Top Ten

August 11, 2014

Ontario signs strategic mandate agreements with PSE institutions

Ontario has signed strategic mandate agreements (SMAs) with all 45 of the province’s publicly assisted colleges and universities. The SMAs push ahead with Ontario’s commitment to institutional differentiation, directing institutions to pursue growth in identified areas of strength while limiting expansion in areas where programs already exist. The SMAs will also help connect institutions with the economy by focusing on co-op opportunities, applied research, entrepreneurship, and skills training. The SMAs represent a shift in the relationship between the government and PSE institutions toward a “co-management” approach that advocates say will enhance transparency and accountability. “These aren’t things we’re dictating; we want to exercise stewardship over post-secondary education,” said Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Reza Moridi. Council of Ontario Universities (COU) President Bonnie M Patterson commented, "you will see in these agreements the many ways universities are preparing graduates for careers, and how universities are hubs of innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation that are helping to build Ontario." The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), however, said it had “serious concerns over the government’s Differentiation Agenda,” suggesting that the plan could affect institutional autonomy, academic planning, and academic freedom. Ontario News Release | Toronto Star | COU News Release | OCUFA Blog

Youth wing of Quebec’s Liberal party pushes to abolish CEGEPs

The youth wing of Quebec’s Liberal Party says that the province’s CEGEP system is no longer relevant and will endorse proposals to abolish it at this weekend’s Youth Conference. The proposals would then be forwarded to the Quebec Liberal Party. Young Liberals President Nicolas Perrino said that the CEGEP model is ill-suited to the current labour market, and argued that the education system should be designed to meet the needs of employers. The group proposes instead that students be given a choice between moving directly into trades training or pursuing a year of preparatory training for university. Alexis Tremblay, President of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) dismissed the Young Liberals’ idea as unnecessarily disruptive. CBC

Postscript: August 12, 2014

Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard says he has no plans to reform the province’s CEGEP system, in spite of a proposal from his party’s youth wing. The proposal only narrowly passed at the party’s Youth Conference, though the Montreal Gazette reports that the final vote took place after many opposed to the reform had left the hall. Young Liberal President Nicolas Perrino said that reforming the CEGEP system will make it more “utilitarian” and better meet the needs of business and industry. However, Couillard said that employment “is not the only goal of the education system. The system is there ... to train youth for jobs but also to [provide] citizens with a general education and this has to be offered in all the regions of Quebec.” Couillard said he appreciated the youth wing’s desire to “rock the boat,” and added that he is open to making the CEGEP curriculum more flexible and responsive to the labour market, so long as employment does not become its only goal. Montreal Gazette

More Canadian businesses outsourcing R&D to universities

Canadian businesses are increasingly relying on universities to provide research and development, reports Canadian Business. Rob Annan, interim CEO of Mitacs, says that by outsourcing innovation to universities, businesses are able to minimize their exposure to risk. Moreover, university labs may have access to funding channels not available to the private sector. Annan adds that many Canadian businesses are not large enough to support internal R&D departments, leaving the universities as their best option. Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HECQO) President Harvey Weingarten notes that Canadian companies spend far less on R&D than those in other member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Weingarten says Canadian businesses undervalue research. “If you look at the total number of researchers and scientists in Canadian companies versus other countries, we have a lower percentage of scientifically trained and research-trained employees in Canada relative to other countries,” he said. Canadian Business

Students push for fossil fuel divestment

Student groups across Canada are pushing PSE institutions to divest from oil, gas, and coal companies, arguing that continued investment inhibits the development and adoption of green energy alternatives. Divestment, said Canadian Youth Climate Coalition President Kesley Mech, “is a strong way to send a super-clear message that we’re no longer interested in supporting fossil fuel use. We want a different economy.” Divestment support groups are currently active at approximately 40 Canadian universities. A McGill University group recently presented a petition to a board of governors committee, while at UBC 76% of students voted to support divestment. Divestment advocates at the University of Toronto have turned to notable figures including David Suzuki, former Toronto mayor David Miller, and Naomi Klein for support; uToronto has created a presidential advisory committee on divestment. Dalhouse University students, too, have campaigned for divestment. Faculty members at the University of Victoria have also joined the cause; UVic's faculty association voted in support of a motion to divest faculty pension funds of fossil fuels. University Affairs

