.ca News Release

Tech trends PSE can’t afford to ignore

Lev Gonick, VP for IT services and CIO at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, underlined the “key trends he believes will drastically alter the higher education landscape” in a recent conference address. Gonick points out that the personal computer era is dead, and that institutions would be wise to adapt to the fact that students and staff are increasingly using mobile devices as the primary way of getting information. Gonick also stresses that institutions must build their capacity to engage with learners and be relevant on social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The privatization of the cloud services is another prediction that Gonick makes – that we can expect to see a personal cloud infrastructure unfold that allows users to be more connected to each other and to their own devices. Gonick also speaks to the role of big data in PSE, and points out that institutions will have to work together to build large enough platforms for the “zettabyte-scale” research projects that can come from big data. Gonick states that PSE will need more innovative thinkers to expand technology that leads to the success of the “flipped classroom.” Gonich also observes that the current "hysteria" over MOOCs and online learning will gradually be replaced by a much more profound challenge to the monopoly of the degree itself: "that is what's at play, that's the big bet." Education Dive

US experiment grants degrees to students close to completion

Representatives from US institutions that have been running the experimental “Project Win-Win,” which awards associate degrees to former college students months or years after they dropped out, have gathered to discuss the results of the 3-year project. The goal of Project Win-Win, which includes 51 community colleges and 10 4-year institutions that grant associate degrees, is to identify former students who, though eligible, have never received an associate degree, as well as those who stopped just a few classes short. 6,455 students were eligible for an associate degree, sifting from a preliminary pool of 130,630 students who received a degree from somewhere else, or were deemed ineligible for various other reasons. 54% of those already eligible were female; a majority (73%) were white; and 63% had entered college before age 20. Of the 6,455 potential graduates, just 4,260 (66%) got degrees, mostly due to the fact that many were never located, and the standard “associate degree in general studies” offered to everyone did not interest some candidates who had pursued a different credential. Chronicle of Higher Education

Will adaptive learning and "big data" replace traditional instruction?

A recent Scientific American article discusses the rise in computerized learning in PSE and the effects it has on professors. As enrolments in PSE continue to rise overall, and as institutions are forced to educate those students with increasingly tightened budgets, the solution for many universities and colleges is to turn to technology as a way of lightening faculty’s load. The article explains the popular adaptive learning technology, which uses data-driven tools to design coursework that responds to individual students’ abilities, adjusting the lessons as it collects data about how the student is absorbing the information. However, this use of “big data” is causing increased backlash from faculty, who feel that proponents are suggesting they are unable to assess their students themselves, and fear the use of technology in assessment will create a “monoculture” towards the STEM subjects. The article also points out that it has not yet been definitively proven that data-driven learning methods “work better than the status quo.” Scientific American

Controversial US online education bill “dead for now”

A controversial California bill that would have required the state’s 145 public colleges and universities to grant credit for low-cost online courses offered by outside groups, including for-profit companies such as MOOC providers, is dead for now. Democratic State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who proposed the original bill in March, is waiting to see the results of new online efforts by the state’s 3 public PSE systems – the California Community Colleges, California State University and the University of California. The systems are working to expand their online offerings internally and “without outsourcing their students to ed tech start-ups with little to no track record offering for-credit courses,” which is what caused much media attention and controversy when the bill was introduced. The bill did pass senate in May, but it was heavily amended so that it would just offer a grant to institutions to teach online courses. Inside Higher Ed

US university leaders call for “innovation deficit” fix

Presidents and chancellors from 165 US universities wrote an open letter to Congress, calling for the closing of the so-called “innovation deficit” by boosting funding for research and education. The authors point out that China, Singapore and South Korea have dramatically increased their investments in research and PSE over the past 2 decades, outstripping the growth rate of US research and development investments by 200 to 400%.“Failing to deal with the innovation deficit will pass to future generations the burdens of lost leadership in innovation, economic decline, and limited job opportunities. We call upon you to reject unsound budget cuts and recommit to strong and sustained investments in research and education,” says the letter. Times Higher Education