Top Ten

August 29, 2014

AB’s opposition party promises tuition caps and loan relief for students who work in high-demand areas

Alberta’s official opposition leader has said that a government led by the Wildrose party would forgive up to 50% of student loans for PSE graduates who stay to work in AB in areas struggling to find skilled workers. The initiative is part of a new party policy that would introduce tuition caps based on inflation and population growth; invest in Internet-based learning; open more spots in high-demand degree, diploma, and certificate programs; and allow high schools to provide more specialized courses and opportunities for dual-credit programs in the trades. The policy also aims to reduce barriers between provinces to make apprenticeships recognized nationally. The Wildrose policy is designed to provide certainty for PSE institutions and students, who would be “guaranteed that government funding would not be based on ‘knee-jerk responses to revenue shortages,’” said Wildrose MLA Gary Bikman. Student leaders in AB recently expressed concern about proposed market-based tuition hikes for certain programs. Edmonton Journal

Report says universities must invest in aging infrastructure

A new report from the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO) says that Canadian universities face approximately $8.4 B in deferred facilities maintenance, but still have an opportunity to address the backlog before it becomes a critical problem. According to the report, the deferred maintenance costs faced by participating universities have more than doubled since 2000. The report warns PSE leaders that without a significant investment, more than 60% of the space studied in the report will have gone 25 years since its last renewal, and 25% will have gone 50 years. Many of these facilities are described in the report as “mission-critical,” including core research facilities; failing to maintain this vital infrastructure, the report says, could negatively affect teaching and research activities. Fewer than 20% of Canadian universities are on-track to meet necessary stewardship targets. Inside Higher Ed | Marketwired

$44 M in SSHRC partnership grants announced

The federal government this week announced $44 M in funding through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to support research collaboration between private, public, and not-for-profit sectors that will serve to advance understanding of people and society. The funding will be granted as 14 Partnership Grants and 57 Partnership Development Grants. “SSHRC’s funding of research partnerships helps create and sustain a culture of innovation in Canada, and fosters stronger collaboration among academic, private, public and not-for-profit sectors,” said SSHRC President Chad Gaffield. The funding announcement was made at Brandon University; BrandonU will host the Rural Policy Learning Commons initiative, a SSHRC-funded international partnership that aims to improve the social and economic well-being of rural and northern regions in Canada. Canada News Release | Partnership Grant Recipients | Partnership Development Grant Recipients

OCUFA says Canadian business not doing its share for R&D

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) says that Canadian businesses are not doing their part when it comes to collaborating on research and development. OCUFA cites a Statistics Canada report that shows that business spending on research and development is expected to hit its lowest level since 2004; adjusted for inflation, business’s investment in R&D will be at its lowest since 1999. OCUFA says that if current trends persist, private sector investment in R&D will soon be lower than at any point since 1990–91. OCUFA notes that the intensity of industrial R&D among nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is increasing in spite of Canadian figures that pull the average down. OCUFA says that “Canadian business is falling behind, sitting on cash reserves while expecting universities and governments to pick up their research slack.” OCUFA Blog

Report finds Canadians have positive attitude toward science

The Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) has released a new report entitled “Science Culture: Where Canada Stands,” outlining Canada’s support for science culture over the last 25 years. The report says that while Canadians do well in public science knowledge, attitudes, and engagement, there is room for improvement in areas including skill development. The report, produced by a 14-member expert panel, found that Canadians have the lowest level of reservation toward science among 17 countries considered, and ranked 9th in terms of attitudes regarding the promise of science. Apprehension about science has decreased since 1989, but skepticism about science’s ability to achieve social, environmental, and economic objectives has increased since 2004. 93% of Canadians surveyed as part of the report said that they were moderately or very interested in scientific discoveries and technological developments. 42% of Canadian respondents had sufficient knowledge to grasp basic scientific concepts and to understand media coverage of scientific issues. The report also found that 51% of those who hold degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics are immigrants. CCA News Release | Report Summary

