Top Ten

September 30, 2013

Brandon U predicts job cuts without grant increases

Brandon University may have to cut almost 13% of its staff and faculty in 2014-15, reports the Winnipeg Free Press. Brandon U recently submitted its budget forecast to Manitoba’s Council on Postsecondary Education (COPSE), and without an increase in provincial grants, more than 40 of 334 full-time jobs, two-thirds of them teaching positions, could be lost. To avoid mass layoffs next year, provincial operating grants must increase by 12.6% in 2014-15, and by a further 3.5% and 3.8% in the following 2 years. 2014-15 will also mark the end of faculty contracts, negotiated after the longest professor’s strike in Manitoba, lasting 45 days. Brandon U was able to avoid job cuts this year, but had to trim more than $1 million from its budget after the province dropped the promised operating grants increase of 5% to 2.5%. Winnipeg Free Press

Update: Oct 2, 2013

Correction: Brandon University President Deborah Poff has issued a statement to campus (published via the BrandonU Twitter feed) to clarify recent news reports on the university's budget. As it does every year, COPSE asked institutions to project the possible impact of frozen funding. The government has not announced such a freeze, and Poff states that a zero increase for BrandonU’s budget is not its planning assumption.  This year’s budget planning exercise will be based on a 2.5% operating increase and a 1.5% assumed increase in tuition. We apologize for repeating the misleading coverage. Brandon U Twitter

International panel to help Alberta commercialize research

Ten international experts, business people and academics have been appointed to an organizing panel for Alberta’s new institute to commercialize university research. Alberta’s Enterprise and Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says that all panel members, including Chair Daniel Roos from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are members of similar groups across the globe, and are also well-acquainted with Alberta’s research environment. Roos has been working with the University of Alberta for several months, and has written a report so that he can “hit the ground running.” Other panel members hail from the US, Australia and Germany. 4 members are Canadian. Edmonton Journal

uRegina leadership narrowly confirmed

The University of Regina’s Council -- made up of permanent professors and some students -- last week held a motion to have a vote of non-confidence against the university’s president and provost that failed by just one vote (135 to 134). uRegina President Vianne Timmons has pledged to hold a town hall meeting within a month to discuss the issues raised by the motion, which include concerns with the financial management of the university. uRegina has seen 2 straight years of 3% budget cuts. Faculty have also expressed concerns that non-academic jobs and costs have risen at the expense of academic priorities over the last decade. “I have a lot of work to do to address the concerns of the people who voted for the motion,” says Timmons. Globe and Mail

uSask asks province for 2% grant increase

The University of Saskatchewan is asking the provincial government for a 2% grant increase for 2014-15, which is the same increase the university received in 2013-14. uSask’s 2014-15 forecast document, released this week, outlines the university’s $44.5-million deficit forecast and identifies areas in which it aligns with the government: knowledge creation, Aboriginal engagement, innovation, and culture and community. The forecast also asks for $15.1 million for repayment of university debt. uSask News Release | Forecast Document

New computer game lets anyone contribute to scientific research

McGill University professors Jérôme Waldispühl and Mathieu Blanchette have created an online computer game that allows them to recruit non-scientists to help solve a DNA sequence alignment problem. Their game, called Phylo, a “visual cross between Tetris and Connect Four,” asks players to slide coloured blocks – representing DNA, Ribonucleic acid (RNA) and proteins – back and forth to align them with other similarly coloured blocks, while trying to leave as few, if any, gaps between them. Crowd-sourced projects like Phylo are being promoted as a cost-effective and innovative way to garner contributions to scientific research, reports the Globe and Mail. Globe and Mail

Google search overhaul could affect website traffic

Google has overhauled the formula that runs its search engine, which could have a large impact on traffic to websites and how websites are indexed in search results. As part of an update the company calls “Hummingbird,” the search engine retool is “the most dramatic alteration to Google’s search engine since it revised the way it indexed websites 3 years ago,” according to a Google Senior VP, Amit Singhal. Singhal estimates that the change will affect over 90% of the search requests that Google receives. The Hummingbird changes attempt to make the search engine better understand concepts, rather than just words, as users increasingly type lengthy questions into the search box. Marketing Magazine

New grads should focus on skills, not fields

ATB Financial chief economist and author Todd Hirsch uses a Globe and Mail op-ed to advise recent graduates not to be too fixated on getting a job “in their field.” Hirsch explains that an economics graduate, for example, is not necessarily going to end up working in economics. Furthermore, Hirsch writes, society has led many students to believe that simply attending a university will land them a good job, when in fact; university is only intended to make them “more complete thinkers.” Hirsch recommends that graduates keep an open mind towards various job possibilities, talk to as many people as they can about career paths, and never get discouraged if they don’t end up in the field in which they studied. Globe and Mail

Experts weigh in on the barriers to innovation

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently asked a panel of experts “What Are the Barriers to Innovation?” The comments ranged from suggesting an environment that encourages clarity and partnership to a recommendation for “institutions to resist the changes that are being forced on them.” Most of the respondents agreed that academe is not as resistant to “change” or innovation as it sometimes may appear; however, disruptive change is seen as negative. One expert stated that “a modest renovation of our practices” could be sought. Another noted that “change has been a constant over many years. All good colleges and universities change—dramatically and often.” Several experts focused on specific areas where innovation could be most effective, including improving access for low-income students, and the monitoring of the quality of professor instruction. For innovation to be successful, according to one educator, it must signal meaningful transformational change. “After all, change need not be slow to be steady, nor disruptive to be meaningful.” Chronicle of Higher Education

OECD countries will need to further expand PSE

Higher education institutions in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries will need to expand the number of student spaces they offer, according to a new OECD report. The 2013 Education Indicators in Focus report reveals that more than 23 million students across OECD and G20 countries will enter their first PSE-level course in 2013, with entry rates increasing to 60% from just 40% in 1995. The report states that “the new generation of students will be particularly diverse, with more adults and international students than ever.” The indicators also show that although entry rates have soared over the last decades, unequal access to PSE still exists. University World News | Education Indicators in Focus No. 15

Bard College introduces 10,000-word admissions essays

NY-based Bard College is giving potential students a new way to apply for admission that does not take into account any prior grades or test scores. The Bard Entrance Examination is composed solely of essay questions, bypassing existing standardized testing and admissions procedures. Students must answer 4 questions in essay form, one each from Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences, History, and Philosophy; and Science and Mathematics, with the fourth from a category of the student’s choosing. The essays are to be approximately 2,500 words each, for a total of 10,000 words. Students who receive a grade of B+ or higher will receive an offer of admission. The new admission plan is “designed to level the playing field among applicants worldwide and to enable bright, motivated students to gain admission through a process that more closely mirrors actual college course work.” Students can still apply to Bard using the Common Application system. Chronicle of Higher Education | Bard News Release