Archive for Tony Keller
Canada’s universities play on a world stage, but often fall short
Each November, for more than a decade and a half, Maclean’s has published its special issue ranking Canadian universities, comparing them on attributes such as resources, research, reputation and student and faculty quality. This exercise is, however, a purely made-in-Canada affair. We look at how McGill stacks up against the University of British Columbia and where Waterloo sits relative to Simon Fraser; we don’t ask how they compare with Stanford, Oxford or the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. But what if we did? What if we asked that favourite Canadian question: how are we doing? How do our universities compare to those in the rest of the world?
• Access: Canadians are arguably the most educated people on earth. Or at least the most schooled. Forty-seven per cent of working-age Canadians have a post-secondary credential, meaning university or college. That’s higher than any other developed country: the U.S. figure is just 39 per cent. What’s more, the number of Canadians with higher education is steadily rising. Fifty-five per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 34 attended university or college, compared to fewer than four out of 10 Canadians aged 55 to 64. Score one for Canadian higher ed. Continue reading Tale of the tape
College sports earn U.S. universities a lot of money, but arguably distort their mission
A couple of years ago I interview Dr. Carl Wieman, the American Nobel laureaute in physics who moved to the University of British Columbia to set up the Carl Wieman Science Education Initative, a project to improve the quality of undergraduate science teaching at UBC and across North America. Wieman’s interest is in figuring out how to improve teaching ad learning at universities. When we spoke, he surprised me by pointing to U.S. college sports as an obstacle to that mission. Last week, Simon Fraser University announced that it had become the first Canadian university to be admitted to the main U.S. college sports body, the NCAA. As for UBC — the other Canadian university that was seen as a prime candidate for NCAA membership — it recently announced that it is putting its expression of interest on hold for a year.
When I asked Wieman why he chose to come to UBC — he was previously at the University of Colorado, and as Nobel laureate could have landed a position and received funding at any major U.S. university — he mentioned a couple of factors. But the one that surprised me involved the way that for-profit sports are, in his view, distorting the mission of the U.S. university:
Wieman:… One feature I often point out is [UBC’s] football coach gets paid like an assistant professor, not, like, 10 times the university president. People just don’t realize that college athletics at public universities [in the U.S.] has become so dominant that the governing boards, the presidents, are thinking about the success of the football team first and undergraduate education second.
Q: I hadn’t thought about the fact that college sports might have played into your decision.
A It’s really so crazy. You go to a U.S. university and you look at what fraction of the governing board time is spent on athletic stuff as opposed to the rest of the university and, you know, it might be 50 per cent.
Q: And the NCAA recently opened its doors to non-American schools. Some Canadian universities are thinking about joining.
A: And UBC is one of them. I screamed when I found out!
Private company was set up by government more than a decade ago to attract foreign students to Canadian schools
The Canadian Education Centre Network (CECN) has abruptly closed its doors.
The organization was set up in the 1990s to promote Canada as a destination for foreign students, and to assist Canadian universities, colleges and schools in recruiting foreign students. The federal government provided funding for the first few years, and then earlier in this decade told the CECN that it had to stand on its own. Apparently it couldn’t.
I’m told that a number of universities and colleges were left high and dry by the closure, in that they had already paid fees to the organization for services they are now unlikely to receive. Then again, as one poster on the story I linked to notes, the CECN’s problem was that fewer and fewer educational institutions were buying its services. Many larger schools conduct their own international recruiting and didn’t need or want CECN’s help. In other words, this story may just be a run of the mill case of one business’s failure to offer the right service at the right price, rather than some wider systemic failure. What I’ve been told suggests as much.
I’m also told that part of the reason the CECN had a tough go of it is that its operation involved running and staffing more than a dozen offices around the world. The idea was that local students with questions about Canadian education would be able to receive help and advice at those offices. But that has to have been a very expensive undertaking. Universities and colleges weren’t willing to kick in enough cash to support that and everything else the CECN was doing and there may be a good reason for that: foreign students can get all of the information they need on the internet, at school websites and so on. Back in the late 1980s, when I wanted to do a foreign exchange program, I had to hunker down with dozens of others in my university library, where there was a little study abroad materials room. There they had assembled books and pamphlets on study abroad and work abroad mailed to them from France, the US, Finland, where ever. Lots of material was missing, pages were torn out, brochures were seven years old, and so on. Back in the day, that was the best and only way to get this kind of information into the hands of students.
That was a very long time ago.
