Top Ten

June 4, 2014

Canada must take action to sustain success

A new policy paper from Canada 2020, a nonpartisan think tank, identifies worrisome signs that Canada is not doing enough to sustain its success in higher education or skills development. The paper says that Canada is producing too few people with advanced degrees and suffers from a shortage of graduates in STEM fields. It also notes a skill deficit in innovation and commercialization, and poor performance in workplace training. Moreover, the report claims that Canada’s overall performance masks a significant inequity in the distribution of skills and education opportunities between provinces as well as between race, gender, and immigration categories. The report offers 6 policy recommendations: create a national learning outcomes assessment program; create a council on skills and higher education; invest in education and skills for Aboriginal peoples; identify and support program to narrow skill and education gaps between men and women; improve credential recognition and training for immigrants; and improve employer investments in skills training. Globe and Mail | Report Summary

Demand for university education decreasing in maritime provinces

The number of Maritimers seeking university educations has declined compared to 10 years ago, says a new report from the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission (MPHEC). MPHEC CEO Mireille Duguay said, “Maritimers have historically enjoyed a high level of participation in universities, well above the Canadian average, but the gap is closing.” The overall decline was driven by decreases in participation in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Nova Scotia’s numbers exhibited a pronounced downward trend, declining each of the last 10 years from 26.9% in 2003–04 to 23% in 2012–13. In NB, the number of provincial residents enrolled full-time in any Maritime university sat at 22.8% in 2002–03; this number climbed until 2005–06 before dropping in consecutive years to 23% in 2012–13. Participation levels were highest in Prince Edward Island. 10 years ago, approximately 28% of PEI residents were enrolled in a university; in 2012–13, the number declined just slightly to 27.1%. MPHEC plans to launch further research in an effort to explain the declining demand. Daily Business Buzz | MPHEC News Release | MPHEC Full Report

UBC sets an example for sustainable cities

The University of British Columbia has implemented a number of initiatives designed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2015 and 67% by 2020. It is converting its Academic District Energy system from steam to hot water, a move that will reduce the campus’ thermal energy use by 24% and greenhouse gas emissions by 22% by 2015. Its Bioenergy Research and Development Facility, meanwhile, is North America’s first commercial demonstration of a system that turns locally sourced biomass, such as wood chips and tree trimmings, into fuel that can power a high-efficiency internal combustion engine. Finally, the university has implemented the Continuous Optimization Project to “tune up” buildings across campus. James Tansey, a professor at the Sauder School of Business, says that with 60,000 inhabitants, UBC can provide a model that cities will be able to follow: “Using the campus as a living laboratory for sustainability, to demonstrate in this urban setting, this small city, lessons that can be applied elsewhere, is an important part of what we’re doing." Vancouver Sun

OUSA poll finds that Ontarians are concerned with cost of university degree

Results of a new survey released by the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) suggest that many Ontarians are concerned about student debt. 79% of 1000 respondents to the survey agreed that students and families must take on too much debt to pay for university. OUSA pointed out that this concern was consistent across demographic groups: 79% of respondents from households that earn a combined income greater  than $100,000 agreed with the statement regarding student borrowing, as well as 79% of respondents from households with no children. 86% of respondents from households with a combined income of $40,000 or less agreed that students were forced to borrow too much to pay for school. Meanwhile, 53% of respondents said that a university degree was “important” or “very important” to finding a good job, while only 11% said it was “unimportant” or “very unimportant.” Nearly half of respondents said they would be willing to accept a tax increase to decrease student costs and improve financial assistance. OUSA News Release | Full Report

New Brunswick PSE institutions develop online tool to help persons with disabilities

PSE institutions in New Brunswick have teamed with the provincial government to launch a new website, Supporting Students with Disabilities. The website follows a model set by the Université de Moncton to help improve participation and success in PSE for persons with disabilities. It includes training modules for educators, identifies different types of learning difficulties and disabilities, and outlines services provided for students by the institutions. NB Post-Secondary Education, Training, and Labour Minister Jody Carr said, “today’s launch is a great example of how we are implementing new strategies and fostering a positive shift for both students and educators. This tool is helping connect educators with the information they need to better support students with disabilities.” This project extends from NB’s commitment to improve PSE access for under-represented students. NB News Release

