Top Ten

August 22, 2013

Obama plans to use rankings, federal aid to incentivize campus innovation

US President Barack Obama announced a set of proposals yesterday that aim to make PSE more affordable and accountable by linking funding to institutional ratings. According to a draft of the proposals obtained by the New York Times, institutions would be ranked based on measures like tuition, graduation rates and percentage of low-income students who attend. It goes on to say that starting in 2018, the ratings would be tied to financial aid, so that students at higher rated institutions might get larger federal grants and more affordable loans. In the proposal, Obama also urges institutions to experiment with other approaches that reduce cost, such as competency-based degrees, online education in the form of MOOCs, 3-year enrolment programs, or dual enrolment programs in which high school students can begin to earn university credit before they graduate. The president also plans to offer waivers to institutions that serve as “experimental sites” offering such innovative programming and initiatives. New York Times

RDC named one of Alberta’s 25 most innovative organizations

Red Deer College has been named one of Alberta’s 25 most innovative organizations by Venture Magazine. RDC, the only PSE institution to make the list, was commended for its Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing, which was built to train technical specialists in the design and development of prototypes, products and processes. “Just this past year we’ve done 500 engagements with industry, postsecondary partners and small business,” says RDC president Joel Ward about the work that he believes led to the kudos. Venture Magazine mentioned a project the college is doing with Red Deer’s Better Made Wheelchairs to develop an innovative braking system for wheelchairs. Red Deer Advocate

Parents delaying retirement to help pay for children’s education

An online poll of 1,000 parents commissioned by CIBC has found that 36% of Canadian parents with children under 25 years old will delay their own retirement to help their kids pay for tuition and other education-related expenses, 19% by 5 years or more. 60% of respondents have saved less for their retirement than they had originally planned because of helping children with education costs, and 33% of parents say they have taken on additional debt themselves to help children pay for education. In June, CBC reported that Canadian federal student debt had reached an all-time high of over $15 billionGlobe and Mail | CIBC News Release

uOttawa pays to have Bixi bike-sharing stations moved onto campus

The University of Ottawa has paid the National Capital Commission $15,000 to have 2 Bixi bike-sharing stations moved from other locations in the city to uOttawa’s campus. The bike-sharing program is in its third year in Ottawa, but is the smallest of its kind with only 25 stations and 250 bikes. Mostly used by tourists, the NCC program was meant to be much bigger than it is, with less than 50,000 rides taken and a $76,000 loss last year. It is hoped that by moving the 2 stations from areas where they got little use to the uOttawa campus, the program will see much more use. As an introductory special, Bixi is offering monthly memberships at a discounted price. Ottawa Citizen

Small academic journals and the debate over open-access research findings

A small journal loosely affiliated with York University and the University of Ottawa has brought to light the argument over open-access publishing of scientific articles. The journal Histoire sociale/Social History was inundated with attention following the May publication of Ian Mosby’s article on nutritional experiments conducted on Indigenous children at residential schools. The journal relies heavily on subscription revenues, but in light of the extreme attention cast on the journal, as well as repeated calls for access to the article, Samy Khalid, the magazine’s managing editor, decided to make the article available free for a limited time. Khalid noted that when journals are only marginally associated with universities, they may struggle to secure adequate funding, but said that “universities benefit from the visibility generated by these magazines when an article attracts public attention. To ignore them would be unwise.” Open-access to research papers is gaining momentum in Europe and the US; the University of California recently adopted an open-access policy for research papers. University Affairs  

Girls early on more likely to want to go on to PSE

A new US study shows that as early as 8th grade, girls are more likely to say they want to go to PSE and want to earn better grades because of it. The National Bureau of Economic Research working paper examined students in grades 8, 10 and 12, searching for correlations between GPA and plans for the future, non-cognitive skills (social skills, motivation, etc.), the family environment, and working while in school. Nicole M. Fortin, co-author of the study, says that one of the biggest takeaways teachers can get from the study is that there is a need to get boys more engaged in school. Here in Canada, a recently-published book, Helping Boys Learn, looks at this problem and suggests ways in which to solve it. Inside Higher Ed

Chinese applications to US grad schools drop

New data show that although US graduate schools are increasing their offers of admission to international students, those students from overseas may not be as interested in studying in the US. A study released yesterday by the Council of Graduate Schools shows that offers of admission to international applicants grew by 9% from 2012 to 2013, making it the 4th consecutive year of growth. However, during the same period applications from overseas grew only 2%, which is much lower than in other years. The bulk of the slowdown can be attributed to numbers from China, where 3% fewer students have applied to US graduate schools than last year. "There’s a reason to keep an eye on this, because China is a huge provider of high-quality graduate students to US STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] graduate programs,” says council president Debra W. Stewart.  Another recent study suggested that international students play a critical role in sustaining quality STEM graduate programs at US universities. Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed

Prestigious UK degrees have no impact on career earnings

Attending one of the UK’s leading universities does not necessarily lead to better earnings, according to a new government-commissioned report. The report, carried out for Britain's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, explains that graduates of the group of large research-intensive institutions, known as the Russell Group, do earn more than their peers – but that this can be explained by their better pre-PSE test results and family backgrounds, rather than their university education. The data shows that male graduates from the Russell Group universities earn 36% more than non-graduates, whereas male graduates from other institutions earned an average of 21% more (for female students, the discrepancy between Russell Group and non-Russell Group earnings is smaller, at 9%). However, when controls for parents’ earnings are applied to the data, Ian Walker, the study’s co-author, says the earnings differential is “statistically insignificant.” “Students from more prestigious universities earn more because they are smarter graduates, not because they attended a better teaching institution," Walker says. Times Higher Education

SJSU profs misrepresented MOOC results, says Udacity

Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun feels he has found the “magic formula” for the success of his company’s MOOCs. Although San Jose State University recently announced they were “pausing” their partnership with Udacity based on dismal completion rates and poor performance, Thrun says that results from the summer courses offered by SJSU are showing much more promise. Thrun re-emphasized that the the spring results publicized by SJSU faculty were based on inner-city kids who had already failed remedial math at least once, but that early summer-term results “show his company is on the right track.” Aspects of Udacity’s magic formula include producing their own courses, adding mentors and a help line, and providing reminder phone calls to students. Udacity is planning for the January launch of an online master’s degree in computer science offered through the Georgia Institute of Technology. Information Week 

Professors create anti-Mindset List website

Two anonymous professors have declared their intent to “destroy” the Beloit Mindset List, an annual compendium of what the latest incoming PSE class is thinking. The professors, who are going by “Disgruntled Prof" and "John Q. Angry," created the “Beloit Mindlessness” website, which is "dedicated to the mockery and eventual destruction of the Beloit mindset list." The site includes a mock mindset list, and a section called “why the mindset list must be destroyed,” which states "the List is a poorly written compendium of trivia, stereotypes and lazy generalizations, insulting to both students and their professors, and based on nothing more than the uninformed speculation of its authors. It inspires lazy, inaccurate journalism and is an embarrassment to academia."  Inside Higher Ed