Top Ten

August 26, 2013

uAlberta to cut another $56 million from its budget in 2014-15

University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera circulated a notice last week that warned students and staff the university plans to make the $56-million cut driven by the province within 2 years, rather than 3, which will make necessary a 7% cut to faculty budgets and an 8% cut to support services in 2014-15. The cuts will follow $28 million in reductions to both areas already set to take place this fall. uAlberta originally planned to balance its budget by 2016 after the province decreased its budget by $43 million, but Advanced Education minister Thomas Lukaszuk expressed that he wanted it balanced sooner. “I want to be clear: These are major cuts and every member of our community will feel the impact,” Samarasekera wrote in the letter. The new strategy also calls for further 2% cuts in 2015-16 and 2016-17. To deal with this fall’s budget reductions, uAlberta has cut student spaces or programs in both science and arts, and has offered faculty members collective-agreement buyouts. Globe and Mail | Edmonton Journal

MAPS produces defence against Minniti during lawsuit

The McMaster Association of Part-time Students (MAPS) rewrote the contract of Sam Minniti, the union’s former executive director, 2 months before he was fired, alleges lawsuit documents in defence of Minniti’s $500,000 lawsuit against McMaster and MAPS for wrongful dismissal. In January, the Hamilton Spectator reported that Minniti received $101,116 in retroactive pay in 2011 in addition to a $126,151 salary, a scandal that has since led McMaster to stop collecting student fees on behalf of MAPS. A new statement of defence filed by the 5 former board members of MAPS alleges Minniti "improperly convinced" them to rewrite severance provisions in his contract last November to provide one year's pay in lieu of notice. In January, the same 5 board members fired Minniti. McMaster, meanwhile, denies Minniti’s claim that says the university was a common employer alongside MAPS because it processed the former union head's payroll records.  Hamilton Spectator

Foreign workers’ association reports strike impacts on students

As PSE institutions prepare to welcome students to campus for the new school year, the ongoing foreign service officer strike continues to cause a processing backlog for some international students hoping to make it to university or college in time for the beginning of classes. The rate of visa approvals has dropped by 15%, and there has been a 5% decline in requests for visas, a PAFSO representative told the Globe and Mail. However, many university officials admit they predicted the delay would be a lot worse; a manager of international student services at Saint Mary’s University, which has the highest percentage of foreign students in Canada, said so far it’s not as bad as she thought it would be. Most universities and colleges have given backlogged students a grace period through which their spot will be held, although some institutions are also recommending students defer their start dates, if the delay becomes long enough that they may risk falling behind. Globe and Mail

Sask gears new grade 11 science curriculum towards job prep

The Saskatchewan government has overhauled its grade 11 science curriculum, replacing the traditional physics, chemistry and biology classes with health, environmental and physical science. The new classes take elements of the old subjects and apply them to the new curriculum “in more practical ways.” "We're trying to design these courses with employment in mind, because right now if you ask a student why they take physics, they say, 'Because I'm going to university,' but they don't know what they're going to do or how science will fit in," says education minister Dean Elliott. He adds that provincial universities and the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology are “already, in principle, on board with the change.” Star Phoenix

CIBC report adds to “skills gap” argument

Obtaining a PSE degree is still the best route to a well-paying, quality career in Canada, but the return is narrowing as too few students are graduating from programs that are high in demand, according to a report by CIBC World Markets. “Despite the overwhelming evidence that one's field of study is the most important factor determining labour market outcomes, today's students have not gravitated to more financially advantageous fields in a way that reflects the changing reality of the labour market," says CIBC deputy chief economist Benjamin Tal. The report states that although the rate of Canadian adults with PSE is the highest among all OECD countries, more of those degree holders are falling behind in the earnings scale, with the share of Canadian university grads who make less than the national median income the largest among the OECD countries. The mismatch between graduates and in-demand jobs, known as the “skills gap” or “skills mismatch,” has been identified as a major issue by many PSE stakeholders. CIBC News Release

Georgia schools launch iPad “flexbooks” in lieu of textbooks

A school district in suburban Atlanta has implemented a new “flexbooks” program in math classes for this fall, in which teachers and administrators will be able to create customizable math content for each classroom and student on iPads, using software called Edgenuity. Parents will also have access to the content online so they can help with their children’s homework. “There was a lot missing in the textbooks when it came to meeting the latest standards,” says assistant superintendent Aaryn Schmuhl. “Flexbooks allow us to customize to any changes to the curriculum from year to year, instead of using outdated textbooks.” The district is spending just over $100,000 to provide flexbooks for all students in each math classroom in grades 3 through 10, and says the move will be cost neutral since it will be spending less on textbooks. The move reflects a growing trend within both K-12 and PSE to use technology to enhance student learning and reduce costs. District Administration

Students rate best, worst in-class technologies

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported recently on the technology that students wished their instructors used in class either more or less. Students overwhelmingly wished their professors would more often record their lectures to be viewed or listened to at a later date (71.5%). Students would also like to see more course- or learning- management tools such as Blackboard, and more integrated use of laptops in class. Students wished their classes required fewer e-portfolios, e-books or textbooks, and were fairly neutral when it came to simulator or educational games, and integrated use of smartphones in class. The survey data was collected from February to April 2013 from 112,585 students in 251 institutions. Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)

Should social media etiquette be introduced at orientation?

Inside Higher Ed reports that despite numerous examples of students being disciplined for what PSE institutions deem inappropriate online behaviour, social media etiquette is rarely discussed during first-year orientation in the US. Bradley Shear, a Bethesda, Maryland-based lawyer who specializes in social media and Internet law, says that young people don’t understand the legal consequences of their online interactions. “Students need to be apprised of the things that may happen if they utilize digital tools in a way that may create criminal issues or liability issues,” says Shear. However, many colleges and universities in the US do include some kind of social media etiquette statement in their student handbooks. Inside Higher Ed

Study claims universities pass on debt to students

A new study by 2 graduate sociology students states that the growing amount of debt being carried by PSE graduates in the US is "partly driven by the debt universities have taken on.” The pair asserts that public research universities have passed along their own debt to students by raising tuition and fees by an average of 56% from 2002 to 2010. Using the federal government’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (Ipeds), authors Charlie Eaton and Jacob Habinek, both from the University of California at Berkeley, examined data from 155 public research universities and found that their debt-service payments had risen 86% from 2002 to 2010. The report also makes a similar suggestion to one that US president Obama made in his recently proposed PSE plan: that federal grants and loans should be tied to a requirement that institutions cut tuition and costs. Chronicle of Higher Education | Full Report

‘Trump University’ sued by NY attorney general

New York’s attorney general is suing “Trump University,” the enterprise created by Donald Trump that offers seminars teaching real estate and entrepreneurial skills, for “engaging in persistent fraud, illegal and deceptive conduct and violating federal consumer protection law.” The lawsuit seeks $40 million in damages for almost 5,000 students who paid between $1,495 and $35,000 for the seminars. Trump’s lawyer claims the lawsuit is politically motivated, and insists that Trump University “never defrauded anyone.” NY State Education Department officials had previously told Trump to rename the organization, stating “it lacked a license and didn't meet the legal definitions of a university.” Renamed the Trump Entrepreneur Institute in 2011, it has been plagued with consumer complaints and isolated civil lawsuits. Associated Press