Top Ten

July 24, 2014

CASA calls on feds to increase mental health funding and supports

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) has issued a policy paper calling on the federal government to create a sustainable mental health policy. The report urges the government to address key areas including the stigma around mental illness and a lack of funding in the sector. CASA is requesting 5 specific commitments from the federal government: the creation of a pan-Canadian approach to mental health for the PSE sector; increased funding to the Mental Health Commission of Canada for initiatives to reduce the stigma of mental illness; improved data on youth mental health and the effects of mental health on students specifically; increased investment and support for mental health federally and through collaboration with the provinces and institutions; increased financial support for students; and additional time for students affected by mental illness to repay loans. “Policy changes in this field have the ability to positively affect students across the country,” said CASA board Chair Travis Gordon. CASA News Release | Toronto Star | Policy Paper

uToronto launches advanced materials research centre

The University of Toronto has officially launched the Ontario Centre for Characterization of Advanced Materials (OCCAM), a high-tech facility that allows researchers to examine and manipulate matter at the atomic level in order to develop materials that could be used in electronics, renewable fuels, construction, and disease treatment. The $20-M centre is a joint initiative between the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry (ChemE), and is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation (MRI) and Hitachi High-Technologies Canada. The centre is multidisciplinary and collaborative and expected to house more than 300 research programs annually, involving both academics and private industry. “OCCAM is a shining example of how U of T Engineering, in partnership with industry and government, is pursuing innovative solutions to some of world’s greatest challenges in health, city life and energy,” said Dean Cristina Amon. uToronto News

Canada announces funding to reduce barriers to employment

The federal government has announced the creation of the new Workplace Opportunities: Removing Barriers to Equity program, a grant and funding program that will provide funding for projects designed to reduce barriers to employment experienced by women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities in federally regulated organizations. The government has committed $500,000 annually to be shared by approved programs. "In order to create jobs, economic growth and prosperity, we need to ensure that all qualified Canadians are connected with available jobs. The new Workplace Opportunities program enables us to form effective partnerships to identify and break down barriers to the labour market so all Canadians in federally regulated workplaces will have the opportunity to get jobs and advance their careers," said K Kellie Leitch, Minister of Labour and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women. Canada News Release

Holland College earns SSHRC eligibility

Holland College in Prince Edward Island has earned eligibility for Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding. The announcement will enable Holland’s Applied Research department to access a $10-M fund for projects related to social innovation. Social innovation forms one of 2 pillars of applied research at Holland, the other being science and technology. Holland has historically been a research leader on matters including learning gain, adult learning trajectories, and learner retention strategies. “Our staff and industry partners will be able to continue their important work in areas such as early childhood learning, persons with learning difficulties, unprepared or underprepared learners, and workforce development,” said Holland President Brian McMillan. Holland News Release

HEQCO report finds wide variety of entrepreneurship education opportunities in Ontario

A new report released by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HECQO) says that entrepreneurial education is “booming” at the province’s PSE institutions, and becoming increasingly important. According to the study, the number of curricular and extracurricular entrepreneurship opportunities available to students has been growing steadily, including entrepreneurship majors, minors, concentrations, diplomas, and certificates. Business incubators and accelerators, workspaces, and mentoring programs have also become more common at Ontario institutions, as well as networking events and internships designed to give students experience with start-ups. According to the report, delivery modes, audiences, objectives, and evaluation mechanisms varied widely within and between institutions; the authors also note that most programs do not formally define what is meant by “entrepreneurship.” The report speculates that the growth in entrepreneurship education in Canada is attributable in part to the belief that would-be entrepreneurs benefit from varied, hands-on learning experiences. HEQCO Summary | Full Report

Disability experts urge “prudence” when providing accommodations

More than 400 disability experts met in Ottawa July 12–15 to discuss topics including accessibility innovations, employment strategies, and the challenges of helping persons with psychiatric disabilities. One theme that emerged from the conference was the need for greater prudence when offering accommodations to students at PSE institutions. Manju Banerjee, Director of the Landmark College Institute for Research and Training in Vermont, said that many students are labeled as having disabilities but would benefit more from instruction on study habits than academic accommodations. Larry McCloskey, Director of Carleton’s Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities, agreed that some students who feel they are “entitled” to accommodations would benefit more from being taught better time management and learning strategies. Other speakers noted that some students who receive accommodations during university are surprised when they do not receive the same consideration in the workforce, and suggested that sustainable skill development is critical. University Affairs

Collaborative, participatory learning key to reaching Millennials

A blog post in the Huffington Post offers advice on some of the ways in which PSE institutions can better reach Millennials and, in time, “Generation Z.” The post cites a February poll noting that Millennials are increasingly staying in school longer and suggests that institutions should work on attracting Millennials to “robust graduate programs.” The author also recommends that colleges and universities embrace digital learning tools including massive open online courses (MOOCs), noting that online learning opportunities will become a basic expectation of students in the near future. The post also points to studies showing that many Millennials prefer to work collaboratively, and suggests increasing collaborative work as well as participatory learning that immerses students in their work. Finally, the post points to the flipped classroom model as one way to engage Millennial students and improve retention. Huffington Post

US program allows institutions to test competency-based education

The US Department of Education will waive some federal aid requirements for some PSE institutions testing competency-based education (CBE) programs. The decision will allow approved institutions to offer aid for CBE programs, prior-learning assessments, and blended direct assessment and credit-hour coursework programs. Proponents of CBE see the move as a major step forward: not only will it allow institutions that have been interested in CBE an opportunity to experiment, but it could pave the way for new or revised legislation that is more accommodating of CBE models. The US House of Representatives will also vote this week on a similar “demonstration project” bill. This initiative will allow up to 20 institutions to offer CBE degrees without conforming to all federal regulations, though it is unlikely to pass in the Senate. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Inside Higher Ed

Cal State Online to be “re-envisioned” as shared services model

The California State University System is abandoning its distance education portal, Cal State Online (CSO), less than 2 years after its launch. The system will be replaced by a shared services model. CSO had been designed to meet a demand for education that well exceeded the system’s capacity, as well as to provide a system-wide distance-education strategy. However, due to early resistance, it moved to a voluntary participation model. Only 5 of the system’s 23 campuses opted in, possibly because many of the institutions already had internal procedures for developing online courses and programs. The new approach will fold distance education into the portfolio of the Chancellor’s academic technology services department. Ephraim P Smith, the system’s Chief Academic Officer, said that the “re-envisioning” process will involve consultation with individual campuses in order “to identify the next set of priorities to pursue systemwide strategies, services and contracts to support campus success.” Inside Higher Ed

US liberal arts grads willing to pay to round out employable skills post-graduation

A growing number of companies are emerging to provide US liberal arts graduates skills that some employers claim students aren’t getting in PSE. “You can sit in a room and learn economic theory from a professor or a textbook, but at the end of the day, it’s still just theory,” said sociology graduate Ben Wei. He paid a company called Fullbridge $3,000 for a course that covered problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills. Some institutions are beginning to offer experiential learning programs with similar goals, but they are hardly the norm. Others defend the liberal arts approach from such a turn toward practical business skills. “What we don’t want are universities to think they should become centers for vocational activities. If you just train people to take their first job, they won’t have the knowledge and skills and adaptability that they’ll need later on in their career,” said William Kirwan, outgoing Chancellor of the University System of Maryland. Time