Canadian universities strive to accommodate students with allergies, celiac

For students living with food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities, campus dining halls can be a challenging experience. Fortunately, Canadian institutions are taking steps to accommodate students with dietary restrictions. Student Victoria Gray, who was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, was relieved to find that Acadia University was quite happy to help her navigate her on-campus food options. Gray met with Acadia’s head chef, who showed her the campus’s gluten-free preparation facilities and helped create a custom meal plan for her. “They accommodated me in a way that didn’t make me feel like I was causing them an issue,” said Gray. Some institutions also provide accommodations for dietary restrictions through their disability or accessibility services offices, or will help connect allergy sufferers. The news that more Canadian institutions are being sensitive to students’ dietary restrictions is reassuring to parents and students; students needing accommodations should communicate with their prospective institutions well before they arrive to help staff understand individual needs.  Allergic Living

Canada prepared to capitalize on US immigration reform roadblocks

Canadian employment minister Jason Kenney said that Canada is poised to take advantage of the slow immigration reform process in the United States. “We’re seeking very deliberately to benefit from the dysfunctional American immigration system. I make no bones about it,” said Kenney. He believes that Canada will be able to capitalize by luring foreign-born graduates of top US programs with a new start-up visa program and programs that will fast-track some individuals to permanent residency. “If the United States doesn’t want to open the door to permanent residency for them, that door will be opened in principle for them to come to Canada,” Kenney said. He mentioned that the government had installed a large billboard in California that generated “massive interest and buzz” in Silicon Valley. Kenney made his comments while in Vancouver to announce a $3.3-M funding package to help foreign-trained newcomers find work in British Columbia’s energy and resource sectors, part of a federal push to attract skilled employees. ​Winnipeg Free Press

Professor says business schools must take real-world approach to teaching ethics

While most top US business schools include ethics courses, an article published in BusinessWeek suggests that these lessons should be presented in more realistic settings. Deborrah Himsel, a faculty member at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, says that current ethics teaching “has little effect on [students’] decision-making when they’re placed (literally and figuratively) in foreign situations.” Himsel cites examples of universities that put students in situations in which they must demonstrate how to act on their values, rather than understanding them strictly from a philosophical perspective. Himsel offers 3 steps that she believes business schools should implement. First, she says schools should put more emphasis on doing rather than telling by placing students in emerging markets or asking them to role-play situations. Second, she suggests joint classes with MBA students from other countries or business schools. Finally, she says that programs should be created that involve global corporations where students can learn from business executives familiar with such contexts. BusinessWeek

Princeton, Wellesley reevaluate anti-grade-inflation measures

Two US universities are examining their approaches to combating grade inflation. The President of Princeton University has endorsed a faculty report that recommends doing away with a rule that limits the number of recipients of A-level grades to 35% of students enrolled in a course. The faculty committee found that the policy had not achieved its goals of ensuring “fair and consistent” grading across departments or providing students with “clear signals about the quality of their work.” Moreover, they said that the former goal was, in fact, inappropriate given the results of student and faculty feedback. The committee recommended removing the targets, shifting focus to the quality of feedback rather than grades, and allowing departments to develop their own grading standards. Meanwhile, 3 Wellesley College economists have published a paper that says that institutional policies mandating that 100- and 200-level courses could not exceed a B+ average resulted in top grades falling but had little impact on lower grades being awarded. They also found that students responded to the tougher standards with more negative teaching evaluations. Inside Higher Ed

Professor uses Facebook to improve student engagement

A sociology professor at Baylor University has found that Facebook improved his students’ enjoyment of the course, their sense of camaraderie with their peers, and their grades. Kevin D Dougherty began measuring the impact of his students’ participation in a course-based Facebook group more than 2 years ago, after a social media-savvy teaching assistant urged him to use Facebook to share course-related content that would pique students’ interest. He now designates one of his TAs as a “social-media director” who moderates online conversations and shares content. Students are also able to win small prizes based on responses to their posts. Dougherty says the Facebook group helped “turn 250 strangers that sit in a class together into a community.” His findings have been published in the journal Teaching Sociology. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Teaching Sociology

Essay says proctoring is costly; unfairly assumes student guilt

An article published in University Business argues that proctoring student exams is a costly and unnecessary process that punishes the majority of students for the actions of a few. Lawrence Frederick, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Information Technology at the University of Missouri, Saint Louis says that proctoring proceeds from the assumed need to prevent academic dishonesty, but that it assumes the guilt of students and violates their privacy. He says that these assumptions punish cooperation and information-sharing behaviours that would be encouraged anywhere beyond academia. Frederick says that approaches to academic dishonesty should focus on plagiarism and falsification rather than cheating on exams, and that rather than devoting resources to proctoring, universities and colleges should be developing better means of assessment. “The bottom line,” he says, “is that if we expect to remain in business, we need to start treating students as customers as opposed to potential criminals.” University Business