Top Ten

September 17, 2014

UBC releases details of flexible learning strategy

UBC has published its flexible learning strategy. The strategy document identifies a series of trends that have informed its creation. These include changing expectations of students and employers, demographic shifts such as the increasing proportion of older and international students, government policies that have increased universities' reliance on tuition revenue, and an increased emphasis on the measured value of university programs. The strategy suggests that these trends are reinforced by the development of disruptive technologies including massive open online courses (MOOCs), automated assessments and adaptive learning, and increased transparency. To respond to these changes, the strategy prioritizes 3 key areas. First, UBC plans to improve its learning technology ecosystem, based on feedback from faculty and staff. Second, UBC aims to support new personal, professional, and career development programs through the creation of a new unit in the Provost’s office. This role will support the university’s faculties with development, marketing, planning, and budgeting for innovative new credit programs. The third priority area identified by UBC is its membership in edX as a contributing charter member. UBC Update | Full Strategy

UTM’s Deerfield Hall officially opens

The University of Toronto Mississauga is celebrating the official opening of Deerfield Hall, the first phase of the redevelopment of the campus’ North Building. The 4-storey building features improved theatre rehearsal space, computer labs, classrooms, formal and informal study space, and an expanded food services area. The building will also house offices and research facilities for the Departments of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, Psychology, and English and Drama. The $75 M project was funded by the Ontario government and UTM. uToronto President Meric Gertler said that Deerfield Hall’s opening “will help accommodate UTM’s development as a major comprehensive campus, and to support its role as a key engine of innovation and prosperity in Mississauga and well beyond.” UTM’s enrolment has more than doubled in the last 10 years to 14,000 students, increasing the demand for space and resources. UTM News

CICan’s pre-budget submission recommends increased funding for applied research

In its 2015 pre-budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, Colleges and Institutes Canada (CICan) is asking for increased funding for applied research and entrepreneurship at the college level, for more incentives to maximize skills training and labour market participation for all Canadians, and for the creation of a college program for equipment and infrastructure development. “Thanks to cutting-edge research and training, colleges are key to driving Canada’s economy forward. Investment in college innovation is critical so that students and employers have the tools needed to make Canada work,” said CICan President Denise Amyot. To enable applied research at colleges, CICan recommends increasing the budget of the Tri-Council College and Community Innovation program and creating dedicated funding for internships and international research opportunities for students in college programs. CICan News Release

uToronto, McGill, and UBC make top 50 of QS World University Rankings

The University of Toronto is once again the top university in Canada, according to the latest QS World University Rankings. uToronto slipped a few spots, however, to come in at 20th overall, only one spot ahead of McGill University, at 21st. This is only the second year since the rankings began in 2004 that uToronto ranked higher than McGill. UBC also made the top 50, at 43, and the Université de Montréal and the University of Alberta both made the top 100, at 83 and 84, respectively. McMaster University (113), the University of Waterloo (169), and the University of Calgary (171) all saw significant improvements in the rankings this year. Queen’s University (187) and Western University (191) also made the top 200. The top-ranked university in the world was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the University of Cambridge and Imperial College London tying for second. In total, 26 Canadian universities made the list of more than 800. QS Rankings | Montreal Gazette | McMaster News

Report says Edmonton employers feeling "soft skills gap"

A new report sheds light on how Edmonton’s PSE institutions are meeting the demands of local employers. According to the report, businesses are increasingly demanding specialized skills from new employees. However, even as new graduates are seen as being technically capable, businesses say they lack “soft” skills such as communication, decision-making, critical thinking, and teamwork. One solution to the gap, the report says, is the integration of more hands-on work, apprenticeships, and co-ops in PSE; however, it argues that PSE institutions are not solely responsible for enhancing these skills in graduates. The report notes that there has been a 40% drop in employee training by employers over the past 2 decades, and says that it is incumbent on employers, as well as educators, to contribute to the development of the labour force. Further investment in employees will also help inspire loyalty in new employees, the report argues. CBC | Full Report

