Top Ten

April 7, 2014

Students join protest on Montreal streets

Thousands of demonstrators hit the streets in Montreal last week to protest austerity measures and to speak out against multiple candidates in the upcoming provincial election. With echoes of the Maple Spring demonstrations, students joined the protest with a variety of objections related to many aspects of life in Quebec, not just tuition. The Montreal Gazette reports that the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) and 12 CEGEPs and university departments were involved in the demonstration, although the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ), the province's largest student association, was reportedly not involved. Posters at the demonstration vilified election candidates and called for “more social housing, lower electricity costs, less surveillance, no pipelines or oil exploration, and an end to cuts in social services.” According to an ASSÉ spokesperson, members “refuse another austerity budget … we don't want any increase, or indexation, because student debt is still very high." Montreal Gazette

Alberta releases details for extra $32.5 million in PSE funding

The Alberta government has released details on the extra $32.5 million funding for PSE announced in the 2014 budget, tabled at the beginning of March. The funding will create 2,000 new spaces this fall in the Campus Alberta system to increase access to high-demand programs such as engineering, environmental science, and occupational therapy. Highlights of the funding include $11.3 million for additional access for these high-demand programs at 6 PSE institutions, $12.3 million for new or expanded programs at 19 PSE institutions, $7 million for one-time and system-wide collaborative initiatives that support all Campus Alberta learners, such as the Lois Hole Digital Library and French Language Collaboration Programs, and an increase of $900,000 for the Apprenticeship Technical Training grants, which assist apprentices in completing their programs and meeting industry demand. Alberta News Release

NS budget eliminates graduate retention program

Nova Scotia has eliminated a $15,000 tax rebate to help address a projected deficit of $279 million and a debt of $14.6 billion. The 2014-15 provincial budget, released last week, included the cancellation of the graduation retention rebate program, which gave students tax rebates for remaining in the province after graduation. Finance Minister Diana Whalen said the program was not “serving its purpose,” and suggested that research indicated that levels of out-migration had not been improved by the rebate. The move has upset several student groups in the province, including the Canadian Federation of Students-NS; one CFS-NS spokesperson stated, “[the rebate] being cut without reinvestment in student assistance is a huge disappointment for us.” The budget also included a 1% increase in operating grants for universities, $1.85 million for new graduate scholarships for innovation and research, funds to modernize and expand apprenticeship programs and the Student Career Skills Development Program, $750,000 in tuition relief to encourage more medical graduates, and the elimination of interest on provincial student loans. Chronicle Herald | CFS-NS News Release | NS Budget Address

Sheridan gets support from town of Oakville for transition to university

At a meeting last week, Oakville town council gave its approval to Sheridan College President Jeff Zabudsky for the college’s plans to become a university. "We have the scale and size that’s often associated with what a university is," Zabudsky said, adding the college is working on the programming necessary to become a university. Sheridan currently has around 20,000 full-time students across its 4 campuses, and welcomes a growing number of international students. Sheridan is known for its programs in gaming, animation, design, and the only music theatre degree program in Canada. Zabudsky noted that Sheridan does not plan to move away from applied education nor certificate and diploma programming. “We're not throwing away Sheridan's great legacy,” says Zabudsky. “We're building on the fine legacy of Sheridan and becoming an even stronger institution as Sheridan University.” 

Markham would welcome establishment of YorkU campus

Members of Markham’s city council announced their interest in being home to a York University campus in the future. Mayor Frank Scarpitti commented that the city has been working on the idea for a number of years, long before the provincial government announced its support for the expansion of PSE institutions. The city is working on a presentation that will be given privately to YorkU. Vaughan has also registered its interest in welcoming a YorkU campus to the city, as have East Gwillimbury, Newmarket, and Aurora, reports    

McMaster students create undergraduate research journal

McMaster University undergraduate students Claudia Frankfurter and Andrew Webster are leading the development of a new McMaster Undergraduate Research Journal (MURJ), the university’s first exclusively online, multidisciplinary, and doctoral-reviewed undergraduate research publication. “We wanted to give all undergraduates the opportunity to engage in the fundamental scholarly process,” says Webster. “This process encourages students to think both critically and imaginatively, to question the ‘obvious,’ to hone their analytical research and writing skills and sharpen their intuition to reveal new patterns and possibilities. These skills are absolutely transferable to any career a student may choose.” Frankfurter and Webster, both third-year Health Sciences students, are active researchers who have had articles published in academic journals. “A lot of learning at the undergraduate level is theoretical and done in a classroom setting,” says Frankfurter. “Research gives students the chance to apply their learning and contribute to the current body of knowledge. It can give meaning and a sense of purpose to undergraduate education.” McMaster News Release

Some Canadian elementary schools eliminating letter grades

Some Canadian elementary school boards are doing away with traditional letter grades, partly due to employers’ calls for the education system to emphasize soft skills such as creativity and communication, not just knowledge of traditional subjects. There is also a growing body of research that suggests traditional measures of academic achievement don’t support learning. The Surrey, BC Board of Education in September began a pilot program that doesn’t use letter grades; more than 40 classes at 13 elementary and 6 secondary schools have joined the experiment. One such school, Georges Vanier Elementary, is using an online student portfolio system called Fresh Grade, which allows teachers to regularly report on students’ progress, rather than reporting only 2 or 3 times per year. Ontario students no longer receive letter grades on their fall report card; Quebec has reduced the number of formal reports to parents, opting for more descriptive feedback. However, a Calgary Board of Education plan to eliminate letter grades up to Grade 9 and get rid of teacher comments on report cards has been stalled, as many parents have voiced concerns with the proposal. Globe and Mail

BrownU piloting paired graduate degrees for interdisciplinary studies

Brown University is piloting a new model for interdisciplinary studies, called Open Graduate Education, in which doctoral students can pair advanced degrees in fields that are often thought of as being disparate to “broaden their knowledge and improve their marketability.” During the current 6-year pilot phase, the program is limited to about 10 PhD students who enrol in both a doctoral program and a master’s program, pursuing both degrees simultaneously. The program has received a $2-million grant from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation; it is currently in its second year. "Younger scholars recognize the value of being intellectually broad and having an intellectual range,” says Vanessa Ryan, a BrownU Graduate School Associate Dean. “This is something we want to support." Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required)

Survey reveals US first-years’ need for career counselling

Results of a new US survey suggest that almost half of first-year PSE students are looking for career counselling, and that 67% of entering students want help developing an education plan that will allow them to “get a good job." 93% of incoming female students, compared to 88% of incoming males, expressed a greater commitment to completing their educational goals. The survey, which asked 100,000 first years in 2013 about their needs and desires for career planning assistance, also reveals that incoming students aged 25 and older were clearer on their career direction than their younger counterparts, but that 41% of these older students still wanted career counseling. News Release | Full Report

uTennessee Martin staff member fired for Facebook group participation

Former University of Tennessee at Martin IT Manager Angela J Fortner has filed a complaint against the university for wrongful dismissal, alleging she was fired after commenting in support of a “Crazy Adventures at the UTM Helpdesk” Facebook group post complaining about a dirty staff microwave. According to Fortner’s attorney, university officials said “because [Fortner] had joined the Facebook group, viewed some of the information on the group’s page, and did not ‘do’ anything about the group that she had 2 options: resign or be terminated.” Fortner says “her participation in the Facebook group was constitutionally-protected speech, and that the institution’s handling of her termination violates both university policy and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.” Inside Higher Ed points out that personal social media use and how to enforce it remains a complicated issue for PSE institutions, and that many institutions have avoided regulating social media specifically, choosing instead to include it in broader IT policies. Inside Higher Ed