Top Ten

January 10, 2014

Student’s religious accommodation request sparks debate

A York University student’s request to be exempted from class group work so he wouldn’t have to publicly interact with female students has sparked a debate on women’s and religious rights in PSE. The student’s professor, J. Paul Grayson, did not allow the request, which was made early in the fall semester due to religious reasons, saying the accommodation would give “tacit support” to a negative view of women. He did, however, forward the request to YorkU Faculty of Arts Dean Martin Singer, who ordered the professor to grant the student’s accommodation request. Singer explained that “the school is legally obliged to heed the student’s wishes, and [that] other students would not be seriously affected.” Grayson continued to refuse the student’s request, and the student did participate in the assignment via online interaction, reports University Affairs. Grayson argues that “rather than leaving a determination of whether or not an accommodation infringes the rights of others to the administration, a decision could be made by a committee comprised of a cross-section of the professoriate.” University Affairs | Globe and Mail

Quebec abandons plans to make undergrad degree mandatory for nurses

The Quebec government will not be moving forward with plans to make an undergraduate degree compulsory for nurses to work in hospitals in the province, reports the Canadian Press. The Quebec Order of Nurses in 2011 asked the province to make these changes to the education requirements, but the proposal was criticised by unions representing health workers and the Fédération des cégeps. The government working group studying the order’s proposal failed to reach a consensus on the topic. However, further analysis will be conducted to determine which tasks should be performed by nurses with an undergraduate degree, and which should be done by those with a college diploma. “We’ve never done that kind of exercise to pinpoint how training programs should be modified or adjusted,” says Health Minister Rejean Hebert. Maclean’s On Campus (Canadian Press)

Canada announces $43 million in NSERC grants

Canadian Minister of State (Science and Technology) Greg Rickford today announced that the most recent round of Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) funding will provide $43 million to 77 research teams at universities across the country. The funding will go towards 2 grants: the Strategic Network Grants and the Strategic Project Grants. The funds will help researchers work with companies and other organizations on long-term projects to address industrial and societal challenges. Canada News Release

Canada seeks input for new science, technology and innovation strategy

The Canadian government is seeking public input on a new federal Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy, with the launch of a discussion paper to guide the dialogue. The paper asks how Canada can “continue to develop, attract and retain the world's top research talent at our businesses, research institutions, colleges and polytechnics, and universities” as well as “Is the Government of Canada's suite of programs appropriately designed to best support research excellence?” Submissions will be accepted until February 7, and then the government will release an updated strategy “in the months following the consultation phase.” Canada News Release

Report argues BC Jobs Plan needs changing

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has released a report that examines the British Columbia Jobs Plan launched in fall 2011, reporting that the plan is failing. The author calls for “a more diversified and sustainable approach to job creation.” The report states that two-thirds of the jobs created since the launch of the plan are seasonal or casual positions, and that BC has fewer permanent positions today than before the recession. BC’s employment level, at 71%, is “effectively unchanged” since fall 2011. “The BC Jobs Plan is based on the false assumption that the private sector is the only job creator,” says report author Iglika Ivanova, “It pins all its hopes on resource exports...” The report recommends shifting BC’s job creation strategy to a more diversified, less environmentally- and economically-risky strategy, which would include public investment in infrastructure and social programs to create spinoff hiring and private-sector investment. CCPA News Release | Report Download Page

2013 developments in Ontario online learning

A research associate for online education network Contact North has released a review of the developments in online learning in Ontario in 2013. In the review, Tony Bates focuses on: what happened to the MOOC this year, the increasing number of online learning strategies at Ontario’s universities and colleges, the transition of online learning being the responsibility of a few to being included in most departments and faculties, the increased use of hybrid learning, a greater push from government to use online learning to enhance teaching and learning, and the rise of open educational resources. “Let’s hope 2014 will see a more focused approach on using online learning and learning technologies in general to improve productivity while maintaining or increasing the quality of postsecondary education,” concludes Bates. Contact North News Release | Review

Some US institutions drastically reducing tuition

As many PSE institutions across North America continue to implement tuition increases, some are going in the opposite direction and cutting tuition drastically, whether to attract new students or as a sign that the institution is fiscally sustainable. A recent article highlights 6 institutions in the US that have drastically reduced tuition fees, including Ohio’s Ashland University (35% reduction), Concordia University in Minnesota (34%), Ohio Northern University (20-25%), Converse College in SC (43%), Belmont Abbey College in NC (33%), and Alaska Pacific University (34%). The individual institutions’ reasoning behind the tuition cuts range from the desire to attract more students (Alaska Pacific) to moving from a “high-tuition/high-discount model to a lower-tuition/lower-discount model” (Ashland). Some administrators hope that by consistently offering lower tuition, the institution will stand out from the pack. Education Dive

New student transfer agreement focuses on learning outcomes

A partnership between 16 public PSE institutions in 4 western US states is seeking to simplify student transfers, by evaluating learning outcomes as opposed to courses taken or credits earned. The Interstate Passport Initiative, launched this week by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) involves a mutually determined set of learning outcomes, or competencies. Now, when a student transfers, the learning outcomes are used to identify the comparable course completions or credits to which the student is entitled. The overall goal behind the project is to improve efficiencies around students transferring, as many spend time and money re-taking courses. The project is still in pilot phase, and currently only focuses on 3 learning areas: oral communication, written communication and quantitative literacy. The next phase of the project will grow to include sciences, critical thinking and the humanities. Learning outcomes have become increasingly popular among educators and employers, who wish to better articulate the hard and soft skills that graduates possess. Pearson announced last year that they were developing initiatives to measure and report on the impact of learning outcomes. Inside Higher Ed

Study finds benefits of investing in PSE for developing economies

New research commissioned by the British Department for International Development has determined that higher education has a larger impact on a country’s economy than previously thought, prompting the suggestion that international aid should target universities instead of primary education. Economic studies in the 1980s often suggested that investments in primary education served to help low income and developing nations; the new research combats that, finding that higher education “improved graduates’ health, increased their participation in politics and empowered women,” as well as making people more positive about democracy and less tolerant of corruption. The study also determined that the benefits stemmed from teaching and not research, suggesting it may be safer for developing economies to invest in teaching. Times Higher Education

Cengage partners with Knewton to offer adaptive learning products

Large US textbook publisher Cengage has partnered with Knewton to provide adaptive learning technology in a variety of its products. Cengage will use Knewton’s adaptive learning technology in its e-reader platform, MindTap. The company will begin providing the technology in its management and sociology disciplines. Cengage is currently restructuring after it filed for bankruptcy in July 2013. Its competitor, Pearson, formed a similar partnership with Knewton in 2011 to also provide adaptive learning products to students. Inside Higher Ed