Top Ten

September 11, 2014

uSask to move away from TransformUS and toward more focused initiatives

Interim University of Saskatchewan President Gordon Barnhart has announced that the institution is changing course on its controversial TransformUS initiative. Barnhart told uSask students and faculty that TransformUS “was too big,” “unfolded too quickly,” and was “top-heavy rather than distributed.” He also said that the projected 2016 deficit of $44.5 M that instigated the TransformUS process was not as significant as previously reported; rather, an increase in revenue and a reduction in the operating budget will mean a deficit of $3 M in the 2014–15 fiscal year and $7 M for 2015–16. “We will be able to balance the books,” Barnhart said. Interim Provost Ernie Barber said, “we got focused on the money and not sufficiently focused on the mission and on the people of the university.” In place of TransformUS, uSask will pursue 8 more focused initiatives, including the continued restructuring of the College of Medicine, the revitalization of continuing and distance education, and a transformation of library services. uSask will also seek increased collaboration between academic units, but will not follow through on the previously proposed program amalgamations. Globe and Mail | StarPhoenix

CCPA predicts undergraduate fees will increase by 13% over next 4 years

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) has published a new report that examines trends in tuition and compulsory fees in Canada. The CCPA predicts in the report that undergraduate tuition and compulsory fees will rise by 13% over the next 4 years, a forecast that echoes the organization's 2013 figures. The report also looks at the “Cost of Learning,” which considers tuition and compulsory fees for in-province students alongside median family income and a family living at the low-income cut-off. This calculation is used to compare provincial figures for the Cost of Learning against the national average. The report finds that Newfoundland and Labrador is the most affordable province, while New Brunswick, Ontario, and Saskatchewan are projected to be the least affordable over the next 4 years. The report notes that universities frequently increase unregulated compulsory fees as a way to circumvent fee caps and compensate for inadequate public funding. The CCPA reports that in 2013–14, additional compulsory fees increased by an average of 5.3% across all provinces. An increasing number of universities are implementing a “two-tier” policy by charging out-of-province students higher tuition, or by offering discounts or bursaries to in-province students. Full Report | CBC News | Toronto Star | Globe and Mail

UBC joins edX as contributing charter member

The University of British Columbia has partnered with edX, a provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs), and will launch 4 new MOOCs this fall. Professor Edward Slingerland will be launching a MOOC on a topic he has taught before, but will use the MOOC to experiment with new ways of delivering and assessing material. The new class will be offered to the worldwide MOOC audience before being used in-class at UBC. “One of the appeals of the MOOC platform is that you reach a completely new demographic,” said Slingerland. UBC already offers MOOCs on the Coursera platform, and recently launched its first LOOC, or local open online course, designed for members of the UBC community. UBC is apparently the first contributing charter member from Canada, although McGill and the University of Toronto signed on with edX in early 2013. UBC News

New McMaster program combines biomedical and business training

A new program at McMaster University will offer students the opportunity to augment their health sciences education with business training. The new Biomedical Discovery and Commercialization Bachelor’s/Master’s program, offered through the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Science with support from the DeGroote School of Business, will include courses on drug discovery and development, laboratory research skills, accounting for decision-making, and applied marketing. Material will be delivered through a variety of experiential and team-based learning approaches. While the program will officially launch in September 2015, an accelerated start has been arranged for January. “The career options and relevance of this program will be a lightning rod for students wanting an exciting future. We’ve met enthusiasm for this program from all, so we decided to get started right away,” said program Director Eric Brown. McMaster News Release

Osgoode Hall launches website for law student mental health

York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, with the support of Ontario, has launched JustBalance, a new website that offers resources for law student wellness and mental health. The University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa, the University of Windsor, Queen’s University, Western University, and Lakehead University are also members of the website. JustBalance provides support for students dealing with anxiety, stress, or other mental or physical health concerns. “Our primary aim is to improve the mental health outcomes of Ontario’s 4,100 law students and future lawyers,” said Banka Goela, who provides counselling and other services at Osgoode. Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin said that the site will serve as “a forum for exploring the systemic and personal issues facing today’s law students in a way that is both relevant and meaningful.” YorkU News Release

Polytechnics Canada calls for targeted investment to improve Canadian competitiveness

