Top Ten

November 4, 2014

BC awards $42.6 M in research funding to 6 institutions

British Columbia has awarded $42.6 M in research infrastructure funding to 6 PSE institutions in the province, to be distributed through the BC Knowledge Development Fund. The funds will support 100 research projects in BC, especially in the priority research areas of life sciences, technology, clean technology, and natural resources. “Our government invests in innovation to grow and diversify our economy. Development of research and innovation into commercial opportunities leads to the jobs and investments that make the technology sector a major contributor to the provincial economy,” said BC Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services Andrew Wilkinson. Simon Fraser University will receive $12.6 M in funding to support projects ranging from chronic pain to solar energy, while UBC will receive $26.9 M for 70 research projects, including an initiative to map the universe and a project on personalizing cancer diagnosis and treatment. BC News Release (SFU) | BC News Release (UBC)

Report recommends Kemptville be run by municipality through not-for-profit corporation

A report commissioned by the Municipality of North Grenville recommends that Kemptville College, formerly part of the University of Guelph, be run through a not-for-profit corporation. Kemptville’s fate has been up in the air for months now; in May, Ontario offered $2 M in funding as a stop-gap measure to keep the college open until a long-term solution could be found. The new report considered a number of options, looking at examples from Vermont Technical College, Olds College, and Georgina Trades Training. The report further named a number of potential partners for Kemptville, as well as identifying demand for skills training programs and research priorities in the agriculture and health and wellness sectors. In response to the report, North Grenville Mayor David Gordon said, “the opportunities contained in this report will ensure Kemptville College will meet the future labour force needs of business, agriculture and industry throughout eastern Ontario and beyond.” CBC News

QuestU President warns of the risks of relying on part-time faculty labour

In a new essay for Academica Group’s Rethinking Higher Ed Forum, Quest University President David Helfand argues that PSE institutions' increasing reliance on “faculty outsourcing”—the use of itinerant, part-time faculty—is fundamentally unsustainable. Helfand says that the increased use of adjunct faculty is being done in the name of financial efficiency, but emphasizes that the working conditions of adjuncts do not leave them with the time or resources necessary to provide a high quality education. He says that quality education requires adequate time to plan courses, to meet with students, to learn about new pedagogical techniques, and to stay up-to-date in one’s field. These demands, he says, are incompatible with the realities faced by many adjunct faculty members. Helfand cautions that if universities continue to pursue this model, they risk losing the support of students as well as taxpayers. Rethinking Higher Ed

UBC-O students vote to help fund library expansion

Students at UBC-Okanagan have voted overwhelmingly to support the creation of a new library. In a referendum last week, 85% of students voted in favour of a $70 student fee levy to help fund a project that will add 45,000 square feet of study space, more than doubling the existing library space. “We are tremendously grateful to our students for their vision and commitment, and we’re excited about proceeding on this project in partnership with students,” said UBC-O Principal Deborah Buszard. Buszard said that the university will also seek additional funding from other sources to make the project happen. “By contributing financially our students are sending a powerful signal to potential donors and other contributors that more learning space is needed,” she said. The students will contribute roughly one-third of the $30 M estimated to be necessary for the project. UBC-O News Release

uCalgary students wary of implications of premium dorms in new residences

Students at the University of Calgary are concerned about proposed plans to offer “premium” dorms in the top two floors of the Aurora Hall and Crowsnest Hall residences, due to open in 2015. According to Metro News, the university plans to offer the premium spaces for an extra $100 per month. However, Austin Baecker, President of the campus residence students’ association, says that the premium dorms will lead to the development of a class system in the buildings. “You’ll have the upper class on the top floors, the middle and lower class on the rest of the floors,” he said. Voula Cocolakis, Executive Director of Ancillary Services at uCalgary, said that Baecker’s concerns were unwarranted. She noted that students already have the option to pay a higher rate in order to live alone rather than share residence space with up to 3 peers. “We don’t believe it’s creating any type of class snobbishness at all; it’s just offering students a number of options depending on their interests and their budget,” she said. Other institutions in Calgary already offer “premium view” rooms in some residences at an increased rate. Metro News

