Top Ten

June 3, 2014

Universities key to revitalization of southwestern Ontario

A feature article in the Globe and Mail describes some of the economic challenges facing southwestern Ontario. The piece addresses the continuing collapse of the manufacturing sector in what was once Canada’s "industrial heartland," and looks at how universities are playing a role in the search for solutions. Following the University of Waterloo as a model, some universities have been positioning themselves as engines of growth in local business communities by fostering entrepreneurial cultures and creating innovation centres to support new businesses. Brock University, the University of Windsor, and Western University are cited as working toward stronger integration between universities and surrounding cities. The article also looks at efforts being made by city planners to attract and retain university graduates, but points out that more investment and support will be required at the provincial level to effect meaningful change. Globe and Mail

Vancouver Community College to lay off more than 70 instructors due to ESL funding cuts

More than 70 instructors are likely to lose their jobs after Vancouver Community College was forced to make severe cuts to its English-as-a-second-language programming. The cuts are the result of changes in the funding structure for ESL instruction in BC. Previously, the federal government provided BC with $22 million that the province dispersed to fund free ESL training. Now, the funding will be delivered through agreements with service delivery organizations, including not-for-profit organizations and a limited number of PSE institutions. VCC was provided with $8 million in transitional funding, but that will run out at the end of the year. “When we were given $8 million in transitional funding from the government, we didn’t realize it was a transition to zero,” said VCC Faculty Association President Karen Shortt. The cuts will affect VCC’s College Prep English, Outreach, and Professional and Career English programs; its Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada program will be unaffected. VCC News Release | CBC | Vancouver Sun (1) | Vancouver Sun (2)

Controversy brewing in Ontario over MaRS buy-out

The MaRS Discovery District, designed to bring together medical and scientific researchers and entrepreneurs, is at the centre of an election brouhaha in Ontario. MaRS has been having trouble finding tenants to fill its tower in downtown Toronto. Ontario's government planned to step in and support the not-for-profit organization by buying the building and moving in civil servants and other tenants. But Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party says that the government has not adequately informed taxpayers about the potential cost of the project and claims that the bail-out plan is an attempt to save face after a failed venture. Ontario had already given MaRS $71 million as well as a $234-million loan, which MaRS is unable to repay; the $317-million purchase price would include the loan. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne emphasized that the agreement between the province and MaRS is not final, while adding that a deal would enable the government to consolidate some of its offices, currently spread out over more than 100 buildings in Ontario. Globe and Mail | National Post | Toronto Star

Tension between academics, politicians, and the media a major theme at Congress

Academics attending the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences continually returned to a common theme: the waning influence of intellectuals in Canadian society. In a Toronto Star article, Susan Delacourt recites a litany of examples of scholars who decried an anti-intellectual streak in politics in particular. “There were repeated, throwaway shots from speakers this year about Toronto mayor Rob Ford, for instance, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s troubles with Elections Canada, the Supreme Court and the Senate,” she writes. But Delacourt also noted tension between academics and the media. Delacourt notes that many professors have charged the media with “dumbing down” political discourse and enabling politicians’ efforts to do the same. She also observes that reporters, too, have been growing frustrated with “the academic class.” Delacourt suggests that next year’s Congress, to be held in Ottawa, may offer the venue for a truce between academic experts, politicians, and the media. Toronto Star

STU increases tuition by 3% plus $170

St Thomas University is the latest Canadian PSE institution to raise tuition for its undergraduate students. Tuition will go up 3% plus $170, or about $357 per year for domestic students in the Bachelor of Arts, Education, and Social Work programs. This brings STU’s tuition to about $5,552, still the lowest in New Brunswick. International students’ tuition will increase $187, and their health plan fee will go up $173. The tuition increase is consistent with an agreement between STU and the provincial government, which set a schedule of annual increases of no more than 3% plus $170 until 2017–18 to bring STU’s fee increase in line with the provincial average. The university expects to finish 2013–14 with a balanced budget. STU News Release | CBC

New Sheridan Latino blog connects Spanish-speaking students

Sheridan College has launched a new blog, Sheridan Latino, in an effort to assist its Spanish-speaking international students. The blog is written entirely in Spanish and offers information on registration, housing, transportation, health insurance, cultural issues, volunteer opportunities, and news. Alexander Prokopenko, Sheridan’s International Business Development Manager for Latin America, said, “our job is to make students’ lives easier, during and after their time at Sheridan. The blog is our response to this goal. It’s an ongoing project that’s intended to be responsive to students’ changing requirements.” The site will also offer opportunities for students to connect with peers and alumni, as well as to share their experiences with others. In 2012 Sheridan launched a Russian-language blog with a similar purpose. Sheridan News Release

Harvard and MIT release data on MOOC users

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have released data on more than a million MOOC users. It is hoped that the data—carefully scrubbed of any identifying information—will help researchers identify best practices in online learning. The dataset includes information from 16 HarvardX and MITx courses from 2012–13. Co-lead researchers Andrew Ho and Isaac Chuang have already released a working paper and visualization tools to help researchers work with the data. They hope that sharing the dataset will not only shed light on effective online education, but demonstrate a privacy model that will inform further edX data releases. “By sharing these de-identified data, we hope to show that we can protect information about individuals while still enabling replicable research about what works in online learning,” said Ho, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Co-chair of the HarvardX Research Committee. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed | MIT News

US curricula changes focus on self-discovery

Some US colleges are trying to increase the appeal of required courses by focusing them on the students themselves. Faculty are being encouraged to tailor course content around self-discovery, reconciling students’ prior knowledge with challenging new content. These courses are often interdisciplinary, focusing on what the National Endowment for the Humanities describes as “enduring questions” that have “long held interest for young people,” such as the meaning of “the good life” or definitions of the self. Some see the courses as a return to an older style of introductory humanities or general education surveys that might range from Aristotle to Herman Hesse. However, some caution that implementing these courses successfully is no simple task. It requires concentrated effort on the part of faculty to make the material relevant to students. The Chronicle of Higher Education

US adjunct faculty increasingly taking active role in PSE governance

Adjuncts in the US are increasingly gaining a voice in faculty governance, even leading some faculty senates. Some adjunct advocates say that the election of Ginger Clark, a non-tenure-track faculty member at the University of Southern California, to lead that institution’s faculty senate is a sign of changing times, natural adjustment to the growing proportion of part-time professors among university faculties. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain. Some full-time faculty have been reluctant to share governance with part-time professors and instructors, suggesting that the 2 groups may have different—or competing—concerns. Moreover, adjunct involvement in faculty can be difficult given the often heavy courseloads for which part-time professors are responsible. The Chronicle of Higher Education

New MOOC platform to reach Arabic-speaking students

A new not-for-profit MOOC platform has launched to serve Arabic-speaking students and communities. Edraak, an initiative launched by the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, is based on the Open edX platform and will provide no-cost courses in Arabic from institutions including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Tsinghua University in China. The platform will provide original content, too, including short courses from industry specialists and professionals. Edraak will also allow private companies to deliver training materials to employees while identifying and attracting new talent. English-language content will be provided as well, in an effort to effectively communicate the history and culture of the Arabic-speaking world to a global audience. University World News