Top Ten

December 19, 2013

Unfinished student housing building engulfed in flames

A privately-owned student housing complex in Kingston, ON caught fire Tuesday, leading to the evacuation of the surrounding area and a dramatic helicopter rescue. The 5-storey wood complex, owned by Patry Inc, was under construction when flames broke out. A crane operator was caught by the flames and subsequently rescued by a military helicopter. As officials are concerned that the crane may collapse due to structural damage, a 2-block radius around the fire remained evacuated Wednesday. Queen’s University has issued a statement advising affected students to seek help through the Office of the University Registrar, Campus Security, and/or Health, Counselling and Disability Services. Exams at Queen’s are running as scheduled. CBC | CTV | Toronto Star | Queen’s News Release

uAlberta to raise tuition for all students

University of Alberta President Indira Samarasakera last week announced tuition increases for undergraduate and graduate students in 2014. Domestic undergraduate and graduate tuition will increase by 1%, the maximum allowable. International undergraduate students will see a 5% increase, which includes the 1% overall increase plus 4% for “programming and services for international students as well to address other inflationary pressures faced by the university.” Also, international graduate students will see a 1% increase. Samarasekera also announced that the Provost’s Office has launched an online feedback form for the uAlberta community to give feedback on the Renaissance Committee Report, which made recommendations for cost saving and efficiencies. uAlberta Blog     

CAUT calls on PSE institutions to sever ties with Confucius Institutes

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is urging PSE institutions to cut ties with institutes subsidized and supervised by the government of China. “Confucius Institutes are essentially political arms of the Chinese government,” says CAUT Executive Director James Turk. “They restrict the free discussion of topics Chinese authorities deem controversial and should have no place on our campuses.” Turk points out that the University of Manitoba decided not to host such an institute, citing concerns over political censorship, and that McMaster University cancelled its agreement with its Confucius Institute earlier this year following a human rights complaint involving discriminatory hiring practices against members of Falun Gong. CAUT News Release

Quebec universities seek increased funding from government

Universities in Quebec are hoping for some financial relief from the provincial government as 2 years of budget cuts come to an end, reports the Montreal Gazette. Higher Education Minister Pierre Duchesne has pledged an increase of $262 million for 2014-15, and says that the ministry will establish “partnership agreements” with each university in the coming weeks. Liberal higher education critic Pierre Arcand says it seems the government is “offering only conditional increases that don’t give universities the flexibility they need to manage their institutions.” In December 2012, the Quebec government announced a $123-million budget cut that would be reinstated for 2013-14, which followed a cancellation of planned tuition fee increases. “The government has been playing with the numbers,” says Arcand. “If you cut $246 million over 2 years and then invest $262 million, it is a negligible increase that doesn’t even cover heating or teachers’ salaries.” Montreal Gazette

Colleges Ontario report highlights skills gap solutions

Colleges Ontario has published a report that demonstrates how colleges’ labour-market training programs and initiatives help address the predicted skills shortage in the province. The report, Creating a Higher Skilled Workforce for the New Economy, uses student and program anecdotes to emphasize the way colleges help people prepare for the workforce. “The country needs a comprehensive strategy to address the skills mismatch. And Ontario’s 24 public colleges will be pivotal to the success of that strategy,” says the report. Colleges Ontario Report

Survey focuses on Indigenous students’ influences for PSE choice

This week Indspire released results from its 2013 Survey of Education Choices Made by Indigenous Students, which examined the various factors affecting the institutional choices of Indigenous students. The survey found that program of study, school reputation, faculty, financial aid, and Indigenous support services are the main factors that influence respondents when choosing their school. The factors with the least influence on respondents include guidance counsellor and parental influence, athletics, and having friends at the same institution. The 3 on-campus services most used by respondents are academic advising, Indigenous services, and financial aid. Indspire President Roberta Jamieson stated that the survey results are helpful for policy makers and institutions that hope to increase the number of Indigenous PSE graduates. “Indspire’s survey underscores the importance of Aboriginal student programming and services in helping students achieve their educational goals,” says Paul Davidson, President of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. Indspire News Release | Report

StatsCan data show gender gap in STEM graduates

New Statistics Canada data reveal that in 2011 women accounted for 39% of all STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) university graduates aged 25 to 34, despite the fact that they represented 66% of university graduates. Furthermore, more women graduate from science and technology than from other STEM disciplines, representing 59% of all graduates aged 25 to 34 in science and technology, compared with 23% among graduates in engineering, and 30% among graduates in mathematics and computer science. The data also show that women represent approximately 80% of graduates in health and education-related programs. Statistics Canada also gleaned that “generally, young STEM graduates in engineering had lower unemployment rates, lower rates of skills mismatch, and higher earnings than other categories of STEM graduates and non-STEM graduates.” StatsCan Daily

Can standardized literacy test improve Canada’s PISA standings?

As the Canadian K-12 and PSE sectors react to falling literacy and numeracy rates that TD Economics call “depressing,” University Affairs contributors Nicholas Dion and Vicky Maldonado suggest one solution may be to begin assessing students’ literacy skills as they enter and exit PSE. They suggest that, without universal standards for high school curriculum, we should question the assumption that “if you study in English and you do well enough in high school to earn your diploma, your language skills are likely strong enough to succeed at university.” However, Roger Graves of the University of Alberta and David Slomp of the University of Lethbridge argue that a standardized writing test is problematic because writing assessment is must be contextualized for each discipline. “Research into the consequences of large-scale writing assessment…has shown that…these assessments focus students on developing the limited skill sets required for success on these exams, rather than on developing the broader set of skills and understandings necessary for success at the postsecondary level.” University Affairs (Dion and Maldonado) | University Affairs (Graves and Slomp) | TD Economics Report

SJSU, Udacity resume MOOC trials

San Jose State University has decided to resume its MOOC trials with Udacity after having put the project on hold due to “disappointing student performance.” Next spring SJSU will continue to offer 3 for-credit Udacity MOOCs to “strictly limited” numbers of students at SJSU and the wider California State University system. Following the decision to pause the trials, SJSU reported that pass rates for later courses, which were tweaked following the spring courses’ weak results, increased to match, and sometimes exceed, the pass rates of face-to-face SJSU courses. Chronicle of Higher Education

Harvard student arrested for sending fake bomb threats

The FBI is reporting that the bomb threats that recently led Harvard University to evacuate 4 buildings were the work of a student who has admitted to sending fake bomb threats to avoid taking his exams. The 20-year-old student was arrested on Tuesday and is scheduled for a court appearance this week facing federal bomb-hoax charges. The bomb threats were sent to 2 Harvard officials, the campus police, and the student newspaper on Monday morning. Chronicle of Higher Education