Foreign students clearly need support and encouragement to come to Canada. But I wonder whether the CECN’s approach, which seems to have been very heavy on the bricks and mortar, and sounds a lot like my university study abroad materials room, circa-1987, makes sense?
And, if I may be permitted to blur the lines between journalism and advertising, that is why we are doing this in November.
American MBA students graduate into gloom and contraction, but Financial Times says Canadian banks are still hiring
According to The New York Times, MBA students “graduating this year know they are less likely to get a job offer in investment banking.” For a lot of them, the most prestigious, best-paying job — investment banking — is no longer on the table. MBAs, says the Times, are “looking beyond Wall Street.”
But the story for Canadian MBA grads looking for jobs in banking and investment is completely different. Canada and its banks are in a unique position. Financial crisis? Bank failures? Hasn’t happened here; hasn’t affected hiring. Or so says an in-depth look at the job market for Canadian MBAs, from The Financial Times.
Many MBA students preparing to graduate this year have been labelled unlucky for finishing their degrees just in time to enter a depressed job market.
But for those who chose Canadian business schools the prospects of landing work are more optimistic.
So far Canada has largely bucked the trend that has seen hiring levels worldwide plummet this year, especially in the financial sector. Overall job numbers are down, but Canada’s biggest banks are hiring and its financial sector has not seen its job market falter like that of the US.
In the US, business schools report as much as a 50 per cent drop in financial sector hiring, in part due to the disappearance of groups such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. However, in Canada, banks describe the current climate as a growth opportunity and are busy plucking top talent from international competitors.
So I go down to the Tim Horton’s in our building to grab a late lunch. It’s late afternoon. The restaurant is on the second floor of our building. It has floor to ceiling windows, overlooking the spot where Jarvis and Mount Pleasant split. There’s a bicycle cop down there and he’s standing in the [...]
So I go down to the Tim Horton’s in our building to grab a late lunch. It’s late afternoon. The restaurant is on the second floor of our building. It has floor to ceiling windows, overlooking the spot where Jarvis and Mount Pleasant split.
There’s a bicycle cop down there and he’s standing in the middle of the road, stopping traffic. I wonder why.
I order my sandwich and walk back to the window. The bicycle cop is still holding traffic. Across the street, on the sidewalk, there’s a security guard from the construction site, a very skinny and slightly stooped Somali who is signaling pedestrians to get away from the road. I assume all of this must be construction-related. They’re putting up a 40 story condo across the street. Maybe a big truck is about to back out from the work site.
From this spot, I can see all the way up the street to the corner of Jarvis to Bloor, a couple of hundred yards north. When the first black car turns from Bloor on to Jarvis, a guy behind me says, “oh, must be dignitaries”.
“Must be the emperor of Japan,” I say. “I thought he was in Ottawa. But I guess today he’s in Toronto.”
One day last summer I was walking home, passing in front of the Royal Ontario Museum when the president of Ireland swooped down, in a high speed convoy of a dozen black cars and SUVs, with scores of cops and security guys with earpieces and suits on the street, blocking things off for a couple of hundred feet in either direction in front of the museum. There is something about the way a motorcade rolls, all speed and menace and get-out-of-our-way-or-else power that pleasures a certain lobe of the male brain.
And then I notice that the policeman is saluting. The black cars are flying Canadian flags. Some of have their windows half-way open, and I can see young blond faces, faces from a small town, looking out. These faces weren’t supposed to be riding limousines except to the prom, or to their wedding day. Some are waving.
And now I know what this is. “That’s not the emperor of Japan,” I say to the guy standing in line. “That’s Kandahar.”
The man behind the counter has finished making my sandwich. Ham and swiss on whole wheat, toasted, with regular mustard. Turkey and wild rice soup. A coffee with one milk.
On the elevator to the 11th floor, I try not to cry.
New head of British spy agency has his cover blown, by his wife, on Facebook
James Bond’s boss has had his cover blown by his wife, who posts family photos, reveals their favorite vacations spots, puts up embarrassing shots of him in a bathing suit — stop me if you’ve heard enough — on Facebook. Level of privacy she chose? Um, close to zero.
As the Daily Mail reports:
Sir John Sawers, currently Britain’s Ambassador to the United Nations, where he sits on the highly sensitive Security Council, began his working life in MI6 but has spent the past 20 years building a career as a diplomat rather than a spy.
Senior politicians said the security lapse raised serious doubts about Sir John’s suitability to head the intelligence service….
Indeed. Back in the 60s, they used to say, “don’t trust anyone over 30.” Today’s slogan might be don’t entrust anyone over (30? 40? 50?) with basic consumer technology. They’ll blow themselves up. Or at least leave the DVD player permanently flashing “12:00.”