HEQCO publishes report on use of workshops for skill development

A new report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario sheds light on the value of workshops as a means to help health sciences students in large group settings develop teamwork and collaboration skills. Researchers examined 129 undergraduate health sciences students at McMaster University, who volunteered to participate in workshops focused on the needs of children with Down syndrome and autism. 55 of the students participated in a facilitated workshop, which included a guided discussion about interprofessional teamwork. The research found no discernible difference in student learning between the facilitated and non-facilitated workshops; however, students in the non-facilitated workshop indicated that they would have preferred a more guided discussion. Students in the non-facilitated group also said that focus groups provided a positive experience for discussion and learning, while those in the facilitated group did not. Report Summary | Full Report

uOttawa, TRU see benefits in growing up, not out

An article in the Globe and Mail highlights recent changes in architecture at PSE institutions in Canada. The article notes that for decades, PSE institutions were fixated on the idea that their buildings could not exceed 3 storeys. Don Schmitt, an architect whose firm has worked with 40 colleges and universities, said that “it’s partly because there’s been the tradition across many campuses.” But things may be changing. Schmitt’s firm helped work on the Faculty of Social Sciences building at the University of Ottawa, with 15 storeys. He says that while his team initially met some resistance to their plan for a 15-floor tower, the reception since the building opened has been extremely positive. Institutions in urban settings must be especially conscious of their footprint, and must make more use of the space that they have. Even schools that don’t have such a space crunch are seeing the benefits of reducing sprawl. Thompson Rivers University’s new law school, for instance, allowed the university to re-imagine teaching areas, as well as capitalize on the school’s scenic surroundings. Globe and Mail

Lambton SMA emphasizes innovative program delivery, integration with employers

Ontario has published the strategic mandate agreement (SMA) it signed with Lambton College. The SMA notes that Lambton is the sole provider of PSE in its region, with strength in energy and bio-industrial technology, fire and public safety, health and sustainable care, and entrepreneurship. Lambton’s programs are well-integrated with local employers and support commercialization and training through applied research activity and collaborations with local entrepreneurs, start-up companies, and other small and medium enterprises. The SMA also highlights Lambton’s support for a variety of program delivery methods. Lambton, the SMA notes, was the first college in Ontario to mandate a common inter-professional education course in the curriculum of all health programs. The college’s Class+Experience initiative, which will make all of its postsecondary programs mobile, is cited as being particularly innovative. Lambton is also recognized for its focus on access for Aboriginal learners and its work with the Aboriginal Education Council. The SMA identifies 7 proposed program areas for growth: mechanical/power, bio-industrial technologies, health, nursing, public safety, intelligence and analytics, and business/management. Lambton SMA

UOIT SMA highlights research contributions, community and industry partnerships

The strategic mandate agreement (SMA) between the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and the province highlights UOIT’s close ties with its community and industry partners. The SMA notes that UOIT has been identified by the Durham region as a key driver of growth in the area; the agreement says that UOIT’s regional economic impact is estimated to be more than $1.1 B. UOIT is also acknowledged for its productive partnerships with IBM, the Spark Centre, and the IDEAHub incubator, among other community and industry organizations. The SMA cites UOIT’s support for research that directly addresses key societal and scientific challenges through centres such as the Clean Energy Research Laboratory. Other areas of institutional strength include UOIT’s support for mentoring between faculty and students, its experiential learning opportunities, and its technology-enabled learning. The SMA identifies 5 proposed program areas of growth: advanced manufacturing and energy, informatics, social and international justice, health sciences, and natural sciences. UOIT SMA

US prof implements no-email policy in classes

One faculty member at Salem College in North Carolina has taken an interesting approach to the vast number of emails received from students: she has banned the majority of emails students are likely to send her. Communications professor Spring-Serenity Duvall wanted to cut back on the time she spent going through emails from students telling her they would be late, or would miss class, or would have to leave early, but she didn’t want to add to syllabus-bloat. She therefore instituted a simple policy: no emails unless a student was scheduling a face-to-face meeting. Duvall piloted the policy last year and describes it as an “unqualified success.” She found students were better prepared for class and contacted her during office hours at an increased rate; end-of-class evaluations were also better than with previous cohorts. Duvall did allow one exception to the rule—students were allowed to send her content that they felt was relevant to the class. Inside Higher Ed