Top Ten

August 6, 2013

uAlberta asks staff to reopen collective agreements to avoid layoffs

While attempting to cut $56 million from its operating budget, uAlberta is asking staff to reopen 2-year collective agreements to help balance the budget and avoid mass layoffs, reports the Edmonton Journal. The Non-Academic Staff Association (NASA) and the Association of Academic Staff University of Alberta (AASUA) have both been approached by uAlberta to revisit the recently-signed agreements, both in place until 2015. AASUA has already rejected the proposal, and NASA will vote later this month. uAlberta submitted an annual plan to the Alberta government with cost-cutting details for the next 3 years, but the province has asked them to accelerate the plan. Close to 76% of uAlberta’s operating budget is spent on salaries and benefits, but staff representatives believe “there has to be other places where the university can be more efficient with its spending.” The Alberta government cut $43 million from uAlberta’s operating budget this year, creating the majority of the deficit. Edmonton Journal

Update: August 8, 2013

uAlberta is offering its professors voluntary buyouts in order to cut its budget by $56 million in the next 2 years, with some professors expected to leave as early as December.  The move comes less than a week after uAlberta asked its staff to reopen 2-year collective agreements to help balance the budget and avoid mass layoffs. Edmonton Journal

BVC renovations kept flood damage at a minimum

Several weeks after major flooding in southern Alberta caused widespread evacuations and states of local emergency, damage to the area’s Bow Valley College cost an estimated $10 million. However, BVC’s president and CEO Sharon Carry said the damage could have been much worse. The new $160-million south campus, completed this past spring, as well as BVC’s renovated north campus were raised about 61 cm off the flood plain; part of BVC’s $255-million renovation and expansion program that continues today. According to Carry, it was sewage backup at the underground levels, as opposed to overland flooding, that caused the most damage. The backup affected storage, parking and shipping-receiving areas of the buildings. Necessary repairs needed could take until the end of 2013, but BVC was operational within a few weeks of the catastrophe. Globe and Mail

McGill warns of recent phishing attacks

McGill University is warning staff and students to be cautious of emails that purport to be from McGill directing individuals to the Minerva self-service administrative system and asking for personal information. A phishing attack has been discovered, with 36 accounts hacked, and 14 accounts that had deposit information changed to another account. McGill is confident they have contacted the banks in time and reversed all payments, but they are reminding the McGill community to be careful. Cyber-attacks such as phishing have become a problem for PSE institutions, which must balance internet security with the free flow of information that they encourage. York, Concordia, UNB, and Carleton are just some of the Canadian PSE institutions that have reported phishing scams in recent years. Montreal Gazette | McGill Phishing Tips

SIAST plans new residence in Moose Jaw

The Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology is planning a new residence for students who attend the Palliser campus in Moose Jaw. The 200-bed residence would include common areas, student life programs, and resident advisers, and would be largely geared towards SIAST’s increasing number of international students. Rental housing is at a premium in all of the cities in which SIAST operates campuses, but Moose Jaw is in particular need. SIAST is looking for a partner to design, build, finance, and operate the new residence, which would be located on a 14-acre vacant lot less than two blocks northwest of the Palliser campus. SIAST hopes to have a contract signed by February, with construction underway next year. Regina Leader-Post

La Cité College launches new recruitment ad campaign

Ottawa’s La Cité collégiale has launched a new advertising campaign to promote its 90 programs to potential students. The recruitment campaign will run throughout the month of August around the theme “Think about it!” Ads will run on Radio-Canada and various local radio stations, and banners and posters featuring smiling students will be displayed throughout the capital. La Cité News Release (in French)

Concordia launches redesigned website

Concordia University has launched a redesigned website, which is the first phase of a revamp of the university’s online presence. The site, which will encompass more than 100 sites and 10,000 pages of information by May 2014, will be divided into several sections that will serve Concordia’s distinct audiences. Instead of breaking the information down into various administrative units, the project team and its university partners decided to design a website that caters to specific types of visitors and how they search for content. The site will also soon feature a robust search engine, and a responsive design that will optimize the site for tablets and smartphones. Concordia News Release

Oplerno sets itself up as the anti-MOOC

A new PSE business venture is being pitched that will offer quality education to students and will pay professors 80-90% of student fees. Oplerno (short for open learning organization) is a sort of “anti-MOOC,” where faculty can develop their own courses, retain intellectual-property rights and determine the cost of the courses, and students can see the course outline and syllabus as well as vet instructors before signing up for the course. Classes would be small, of about 25-30 students, and would encourage student-faculty engagement. Founder and CEO Robert A. Skiff Jr. calls it “a self-organizing, nonlinear, complex adaptive system.” Oplerno is still in the early stages, with only a few professors signed on so far. Skiff plans to apply for accreditation from the State of Vermont this fall, and hopes to eventually offer certificates, programs and eventually, full degrees. Chronicle of Higher Education

UC gives public open access to research papers

The University of California’s academic senate has adopted an open-access policy that will make research articles from the system’s 10 campuses freely available to the public through eScholarship, California's open digital database. The policy, which will be phased in over the next few months, will affect some 40,000 research papers a year. UC’s 80,000+ faculty members will be able to opt out or ask that their work be embargoed for a period of time. Although more than 750 institutions have already endorsed open access, UC’s large footprint makes the announcement quite significant. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, UC’s researchers get an estimated 8% of all US research money, and produce 2 to 3% of peer-reviewed scholarly articles published worldwide each year. Researchers at UC will also be able to make their work available under commercial and non-commercial creative commons licenses, which is also a unique detail. Chronicle of Higher Education

75% of students don’t buy required textbooks

75% of US university students decide not to buy the textbooks their classes require in large part because they think they are too expensive and find that often only a few chapters from the books are needed, according to a study by e-textbook publisher Bookboon.com. The same study was also run in the UK, where 83.3% decide not to buy a required text. On average, US students spend $655 per year on required textbooks. The study also found that 58% of American students prefer digital textbooks, saying they are cheaper and easier to carry. On this side of the border, BC last year announced that it would make free, online textbooks available for the 40 most popular PSE courses. Publishing Perspectives

Washington Post sale to affect education company Kaplan Inc.

With the recent announcement of the sale of the Washington Post newspaper to Amazon.com’s founder Jeff Bezos, education company Kaplan Inc. will now make up nearly two-thirds of the revenue of the soon-to-be-renamed Washington Post Co. Kaplan and its subsidiaries, including Kaplan Higher Education and its mostly online Kaplan University, will remain part of the publicly- traded Washington Post Co. For-profit Kaplan has seen revenue decline in recent years, with a 9% decrease in the first 6 months of 2013 compared to 2012. Chronicle of Higher Education | Washington Post | Inside Higher Ed