Sault College surveys students on extracurricular activities

Sault College recently released the results of an online survey on the extracurricular habits of its students. Of the approximately 800 voluntary respondents, 90% said they exercise regularly by walking, running, or lifting weights. Students also expressed “considerable interest” in outdoor activities, as well as clubs and support groups. The data will be used to help college departments—including the student union, continuing education, and student services—plan extracurricular activities. “This was a survey intended for internal market research so that we can better serve the students. We’re hoping this survey will give us a little more direction so that we can plan things that will be of the greatest interest to students,” said Registrar Krista Pearson. Sault hopes to improve overall student engagement and is considering repeating the survey every 2 years. Sault Star

Article says PPPs often mismanaged, expensive, and disruptive

A new article published in Academic Matters casts a skeptical eye on program prioritization processes (PPPs), which have become increasingly common in Canada. Leo Groarke and Beverley Hamilton acknowledge that cuts and consolidation may be unavoidable. However, they say that while PPPs can be useful for this purpose, they are frequently mismanaged in ways that damage morale, create conflict, and make it difficult to arrive at decisions. Groarke and Hamilton argue that PPPs are costly, requiring “a small army of people who must devote an inordinate number of hours to the task,” a less-than ideal use of limited resources. Moreover, Groarke and Hamilton say that PPPs often rely on general criteria that cannot easily be translated into the specific circumstances of a given university. They also say that the disruptive nature of PPPs can introduce incalculable cost and consequences for universities undertaking them by imposing a competitive relationship between departments and faculties. Identifying usable metrics is also extremely challenging, as it is difficult to effectively perform "apples-to-apples" comparisons between very different faculties. Academic Matters

Poor sleep has negative impact on grades as well as college retention rates

A new article in the journal Sleep has linked college students’ poor sleep patterns with worse grades and an increased likelihood to withdraw from a course. According to the research, sleep timing and maintenance in college are strong predictors of academic problems, and have an impact that is approximately equivalent to binge drinking and marijuana use. “Well-rested students perform better academically and are healthier physically and psychologically,” said investigators Roxanne Prichard and Monica Hartmann. Prichard added that their study points to the need for college campuses to stress the importance of sleep. “Sleep problems are not systematically addressed in the same way that substance abuse problems are. For colleges and universities, addressing sleep problems early in a student’s academic career can have a major economic benefit through increased retention,” she said. Inside Higher Ed | Report Summary

Condé Nast to offer certificate programs, master’s programs with US PSE institutions

Condé Nast, publisher of magazines including Architectural Digest, Wired, Glamour, and GQ, is partnering with PSE institutions in the US to create accredited certificate programs and master’s-degree programs. The programs, expected to launch in fall 2015, will include online and in-person course delivery. Condé Nast’s Chief Administrative Officer Jill Bright said that the company’s designers, editors, and other experts will act as guest lecturers as well as serving in other roles. “We have a very strong interest in being part of developing the next generation of talent,” she said. The project is being funded by the publisher as well as University Ventures, a US firm dedicated to transforming higher education, who will help manage and market the programs via another company, called Qubed. Inside Higher Ed

Student affairs becoming increasingly complex at US institutions

Student affairs departments in the US are increasingly focused on legal matters, due to the growing number of regulations that affect their operations. An article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education points out that managing and administering regulations such as Title IX, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the Higher Education Opportunity Act, have made the roles of student affairs exceedingly complex. Much of the time that once was devoted to serving students is occupied by ensuring legal compliance with rules that affect institutions’ and students’ access to financial aid. Moreover, PSE institutions’ student affairs departments increasingly find themselves adjudicating cases of harassment, assault, and other serious crimes. The article notes that even as student affairs work becomes more complex and critical, many universities are reducing departments’ resources. Student affairs, the author says, must remain adaptable to help protect students as well as universities. The Chronicle of Higher Education