Top Ten

May 5, 2014

Ontario releases budget, will head to polls

Ontario’s Liberal government tabled its budget last week, but could not win the support it needed to avoid an election. The proposed budget offers $500 million over 10 years for maintaining and modernizing PSE infrastructure, as well as $250 million over three years to support research infrastructure. The budget includes funding for regional skills-training programs for aboriginal peoples and for expanding work-integrated learning options. David Agnew, Chair of Colleges Ontario, said, “We appreciate this long-term commitment to helping colleges produce the highly qualified graduates that are needed in the new economy.”  However, Bonnie M Patterson, President of the Council of Ontario Universities, added that “in coming years, Ontario’s citizens will expect and deserve strategic investments in university education, which help drive the provincial economy.” The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations also noted a lack of new investment in PSE, saying that the budget “misses an opportunity to invest in universities.” The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, while they were “encouraged” by the budget’s provisions for PSE infrastructure, echoed OCUFA's sentiment: “The 2014 Ontario Budget represents a missed opportunity to address the rapidly rising cost of post-secondary education and the widening university attainment gap for Ontario’s most vulnerable populations.” Colleges Ontario News Release | COU News Release | OCUFA News Release | OUSA News Release | Toronto Star

Postscript: May 6, 2014

2 additional student groups have responded to Ontario’s proposed budget. The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) expressed disappointment that the budget did not address the affordability of education, nor did it include funding to improve access or quality of higher education. The CFS said that the province is "missing a crucial opportunity to invest young people." Alastair Woods, Chairperson of CFS-Ontario, added, "by putting access to post-secondary education on the back burner, this government is condemning a generation to a future of financial insecurity and uncertainty." The College Student Alliance (CSA), meanwhile, noted that the budget presented few surprises. “Ontario’s college students recognize the challenge of balancing fiscal restraint with the need to maintain quality and improve access to a post-secondary education in Ontario,” said Katryna McKenna, VP of the CSA. Tyler Epp, CSA’s Director of Advocacy, added that “this year’s budget will assist prospective and current college students in attaining the skills required for a successful career, therefore lending support to Ontario’s economic stability.” CFS-Ontario News Release | CSA News Release

McGill researchers receive $3.7 million for neurological disorders research

2 McGill researchers, Alan Evans and Nahum Sonenberg, will receive $3.7 million in funding for their work on neurological disorders. The funding, provided by the Azrieli Foundation, the Brain Canada Foundation, and the Government of Canada, will help Evans and Sonenberg develop new diagnostics, treatment, and prevention strategies for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and fragile-x syndrome (FXS). Evans’ work focuses on identifying earlier biomarkers of ASD in order to develop an early intervention strategy to reduce their impact. Sonenberg will test treatment strategies for ASD and FXS using gene therapy, optogenetics, and pharmacological techniques. “This new investment will support the overall care and well-being of Canadians through improved understanding and treatment of these mental and neurological disorders,” said McGill Principal/Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier. McGill News

UCN, uManitoba collaborate on midwifery degree program

Manitoba’s Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum announced on Wednesday that University College of the North and the University of Manitoba will collaborate to launch a new bachelor of midwifery program in 2015. The 4-year degree program will help meet an increasing demand for midwives in the province. While UCN currently offers a midwifery program, it has only graduated 8 students and was compelled to suspend new enrolments as it focused on graduating those students who had already enrolled. In 2012, UCN was sued by 4 former students who alleged that school had failed to provide sufficient instructors or adequate supervision for students. To meet the growing need for midwives, Manitoba has begun recruiting from elsewhere in Canada and abroad. The new program, Allum said, will eventually exceed the current 10-seat capacity of UCN’s program. Winnipeg Free Press

Postscript: July 11, 2014

Students are questioning the fate of a unique Manitoba midwifery program. University College of the North’s midwifery program was created with a mandate to train Aboriginal midwives using a blended curriculum that included Aboriginal and western teachings. However, the decision to halt the UCN program and replace it with a collaborative degree offered with the University of Manitoba has many concerned about the fate of the program’s Aboriginal focus. Melissa Brown, a recent graduate of the program, told the CBC that during her time on the Winnipeg campus she saw no signs of an Aboriginal curriculum. In response to a question about whether the new program could be described as an Aboriginal midwifery school, Manitoba Minister of Education and Advanced Learning James Allum said, “well, the program will serve aboriginal Manitobans, it will serve northern Manitobans, in fact all of Manitoba. Distinguishing it on that basis forgets that the objective is to make sure there are more midwives and more aboriginal midwives.” CBC


McMaster to crack down on engineering orientation activities

Though alcohol violations at McMaster dropped by 27% in the past academic year, the administration is taking steps to crack down on orientation partying among its engineering students. The move comes after a months-long investigation into the existence of a sexually explicit songbook compiled by past and present students as well as rumours of “unsanctioned events.” A third-party investigator hired by McMaster found that the songbook did exist, though it had not been distributed by student society executives or orientation leaders. The investigator also confirmed that students had organized “a series of inappropriate activities.” Provost David Wilkinson said that the offensive traditions involved a minority of students but confirmed the administration’s concern that some events “put students at risk” by encouraging excessive drinking. In response, McMaster will implement 15 recommendations including faculty oversight of frosh week hiring, increased training of student leaders, and stricter financial reporting rules for the McMaster Engineering Society. Globe and Mail | Full Report