Early outreach key to supporting students with disabilities

Ryerson University’s successful Access TMP program is featured in a Huffington Post article on students with disabilities. Based on Ryerson’s Tri-Mentoring program, Access TMP pairs first-year students with upper-year mentors in an effort to build community support for students, provide support for those who need it, and direct students toward career opportunities. “The process of mentoring is the three stages—to help with the transition into university, through university, and out of university,” said Tri-Mentoring Program Facilitator Mariam Hashemi. The Huffington Post piece notes that the success of the Access TMP program and similar programs at other universities often hinges on reaching students early on. “The structure changes, the demands change … and if you know that in advance you can plan for it,” said Theresa Doupe, Associate Director of Specialized Support and Disability Services at the University of Alberta. Students also benefit from being proactive. “The support systems can only do so much for you. I’ve learned to really be proactive and self-advocate for myself in a lot of situations,” said Ryerson student Samuel Pereira. Huffington Post | Ryerson News

Canadian institutions replace frosh week hazing with service, volunteerism

PSE institutions across Canada are moving away from frosh hazing and other such activities and are working to build traditions that foster strong connections between students, their institutions, and their communities. At Renaissance College at the University of New Brunswick, students participate in volunteer excursions. These include camping trips, during which students clean up trails and pathways and learn from local First Nations leaders. Students today “want more involvement, more hands-on engagement,” said Sarah King, who teaches civic engagement at Renaissance College. The service-oriented excursions, King said, “help us see that we’re bigger than our own little world.” This year, 60 PSE campuses participated in Shinerama events, raising money for cystic fibrosis research. Mount Royal University, meanwhile, offers students a calendar of volunteer events and a campus services showcase to help integrate students into the university community.

Op-ed corrects misconceptions about contemporary liberal arts degrees

Antonia Maioni, President of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, has contributed an op-ed to the Globe and Mail that emphasizes the value of BA graduates. Maioni shares some of the changes that have been taking place in traditional liberal arts education, including an increasing emphasis on practicality and cross-disciplinarity. “The generational gap between university students and their parents, the one so often exploited by the media, government and industry, rests on outdated preconceptions about the starving artist, the wealthy lawyer, and every-science-student-as-pre-med, as well as misguided assumptions about the role of a university education,” she argues. Maioni highlights new degrees that are often overlooked in mainstream coverage of liberal arts education, such as digital humanities, Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, international development and globalization studies, and educational psychology. Through programs such as these, Maioni writes, “students increasingly have the opportunity to bring into focus multiple disciplines and to juxtapose viewpoints and theoretical perspectives that once seemed disparate, unrelated, or were simply overlooked.” Maioni champions the perspective that the modern BA provides, suggesting that the degree prepares students for a rapidly transforming marketplace. Globe and Mail

Georgetown's "job-friendly" English PhD sparks debate

A proposed Georgetown University PhD program in English that has career preparation at its core has become a lightning rod for debate among faculty. The program is intended to help English PhDs become better prepared for non-academic employment, and to help the program stay relevant to the labour market. Students enrolling in the program would be asked to apply with a “plan of professional development in hand.” The program would also provide extensive mentoring and students would be able to complete alternatives to the traditional monograph-style dissertation, such as a digital-humanities project or a collection of essays. However, critics have variously charged that the program “cheapens” the value of the PhD, and that it is irresponsible of the institution to offer a new PhD program given the poor job market faced by graduates. One Georgetown professor described the program as “an advanced master’s,” not a PhD. One proponent, however, argued that “it’s good for the humanities to have humanists in positions throughout society. And it’s good for society to have people with humanistic training in all sorts of positions.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (Subscription Required) | Full Proposal

Academics critical of pleas for civility

Recent calls from US university administrators for “civility” from scholarly communities have led to a backlash from groups who say that the term is being used to stifle academic freedom. Leaders at Ohio University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of California at Berkeley each called for “civility” from faculty members in the wake of campus controversies, but critics say that demands for civility in effect censor academics who passionately express their opinions on controversial matters. “Uncomfortable ideas are what we trade in in the academy. That is our job,” said Katherine M Franke, a law professor at Columbia University. Some argue that faculty groups are over-reacting to what are actually innocuous requests; however, the controversy has likely been exacerbated in part by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's decision to rescind an offer of a tenure-track appointment to candidate Steven G Salaita over his comments on social media about the conflict in Israel and Gaza. The Chronicle of Higher Education