LSBC reverses decision on TWU law school

The Law Society of British Columbia on Friday rescinded its previous decision to recognize graduates of the law school at Trinity Western University. The law society’s governing council, called “benchers,” had previously decided to accredit the school; however, in a recent referendum, 74% of law society members voted against accreditation. LSBC President Jan Lindsay said that the referendum result was one among “many other factors” that led to the benchers' Friday’s decision. TWU spokesperson Guy Saffold said that the institution was “disappointed” in the outcome. “The process for the TWU law school is ongoing. We will take some time to review our course of action in British Columbia,” Saffold said. TWU News Release | Globe and Mail

Is the skills gap really a communications gap?

Canada may not be facing a skills gap so much as a communications gap, says Paul Smith, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators & Employers (CACEE). Smith points to changes in the approach employers are taking to recruitment as the real culprit. Employers, he suggests, have reduced their participation in on-campus events such as hiring fairs, in-class presentations, and information sessions in favour of online hiring. The shift was a result of the economic downturn, but companies have not adjusted their approach since. The digital approach has created new challenges for job-seekers, as software algorithms often filter out potentially qualified candidates before they ever receive human consideration. As a result, the difference between getting hired or not may just came down to semantics. “What I think it points to is we have a problem, not necessarily with the skills, but with how one describes the skills,” Smith said. Calgary Herald

“Edgy” new ad campaign seeks to reduce student binge drinking

The Alberta Lottery and Gaming Commission (ALGC) has launched a new advertising campaign that takes an edgy approach to curbing student binge drinking. The $400,000 campaign, entitled “Thanks Alcohol,” offers students a quiz to help them identify their drinking personality from a list including “Party Puker,” “Frequent Fighter,” and “the Waterworks.” ALGC CEO Bill Robinson said, “we hope you’ll see yourself in that and maybe you won’t find yourself in that [role] again and you’ll change some of your attitudes toward drinking … It’s a good wake-up call for people to see the types of things that can happen if you over-consume.” The campaign will run for 2 weeks on the radio and online, and will also include a poster campaign in bars around the province. CBC News

Mobility, university/industry partnerships drive innovation in Germany

An article in University Affairs looks at how Germany is able to consistently top lists of the world’s most innovative countries. The article cites a recent presentation by Hors Hippler, President of the German Rectors’ Conference. Hippler named 3 likely explanations for Germany’s success: the close ties between the nation’s universities and industry; the mobility of researchers among universities, research institutes, and businesses; and the country’s system of student internships. In Germany, Hippler says, industry and universities have been closely linked to one another since the 19th century, beginning with the technical universities established in order to foster growth in economically depressed areas. Hippler also noted that while there was some initial resistance to the idea of mandatory internships, such programs have allowed persons in fields ranging from natural sciences to philosophy to gain a better understanding of the opportunities afforded them by their degrees. He admitted that there is some risk in academia becoming too dependent on the private sector, but said that German institutions are still highly independent. He also notes that German companies have been receptive to hiring students with advanced degrees, valuing their capacity to innovate. University Affairs

Small, focused changes can make a big difference to library website usability

A new article published in WEAVE: Journal of Library User Experience suggests that improving a library’s home page need not be difficult or expensive; instead, basic user research can be used to identify relatively minor updates that can nevertheless lead to significant improvements in usability. The article is based on the case of Simmons College in Boston, which took a close look at its content organization as well as the language used on its library website. This research was supplemented with an in-person survey of library users. In this case, the library was unable to contemplate a significant overhaul of the website, which had to conform to institutional branding considerations. Nevertheless, the research allowed the library to make focused changes that significantly improved usability, such as revising the organization of links on the library site as well as eliminating unfamiliar jargon. The changes led to an appreciable difference in the user experience, in spite of the limited resources available. The article advocates user experience research as a means to identify other “quick fixes” that can nevertheless produce tangible positive changes. WEAVE