5 Canadian universities among THE’s Top 100 under 50

The Times Higher Education (THE) 100 under 50, which ranks the top 100 universities in the world under 50 years old, has been released. The list employs 13 separate indicators used by THE in its World University Rankings, but calibrates the data to “reflect the special characteristics of younger universities,” putting less emphasis on academic reputation. The University of Calgary was Canada’s top-ranked young university, coming in at 19th overall. Simon Fraser University also finished in the top 25, at 24th. The University of Guelph, the Université du Quèbec à Montréal, and Concordia University were ranked 73rd, 84th, and 96th, respectively. 4 Canadian institutions cracked the list last year. Universities in Southeast Asia—Pohang University of Science and Technology (Republic of Korea), Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) took four of the top five spots in the list. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, took second place. Times Higher Education

Texas educator outlines “degree vertical” model to enhance engagement, outcomes

Steven Mintz, Professor and Executive Director of the University of Texas System’s Institute for Transformational Learning, has outlined what he sees as a possible solution to improving student engagement, persistence, and graduation. The “degree vertical” model, as he describes it, focuses on skills, proficiencies, and career outcomes rather than credit hours. He suggests that such a system would be guided by an industry advisory board that would help identify in-demand competencies, and would be modularly organized to enable students to pursue customized learning trajectories and schedules. He also says that the degree vertical model would emphasize a “thematically coherent curriculum with aligned readings, activities, and assignments” rather than a series of disconnected courses. Students would be supported by peer mentors and coaches, as well as e-advising and online support options. The system, he says, is designed to begin in high school and reaches a logical endpoint with a career or admission into graduate school. Inside Higher Ed

College survey helps to better integrate introverted students

Augustana College (Illinois) has taken an innovative, data-driven approach to determining if certain personality traits might disadvantage some student groups, or if the way the college experience is constructed puts some students at an advantage. Using a series of surveys, the college queries freshmen about “dispositions” that may affect their success, mid-year acclimation, and learning and growth. The surveys led to the development of a “Comfort with Social Interaction” scale that the researchers found correlated positively with students’ levels of integration on campus, including their willingness to approach professors or join student groups. The research has led Augustana to re-evaluate its efforts at fostering student involvement, and to wonder if their past approach to engagement “unintentionally created subtle yet real obstacles for our more introverted students.” The research also has implications for faculty expectations of introverted students’ participation styles in and out of the classroom. Inside Higher Ed

edX teams with Vital Source to deliver publisher content

Online learning nonprofit edX will use e-textbook platform VitalSource Bookshelf to distribute publisher content for its MOOCs. VitalSource Bookshelf, the most widely used e-textbook delivery platform in higher ed, provides access to content from hundreds of academic publishers. Students and professors using the platform are able to interact with course material, sharing notes and highlights with their peers. “The collaboration with Vital Source provides an additional tool for our students to work together no matter where in the world they may be,” said edX CEO Anant Agarwal. Vital Source has also provided e-textbooks to traditional universities. Ottawa’s Algonquin College recently paired with Vital Source to deliver its expansive eTextbook program. University Business

MIT prof sees major flaws in computerized marking programs

A former MIT professor and language researcher has spoken out against computerized essay-marking platforms. Les Perelman, who was formerly Director of Undergraduate Writing at MIT, said that computer essay-marking systems are bound to become more common due to desires to cut costs. However, he says, the software is simply not good at its job. Perelman has developed a program he calls the Basic Automatic BS Essay Language Generator (BABEL) to prove his hypothesis. The program generates essays based on a handful of key words. The essays produced by BABEL are grammatically correct and structurally sound, but are nevertheless meaningless—“complete, incoherent nonsense” Perelman says. Nevertheless, these essays received top grades from the marking software. Perelman says that essay-grading programs “are not measuring any of the real constructs that have to do with writing”: they cannot discern meaning, nor can they check facts. CBC | The Chronicle of Higher Education

Use of recruiting agents in the US likely to rise

Researchers presenting at the British Council’s Going Global conference say that international student recruiting agents are in US higher ed to stay. Data suggest that agents have long played a major role in international student recruiting in the US, even if they are far less commonly used there than in other countries. While only 11% of US colleges said that international students had been recruited through agents, 28% of international students studying in the US said agents were a key factor in their decision to enrol. Many agents are not affiliated with universities but employed by families of applicants. However, the direct use of agents by colleges may soon increase: in September the National Association for College Admission Counseling lifted its ban on US colleges using agents who are paid on commission. 81% of agents surveyed anticipated sending more students to the US than they did last year. Inside Higher Ed