Top Ten

January 6, 2016

ON ombudsman given power to investigate university complaints

Ontario’s ombudsman Barbara Finlay has announced that as of January 1st, she has the authority to investigate complaints at universities. While many institutions have internal integrity commissioners, those who are unhappy with how these commissioners have handled a case can now appeal to the provincial ombudsman. “New Year’s Day [was] an important day for accountability in Ontario,” said Finlay. “We look forward to being able to help thousands of people resolve their problems with ... universities, just as we have done for 40 years with provincial government issues. We have spent months preparing for this new responsibility, which more than doubles the number of public sector bodies within our jurisdiction.” Metro | Ombudsman ON

Laurentian removes professor from first-year psychology course over language waiver

Laurentian University psychology professor Michael Persinger has been removed from teaching a first year psychology course, pending an investigation, after the Dean was made aware of a Letter of Understanding that Persinger had issued to his class. The letter informed students that Persinger would likely use language in class that was deemed “not in compliance with Laurentian University Policies” according to a statement issued by Laurentian. Persinger claims that students appreciate being able to “ask any question they want, no matter how politically incorrect, and we will discuss it in a rational way, using data more than emotional argument, … political correctness and … social agendas.” The Laurentian University Faculty Association has reportedly filed a grievance for violation of academic freedom. CBC

Contact North releases 2016 online learning “wish list”

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, Contact North | Contact Nord has released its “wish list” of ten developments it hopes to see in online learning in 2016. The list includes calls for better data collection and expanded access to broadband for all Canadians. It also highlights outreach to Indigenous populations and previously disadvantaged groups as a top priority, citing online learning as an effective means to reach a variety of people. The wish list recognizes and commends the movement toward new funding models that can enhance online learning and effective assessment. The organization says its goals could “stimulate real change and development for learners and enable learning providers to accelerate their journey towards transformation.” Contact North | Contact Nord

OPSEU President asks Algonquin College to leave Saudi Arabia

The president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, Warren Thomas, has criticized Algonquin College’s institutional presence in Saudi Arabia, particularly in the wake of the state's execution of 47 prisoners on January 2nd. OPSEU Vice-President and Algonquin Professor Jack Wilson added that Algonquin’s presence in Saudi Arabia is “completely unacceptable,” although he acknowledged that a lack of sufficient government funding was a significant factor in the situation. Ontario colleges “offer the specialized skills that today’s employers seek, and encourage new investment in the province,” according to Thomas; yet he insisted that “Algonquin College needs to get out of Saudi Arabia, and the Liberals need to give colleges the means to do their job: providing the education that will bring jobs and prosperity to the province.” OPSEU

UBC poli sci prof pioneers new field of study

UBC Political Science Professor Mark Warren is leading a team of more than 45 researchers at 25 institutions in a pioneering study of participatory democracy. The project, called Participedia, cites various crowdsourced projects as its inspiration for calling on hundreds, possibly thousands, of individuals to collaborate for increased understanding of democratic institutions. “We’re essentially trying to establish a new field of study,” said Warren. “We’re trying to form that data, so that people will begin to study these areas with the depth and seriousness that they now study elections.” UBC

Canada Pension Plan invests in US student housing

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and two partners have reportedly purchased a stake in US university student housing for $1.4 B. CPPIB will own a 49.5% stake in the venture, as will its partner, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte. The remaining 5% will be owned by the Scion Group LLC. The official statement from the group claims that the investors will work to secure more student housing in the future. Last year, the CPPIB purchased a stake in student housing based in the UK. The current transaction is expected to close in the middle of 2016. Bloomberg | CoStar | Marketwatch

New US data shows increase in graduation rates for two-year students

A new tracking method created by the US-based National Center for Education Statistics has found that completion rates for students attending two-years colleges are on the rise. Under this new method, NCES extended the tracking period from 100% to 200% of the normal time students take to earn an associate degree. The shift in tracking period resulted in an increase in graduation rates for full-time, first-time undergraduates from 18% to 36% in 2010. Rates also increased for students at fewer-than-two-year institutions, from 38% to 67%. An NCES report from 2010 found that 17% of students earning an associate degree completed in the traditional two years while 43% completed in two to three years; another 40% finished in three to six years. Inside Higher Ed | Report

Six universities discuss global credit transfer system for MOOCs

Six universities from Canada, the USA, Europe, and Australia are discussing establishing a system that allows MOOCs to be recognized and accredited between partner institutions. This would ideally allow students to take courses with a number of different institutions to complete a module. Delft University of Technology Vice-President of Education and Operations Anka Mulder explains that “universities can only consider integrating a MOOC in a regular programme if it is good quality and produced by a reliable university they know and have worked with before,” and so the development of such a system will require work in defining and testing the weight and level of various MOOCs. “The potential of this scheme is huge, but we need to think about it clearly,” Mulder added. Times Higher Education

Better-looking female students get better grades, says US study

A new study, conducted at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, has found that looks matter when it comes to grades, but only for women. Among similarly qualified female students, those who were more physically attractive earned better grades, but for male students, there was no significant difference; the results held regardless of whether the faculty member teaching the course was male or female. Rey Hernández-Julián, one of the study’s authors, said he found the results “troubling,” suggesting that there might be a need for tools at colleges and universities to help address implicit biases. Inside Higher Ed

Thatcher told to privatize universities, let them “sink or swim,” according to newly released records

Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was advised to privatize a set of publicly funded universities and to allow them to “sink or swim” in connection with consumer demand, according to newly released records from England's National Archives. The advice came from Lord Beloff, who had previously served as Vice-Chancellor of the private University of Buckingham, in a seminar to discuss education in 1985. The record adds that the proposal won support from several of the event’s attendees, who believed that the move would “prompt greater competition between universities” and “make education more demand-led.” Critics of the proposal, however, cited soaring student fees and a greater dependence on philanthropy as sources of concern. Times Higher Education