Alexa McDonough, new president at Mount Saint Vincent, is latest non-academic to head an academic institution
Mount Saint Vincent university in Halifax has named Alexa McDonough, the former leader of the federal New Democratic Party, as its interim president. McDonough is the latest in a growing list of university presidents who do not have a Ph.D. and are not academics. McDonough earned a B.A. and a Master’s of Social Work at Dalhousie.
What does the trend mean for universities? For students? As I wrote earlier this year, there are compelling reasons for at least some universities to want a person with non-academic experience at the top of the academic pyramid:
The position of university president—which used to be given to a distinguished professor—is now often going to someone who has made a career as a manager, not a researcher. Most other sectors of the economy long ago moved to this model: to become CEO of an airline, you don’t have to spend 20 years piloting 747s; to run a telecom company, you don’t have to spend a lifetime becoming your company’s most experienced telephone line installer; to run a TV network, you don’t have be a professional camera operator or have hosted your own TV show. What’s more, a university president is not only the manager of a large organization, he or she is managing an organization more decentralized than almost any other. Employees (professors) have an extremely high degree of autonomy (not to mention tenure), as do the various departments and schools within the university. The job requires managerial talents that are often more akin to politics than traditional, private-sector management. And a large and growing part of the president’s job is fund-raising: another unusual skill that combines elements of politics, salesmanship, vision and innate charm. None of these attributes is likely to be developed by spending most of one’s life conducting experiments and writing papers.
Re-read those last few sentences: being a university president is partly about being a politician. (That’s not a put-down. Honestly.) You have to be diplomatic, charming and very, very patient. So it’s no surprise that many of these new non-professorial presidents are ex-politicians or at least closely connected to the worlds of politics and government.
The list of other university heads who are not academics include the University of Winnipeg’s Lloyd Axworthy (has a Ph.D. but spent most of his working life in politics); Acadia University’s Ray Ivany (has an M.Sc., is a career academic and public sector administrator); Sean Riley of St. Francis Xavier (has a Ph.D. but worked mostly in government and the private sector); Michael Goldbloom of Bishop’s (lawyer, former head of English-rights lobby group Alliance Quebec, corporate executive, university administrator) and Allan Rock at the University of Ottawa (lawyer and politician).
Could allow foreign universities to expand into the world’s second-largest education market: are Canadian universities ready?
The Chronicle of Higher Education has written several stories in the past few weeks, covering plans to reform India’s moribund university sector, which has long been tied to (and tied down by) India’s notoriously inefficient bureaucracy. Among the proposed changes: opening the country to foreign university campuses.
Right now, it is difficult to impossible for foreign universities to get into the Indian market, and consequently the level of co-operation between India and Western universities is nothing compared to the growing higher education ties between Chinese and Western (especially American) universities. This despite the fact that India and the West – and especially India and Canada — have so much in common: a common language, a common legal heritage, a common political system. What’s more, India exports tens of thousands of students and professionals to the West each year. And Canada has a large and growing population with roots in the subcontinent, with thousands of new immigrants arriving each year. The ties between the countries are strong; the field for cooperation is wide and fertile.
If the Indian educational market opens up, are Canadian universities ready?
As I reported last week, the University of Manitoba is going to restrict nearly all of the seats in its dentistry program to Manitoba residents, following the practice of most Canadian medical schools. Carson Jerema, a former editor of the Manitoban and former blogger for this website, follows up on the story in a column [...]
As I reported last week, the University of Manitoba is going to restrict nearly all of the seats in its dentistry program to Manitoba residents, following the practice of most Canadian medical schools.
Carson Jerema, a former editor of the Manitoban and former blogger for this website, follows up on the story in a column in The Winnipeg Free Press.
One surprising finding: Carson reports that both the U of M and the government of Manitoba claim that this new dentistry admissions policy is the university’s choice. I emailed Carson to confirm that this is what they told him. I’m not sure I entirely buy it, but if it’s true, then hallelujah: it means the university is at liberty to change the policy whenever it wants. Right about now might be a good time.
Leading U.S. universities call for number of research universities to be cut; dollars focussed on top schools
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports (subscription site) that the head of a group of leading U.S. universities is calling for government research funding to be focussed on a small, elite group of U.S. universities. Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU), said that “fewer but better” top research universities are needed.
