Top Ten

August 21, 2013

uAlberta’s science faculty announces reduced enrolment, course cuts

The University of Alberta’s science faculty is cutting 600 student places over 2 years to address ongoing budget concerns. uAlberta raised the entrance grade for science programs to 80% in order to cut 300 positions this year; next year it will likely raise it again, to reach the goal of 6,100 students enrolled. In addition, the university has suspended more than 20 courses, and plans to offer others only every few years. Faculty dean Jonathan Schaeffer stated that uAlberta is in “damage control mode,” and suggested that the cuts may be joined by other cost-reducing measures in the future. As uAlberta continues its budget struggles, the province’s Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced that financial consultants will do a “pilot financial review project” to help uAlberta establish “sustainable” financial footing. Lukaszuk approved uAlberta’s plans to carry a deficit this year, but wants a balanced budget by 2014-15. Last week uAlberta announced suspension of 20 arts programs. Edmonton Journal (1) | CBC | Metro News | Edmonton Journal (2)

SFU seeks more than $800,000 from former manager

Simon Fraser University has filed a civil lawsuit with the BC Supreme Court against its former science faculty director, Siamak Saidi, alleging that he defrauded the university of more than $800,000. According to SFU, Saidi prepared and submitted more than 500 invoices to SFU from companies of which he was a director, and then used the funds to buy 3 properties in Burnaby, Belcarra and Abbotsford. SFU seeks to reclaim from Saidi a total of $846,926 and an order that Saidi be restrained from selling, mortgaging, transferring or otherwise disposing of the properties. The Province

BVC failed to protect private information

Alberta’s privacy commissioner has decided that Bow Valley College failed to secure personal information from decommissioned computer servers, violating the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP). The servers were sent to a non-profit company for recycling, but when one of the servers was sold, the new owner discovered personal information for more than 200,000 students and faculty, reaching back 19 years. BVC thought there was an agreement in place to wipe the data from the servers, but the recycler said that was not the case. The privacy commission decided that BVC had already taken necessary steps to prevent such an occurrence from happening again; including using IT experts to ensure data is wiped before future recycling. Calgary Herald

Lakehead’s new law school promises legal aid clinic

While a new report from the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) calls Canada’s access to the justice system “abysmal,” particularly for low-income people, Lakehead University hopes to help improve the situation with a law clinic at its new law school, which is set to open this fall. Lakehead’s law faculty dean, Lee Stuesser, says that the law clinic will play a role in helping people access legal help, regardless of their income; supervised students will provide legal aid to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. The Bar Association report sets a goal for all law schools in Canada to have student legal clinics to help low-income people by 2020, and calls for more federal funding for civil legal aid. The new law clinic at Lakehead will mean that all law schools in Ontario will have such services. CBC (Lakehead) | CBC (CBA report)

CFS-NS calls for increased PSE funding following projected budget surplus

The Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia (CFS-NS) is calling on the Nova Scotia government to restore funding to PSE in the province, following a fiscal forecast update that projected an $18.4-million budget surplus. According to CFS-NS, the NS NDP passed a motion last June committing the party to reduce tuition fees during its next mandate. It also states that since 2010, tuition fees have increased 9%, while university funding has been cut by 10%. CFS-NS News Release | Globe and Mail

New certificate teaches faculty how to teach online

As online learning expands across the globe, a new certificate program can help faculty and administrators offer top-quality online instruction. The Sloan Consortium, experts on online education, has established an Online Teaching Certificate program that features interactive team exercises along with individual work over 9 weeks. Mentors work individually with candidates to help them meet specific goals, and candidates get ongoing access to a learning community that shares best practices and developments. One participant noted that “the most significant outcome from faculty taking the program is the improved student experience with … online courses.” Sloan Consortium website

Fraser report touts benefits of “adaptive learning”

Education may be on the verge of a technological revolution that includes moving away from traditional instructor-led classrooms in favour of new approaches that adapt to students’ unique learning styles, says a new report from the Fraser Institute, a Canadian public policy think-tank. Technology and Education: A Primer, the first report by the institute’s Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education, focuses on promoting “adaptive learning” education software, which learns and alters itself based on the student’s aptitude and progress. The report states that research into the costs and benefits of adaptive technology is still in its infancy, so additional research should be done. The report’s author points out that an added benefit to the technology is its ability to bring students from remote areas into a single, enhanced classroom, including children from the far North or First Nations reserves. There has been much talk about adaptive learning as a trend that is transforming online higher education as well. Fraser Institute News Release

High school language courses help francophone students transition to PSE

A new study published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) and authored by researchers at the University of Ottawa looked at the initiatives in place at uOttawa that try to ease the transition from high school to PSE for francophone students from minoritized communities (where French speakers make up less than 5% of the population). uOttawa implemented a pilot peer mentoring program in 2011-12, which paired incoming students with upper-year students from the same region to better integrate students academically and socially. The second initiative was a qualitative analysis of the effect that high school language courses have on first-year success, which found that the performance in secondary school language courses was a major determinant of success at the university level. The report, Linguistic Heterogeneity and Non-Traditional Pathways to Postsecondary Education in Ontario, is part of HEQCO’s exploration of the pathways to education of non-traditional students and of policies that support their success. uOttawa News Release | HEQCO News Release

City of Boston and edX launch “BostonX”

The City of Boston and edX, a massive, open, online course (MOOC) platform, have partnered to offer free online courses throughout Boston. “BostonX” will run MOOCs at community colleges and libraries, making online education available to those who don’t have a computer or internet connection at home. Mayor Thomas Menino “envisions neighborhoods as ‘mini campuses’ around the city.” Anant Agarwal, edX's president, says that the program will allow people to participate and discuss online courses together at one location, taking away the isolation that critics of MOOCs say hinders online learners. Agarwal is already in talks to create CambridgeX as well. Open Source blog | Boston Magazine

Students finding alternatives for pricey textbooks

As textbook prices continue to climb higher, PSE students in the US are beginning to adopt other ways of sourcing course materials, reports USA Today. 34% of students are downloading course content from an unauthorized website, up from 20% in 2010, says a survey released last month by the Book Industry Study Group. 31% said they scanned or photocopied passages from other students’ textbooks, up from 21% in 2010. Meanwhile, a report released this summer by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says the price of new textbooks has risen by about 6% a year. Students also have access to a wider variety of options, including used books and digital textbooks, which can save as much as 40%, according to the non-profit National Association of College Stores. USA Today