Top Ten

September 3, 2013

SFU buildings in disrepair

Students and staff at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus are concerned about the dilapidated state of many of the buildings on campus. Reports of mold, rusted and leaking pipes, cracked walls, and broken staircases have been surfacing for at least a year or 2, culminating in the creation of a photo blog that contains hundreds of photos of building decay. Some graduate students allege that faculty and students have become ill from mold or bad air, stating that coughs, headaches, and breathing conditions are common. SFU officials point to provincial cuts to the maintenance budget, suggesting that close to $6 million is needed yearly to maintain the facilities. CBC | Global News

uWaterloo develops new strategic plan focused on research, innovation

The University of Waterloo has developed a new strategic plan, which focuses on research, co-op education and entrepreneurship, at a time when people have been speculating about how BlackBerry’s financial instability will affect the university. The plan identifies 3 key research areas of focus; quantum science, aging and water – areas that uWaterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur says offer the greatest potential to allow the university to become a global research leader. The Maclean’s university rankings have named uWaterloo most innovative institution in Canada for the past 21 years, and Hamdullahpur says the goal now is to make uWaterloo most innovative in the world. "Our companies are wondering whether they're going to exist 10 years from now. Where do we look for these answers?" says Hamdullahpur. The Record

Laurentian opens news architecture school

The Laurentian University School of Architecture officially opens today, marking the first architecture school to open in Canada in 40 years, and only the second located outside of a large metropolitan area. 70 students have been accepted to the first class, and not without certain degree of risk, as the school is not yet accredited. Because of the certification process required by the Canadian Architectural Certification Board, it could be several years before the school gains accreditation. However, students expressed excitement at helping to shape the future of the school. Phase 1 of the building project wraps up this week, with Phase 2 expected to be complete by 2015. The current price tag on the new and renovated buildings is $42.6 million. CBC (1) | CBC (2)

University mental health services slowly growing

The Canadian Press reports on the slow yet steady progress being made in mental health services on campus, and points out that a limited amount of funding makes it difficult for smaller institutions to provide the necessary mental health supports for students. Larger universities have the resources and donors required to expand services, such as Queen’s University, which commissioned an extensive report on how to provide students with better supports. The university says approximately half the 116 recommendations have been implemented or are in progress, and that they have seen huge collaboration efforts from other universities as well – including UBC, McMaster and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. However, smaller institutions must be more creative to come up with the resources needed for mental health supports. Mount Allison University, for example, developed a program of student volunteers who offer peer support, and started an online moderated forum where students can share concerns anonymously. Global News (Canadian Press)

TRU launches redesigned website

Thompson Rivers University has launched a new website that aims to better recruit and retain students – the first website redesign for TRU since 2006. "Best practices have changed significantly over the past 7 years. Our website should be focused on what students are looking for, not how the university is structured," says Matthew Tarzwell, TRU Web Strategist. The new site features a new site search function, support for site-wide emergency notifications, better news, events, and social media integration, the use of Google Translate for non-English visitors, and responsive design for multiple devices. TRU News Release | TRU Homepage

WLU president says employers should do the training, not universities

Wilfrid Laurier University president Max Blouw provides an argument for universities as educators rather than job-training institutions, in a recent op-ed in the Globe and Mail. Blouw expresses the opinion that a false expectation exists in the sector that graduates will land a “high-level,” “highly-relevant” job straight out of university, and that universities should not be expected to create “plug and play” graduates who can “fit immediately into a specific job in which they will spend the rest of their lives. Blouw says that, instead, it should be the responsibility of the employer to train graduates who university has provided with “broad intellectual and personal development.” Blouw makes the case that when employers depend on institutions to do the job training, they risk hiring “cookie-cutter workers, [which] eventually [hurts] their own growth.” Globe and Mail

US universities strengthen rules after Sandusky scandal

Many universities in the US have strengthened their rules and regulations around sexual assault reporting in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case, which has cost Pennsylvania State University several million dollars in settlements and legal costs so far. University of Mississippi administrators have passed a rule stating that nobody 18 or older can have one-on-one contact with a minor. At the University of Kansas, bylaws have been rewritten to say that any employee who doesn’t comply with rules about reporting sex crimes can be fired. The University of Southern California has brought in the former FBI investigator who reported on the Penn State failings to brief administration on good policies and rules. In total, 79.7% of institutions with athletes playing at the highest level in university sports have either reviewed or strengthened their policies regarding minors on campus since the Sandusky scandal. Columbus Dispatch

US education department drafts new gainful-employment rules

The US Department of Education has drafted new proposed “gainful-employment” rules that would affect for-profit and community colleges, after a similar 2012 rule was dismissed by a federal court. The rules would set minimum gainful-employment rules for vocational programs to be eligible for federal financial aid. Sector observers say this updated set of rules set higher standards and allow fewer opportunities for failure than the 2012 version that was thrown out because one of the 3 funding thresholds was allegedly set arbitrarily. The new rules also include the caveat that programs would not immediately lose aid eligibility if they fall below thresholds (a failing program would be one with an annual debt-to-income ratio of more than 12% and a debt-to-discretionary-income ratio of more than 30%). The rules will be negotiated by a rule-making committee on September 9. Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed

Students, faculty join cyber-security efforts at US universities

Universities in the US are hoping that educating students and faculty on cyber safety will help reduce the number of internet security breaches, which have been rapidly increasing in recent years. At Stanford University, in response to a July cyber attack, students and staff have been asked to remain vigilant, use complex passwords, and learn to spot phishing attempts. At the University of Delaware, students must pass a cyber-security exam before receiving a university email address. The Chief Information Security Officer at the Ohio State University noted that universities can be “difficult to manage because of the diverse tools, people and information they contain.” Wall Street Journal

US data show shorter degrees lead to similar earnings to those of bachelor’s

Associate degrees and occupationally-oriented certificates in some US states pay off in the job market just as well as bachelor’s degrees do, according to a report by College Measures, which summarizes key takeaways from state-by-state college performance data in 5 states (Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia). The report goes on to say that some holders of these shorter, vocational degrees will even out-earn bachelor’s degree holders. The report also points out that what subject a person studies matters much more than the institution at which he/she studies – a fact that echoes recent data out of the UK that shows degrees from prestigious institutions there have no impact on career earnings. Inside Higher Ed | Full Report