Top Ten

July 15, 2014

Former uSask Provost's letter to university leaders leaked

The StarPhoenix has obtained and published a 5-page letter written to university leaders by former University of Saskatchewan Provost Brett Fairbairn about the chain of events surrounding his resignation and the dismissal of uSask President Ilene Busch-Vishniac. In the letter, Fairbairn says that “no university leader has asked me what happened, what I did, or who was present in the making of key decisions.” He claims that he was misinformed about certain decisions regarding Robert Buckingham’s removal as Executive Director of the uSask School of Public Health, and that Buckingham's firing was the decision of other senior officials. Fairbairn says that he had advised his colleagues against removing Buckingham from his tenured faculty position; he also says that he had been assured that Buckingham’s ban from campus was temporary and that Buckingham would receive his pension. The publication of the letter has led to renewed calls for a formal review of the incident. StarPhoenix (Fairbairn) | StarPhoenix (Review)

Labour Market Ministers meet to discuss job market strategies

The Forum of Labour Market Ministers convened in Charlottetown on Saturday to discuss strategies for creating jobs for Canadians. The ministers noted the need for better labour market data and for better collaboration between governments. To this end, the federal government agreed to fund 2 new surveys on wages, job vacancies, and labour market pressures, and to move forward with an enhanced job matching service that would be developed with the provinces and territories. Provincial and territorial ministers, meanwhile, agreed to improve data sharing and the Post-Secondary Student Information System. The ministers further agreed to an aggressive pan-Canadian harmonization of the Red Seal trades, and to continue to work to remove barriers to labour mobility. The meeting also addressed labour market funding agreements, Job Grant Agreements, and announced the addition of 10 new target occupations to the Pan-Canadian Framework for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Qualifications. Employment and Social Development Canada (formerly HRDSC) News Release

WLU Brantford recreation complex receives $5-M grant from city

Wilfrid Laurier University’s proposed WLU Brantford YMCA Postsecondary Athletics Recreation Complex took another step forward last week. Brantford city council approved the title transfer for land and approved a grant of more than $5 M to WLU and the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford for the construction of the facility. The proposed 5-storey, 150,000-square-foot facility will offer space for community athletics and will include gyms, a pool, fitness spaces, meeting rooms, a café, and classrooms. WLU expects to break ground on the $58.5-M facility in the fall. In addition to the contribution from the city, the project has received funding from the provincial and federal governments, the university community, and the YMCA, as well as private donors. WLU News Release

BCIT engineering program receives accreditation from CEAB

The British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering has received accreditation from the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB). The accreditation is the first that the program has received and is valid for 3 years. “The Mechanical Engineering program is very pleased to receive accreditation from CEAB and is thankful for the support received from across BCIT,” said Paul Morrison, the program’s Associate Dean. Accreditation provides the program with a recognizable standard of quality and its graduates with improved degree mobility. Graduates of the class of 2014 are now able to apply directly to register as an Engineer-in-Training rather than first writing a Fundamentals of Engineering examination. BCIT’s BEng in Electrical Engineering, meanwhile, received a 6-year reaccreditation. BCIT News Release

Greater governance transparency urged for NS institutions

An article published in the Chronicle-Herald expresses concerns that governance of Nova Scotia's PSE institutions is largely conducted behind closed doors and without any observers. The article further notes that some NS institutions do not publish schedules or minutes of meetings of their boards of governors. David Robinson, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), says that such practices are not the norm in Canadian PSE. “Board meetings where the minutes aren’t available or where they’re entirely closed is the exception, and certainly not appropriate for public institutions that are ultimately publicly accountable ... These are public institutions and the public should have a right to know what’s being discussed in these meetings, outside of those confidential matters that are necessary to protect.” Policies and practices vary at Nova Scotia’s universities and colleges, but Robinson suggests that the practice may be a symptom of an increasingly corporate mentality at some PSE institutions. Chronicle-Herald

Results-driven research imperative increases publish-or-perish pressure

A push at universities and funding bodies to produce marketable research may be exacerbating the usual publish-or-perish pressure felt by researchers. Dan Guitton, a professor at McGill University, told the Montreal Gazette that “having industry partners decide what research they want is very unlikely to generate great discoveries. This is only killing universities.” Nevertheless, some see close ties with business as a necessity if scientists want to innovate. “Not all research should be applied, but we should facilitate it when we can,” said Guy Breton, rector at the Université de Montréal. Breton notes that the cost of maintaining research is very high for universities, and that faculty grants often don’t cover indirect costs. But the drive to produce, as one researcher put it, “a sexy new result” often means researchers are taking more risks, potentially with careers on the line. This can lead to mistakes, or even fudging data, in spite of university safeguards against such dishonesty. Montreal Gazette

PSE institutions face challenges in predicting labour market needs

The cyclical needs of industry in cities like Windsor can make it difficult for local college graduates looking for work in their field of training. Some programs have increased their enrolments based on labour market need; however, as that need begins to wane, there is a risk of overproduction of qualified graduates. Colleges like Windsor’s St Clair College maintain close ties with industry experts to help avoid these kinds of situations, but they remain subject to outside factors including government funding, industry changes, and union restrictions on internships. Moreover, there is frequently a lag between what happens at PSE institutions and what happens in the economy. Sandra Pupatello, CEO of the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation, said, “what you started to do in your planning stage is often five years before what you might need in the marketplace. They’ve always had a challenge trying to be perfectly aligned.” Windsor Star

Most US STEM grads don't work in STEM fields

New data from the US Census Bureau confirms that persons with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields are more likely than other graduates to hold a job. However, many of those degree holders do not work in STEM occupations. The survey, distributed to 3.5 million homes, found that 75% of holders of STEM bachelor’s degrees do not have jobs in STEM fields; the rate among graduates with bachelor’s degrees in engineering, computers, math, and statistics improves to approximately 50%. Men continue to hold most STEM-related jobs. The data do not factor in those students with science degrees who go on to become doctors, which is not considered under the Census Bureau job classification scheme to be a STEM position. Anthony Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Centre on Education and the Workforce, argues that the low rate is not because of oversupply but due to STEM degrees being “universal degrees" applicable to a variety of careers. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Washington Post | US Census Bureau

US MBA programs increase focus on technical skills and coding

Business schools in the US are beginning to integrate coding into their curricula, citing market demands. While a number of schools have already begun to offer specialized MBAs in big data and analytics, many graduates are unprepared for work in high-tech companies. A recent Graduate Management Admission Council survey suggested that MBA grads said they learned the least about “technology, design, etc” and “managing tools and technology” at business schools, while employers cited “technical and quantitative skills” as the third most-valued skill they looked for in prospective employees. MBA grads may not be expected to double as programmers, but technically oriented firms do want employees who can work effectively with technical staff. Businessweek

Researchers seek ways to identify MOOC dropouts early on

New research is examining dropouts from massive open online courses (MOOCs) in order to better identify possible interventions that could improve achievement levels. Researchers are trying first to determine meaningful predictors to identify early on those students who are likely to drop a MOOC. The researchers also hope to discern how to better distinguish between those who drop out due to lack of time or lack of motivation and those who drop out due to course difficulty. They also look at forum interaction as a possible way to identify students who procrastinate and those who are simply not trying to complete course objectives. The researchers hope that their work will help MOOC designers develop embedded interventions to improve completion rates and help students achieve their self-set goals. University World News