Polytechnics Canada has released its 2015 pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, calling for the federal government to target its investments in areas with demonstrated demand for action. The submission concentrates on 2 key areas: “increasing the competitiveness of Canadian businesses through research, development, innovation and commercialization; and maximizing the number and types of jobs for Canadians.” Polytechnics Canada makes 10 practical, demand-driven recommendations in 3 policy areas (business innovation, labour market information, and apprenticeship), designed to address existing challenges such as the lack of commercialization of Canadian inventions, and ongoing skills challenges in Canada, including skills shortages and/or mismatches. Some of the recommendations are to “create a Small Business Innovation Research program using existing expenditures on federal intra-mural R&D”; “develop and disseminate a national skills in demand list, or national priority list of specialized occupations, costing $1 million”; and “offer a $4,000 tax credit for those employers of record who sponsor a Red Seal apprentice through to certification.” Polytechnics Canada Submission

Seneca SMA focuses on flexible learning options and innovative approaches to teaching

The strategic mandate agreement (SMA) signed between Seneca College and Ontario identifies the college’s built-in transfer pathways, flexible programs, and innovative teaching and learning as its key areas of differentiation. The SMA notes that Seneca supports economic development through its applied research centres in areas including open technology, aviation, big data and business analytics, and creative thinking. The college also provides a variety of graduate certificate programs to meet labour market demands, and its Building Environmental Systems program is identified as a standard for building operator certification in Canada. The SMA notes Seneca’s strong history of experiential learning, its support for multiple entry and exit points for students, and its extensive online and continuing education programs. Its cross-cultural and international experience programs are also identified as strengths. The SMA identifies 5 proposed program areas for growth: media, fashion, and design; business management and marketing; community health and wellness; chemical/biological sciences; and engineering technology. Seneca SMA

Sheridan SMA highlights creativity, faculty development initiatives, and career-planning initiatives

Ontario has released the strategic mandate agreement (SMA) it signed with Sheridan College. The SMA cites as Sheridan’s key areas of differentiation its collaborative initiatives with municipalities and industries, its "Creative Campus" philosophy, and its world-renowned Faculty of Animation, Arts and Design. The SMA highlights Sheridan’s use of Professional Advisory Councils for all full-time programs, as well as the college’s career-planning tools, which help students make decisions about potential career paths. The college’s Fundamentals of Teaching and Learning program for contract faculty and its 2-year Teaching and Learning Academies for new full-time faculty are also mentioned as strengths. The agreement goes on to emphasize the value of Sheridan’s flexible learning options, its Liaison Librarians initiative, and its support for co-curricular records. Sheridan is noted to support access for underrepresented groups including first-generation students, Aboriginal students, students with disabilities, international students, internationally trained individuals, and mature students. 5 proposed program areas for growth are identified: business, computer science, creativity, engineering technology, and healthy communities. Sheridan SMA

Report offers data on "credential creep" in the US

A new report has found that PSE credentials are increasingly in demand by employers; however, the report also suggests that demand has been fed by, and in turn feeds, credential inflation. Researchers compared educational attainment required by employers in job advertisements with the profiles of the current workforce. The study found that employers are increasingly seeking bachelor’s degrees for positions that formerly required much less education, even if the actual skills required have not changed. Employers asked for bachelor’s degrees even when doing so made the position harder to fill. Moreover, job postings frequently asked for a degree even when the requested skill set included skills not typically taught in bachelor’s degree programs. The shift was especially pronounced in positions that have historically been dominated by workers without a college degree, and least dramatic for roles that have alternate credentials. The researchers suggest that some employers may be using a bachelor’s degree as a broad filter, but caution that “upcredentialing” may make some “middle-skill” career pathways unavailable to otherwise capable workers and exacerbate problems faced by employers looking to replace an aging workforce. Inside Higher Ed | Report Summary

US colleges adopting “yes means yes” policies on sexual consent

US colleges are redefining consent as part of their effort to curb sexual violence on campus. In August, California passed an “affirmative consent standard,” requiring both parties in a sexual interaction to provide clear, unambiguous consent. The bill had the support of the University of California system, which now plans to implement the standard at all 23 campuses in its system. Similar policies are now in place at more than 800 colleges across the country. “I think they’re doing it as a gauntlet for students who might not consider themselves perpetrators but who might be perpetrators,” said Colby Bruno, an attorney with the Victim Rights Law Center. Lisa Maatz, VP Government Relations at the American Association of University Women, added that such policies can help clarify what behaviour is acceptable and what is not, and can “ensure that those involved in disciplinary proceedings no longer ask survivors stereotypical and problematic questions like ‘Did you fight back?’ or ‘Have you had a relationship with the accused?’ or ‘What were you wearing?’” In February, Students Nova Scotia launched its "More than Yes" campaign, organized on a similar premise. Huffington Post