Mr. Berdahl’s association represents 60 American universities that together award more than half of all U.S. doctoral degrees and 55 per cent of science and engineering degrees. Berndahl first raised the matter in a letter to sent last February to Sen. Lamar Alexandar, Republican from Tennessee and a former Secretary of Education. The letter was obtained by The Chronicle.
According to the weekly paper, Mr. Berdahl’s letter asked a series of questions that included: “How many research universities does the United States realistically require in order to maintain its agenda of innovation and advanced training?” The AAU has not made any recommendations as to how this policy could be put into effect or how many universities would have to be cut or downsized, but it has asked the National Academies to study the issue.
The Chronicle notes that “the recommendation to reduce the number of research universities may face some opposing forces on both the state and federal levels.” No doubt
Similar noises have been made by leading universities in the United Kingdom.
The questions raised by Berdahl’s letter are particularly relevant to the Canadian university system. When it comes to research funding, we have, even more than the Americans (or the British), tended to spread the wealth around: we have a smaller number of universities than the Americans, but a very high percentage of them are big players in the research game. Thanks to the imperatives of politics and regional development, we don’t have small number of top-tier research universities and a much larger group of less research-focussed institutions. Instead, we have a lot of universities with big stakes in the research game, including small institutions that, less than a generation ago, were traditional liberal arts colleges focussed on undergraduate teaching. Everyone gets a piece of the pie. For a small number of top Canadian universities that want to compete in the big leagues against Harvard and MIT, it’s an impediment. Is that merely a harm to their institutional egos, or a negative for the country’s education, innovation and economy?
Questions about new online degree backed by controversial “Manager of the Century”
The Economist magazine’s Business.view blog has some fun with Jack Welch’s new MBA program, which the legendary/controversial CEO (he was once named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune, but the company he ran, GE, has been a shareholder graveyard for most of this decade) will be offering online in partnership with Chancellor University.
So what exactly will you learn at the Jack Welch Management Institute? According to our friends at The Economist, it sounds like what’s on offer will be the standard MBA boilerplate. And Welch was, for good or ill (there are strong arguments for both those positions) never a just-going-through-the-motions-and-waiting-for-my-options-to-vest CEO. So why not offer a truly different MBA, one with the ambitions of Jack Welch? The writer speculates about what a real Jack Welch MBA would look like….
For a start, in keeping with the no-BS style of a man whose autobiography is called “Jack: Straight From The Gut”, your columnist suspects there would be no place for the sort of bleeding-heart “MBA Oath”, pledging to serve society rather than maximise profits, that Harvard Business School graduates have taken en masse this summer. After all, Mr Welch is credited with launching the shareholder-value maximisation movement with a speech in 1981 on “Growing Fast in a Slow-Growth Economy”. What Mr Welch cared about was quality—hence his embrace of the Six Sigma programme for total-quality management.
Equally unmissable would be the class on “Making Your Numbers”. Under Mr Welch, GE’s accounting was so creative it could be hung on the wall of the Museum of Modern Art (although it was all within legal bounds). Frequent use was made of off-balance-sheet vehicles, on a greater scale even than Enron. The firm’s huge, opaque financial arm, GE Capital, was used as a top-up fund in case profits in the rest of the business fell below the consistent growth promised by Mr Welch. Over the 80 or so quarters he was in charge, GE’s profits grew so consistently they were almost a straight line. Those were the days.
Is GE’s poor performance since Mr Welch left a reflection of how good a job he did, and how hard he has been to replace? Or is it his legacy? What an excellent topic for a case-study discussion for the first batch of students taking the Jack Welch MBA.
U Manitoba dentistry school follows the lead of Canadian med schools, restricts enrolment
As we’ve pointed out more than once, most Canadian medical schools have highly restrictive enrolment policies: almost all of their seats are reserved for locals. The practice of restricting enrolment to in-province students is widespread at Canadian medical schools but, so far as I know, it’s highly unusual in all other university departments. The BC government may have pushed UBC medical school to reserve 95 per cent of its seat s for BC residents (yes, that’s the real number) but it puts no quotas (so far as I know) on the number of out of province students it will admit to into a bachelor of arts in history, or the bachelor’s in enginering program or the business school. Canadian higher education is an open, national market — but not when it comes to medical school admissions. All Canadian medical schools, save Ontario’s schools, reserve almost all of their seats for provincial residents. A British Columbian who’d like to study medicine at McGill or Dalhousie has almost zero chance of being admitted.
There is, of course, a compelling reason why provincial governments have pushed their local medical schools into the educational equivalent of “Buy American.” There always is. It’s called money. Doctors cost a lot of money to educate, and medical students from province X are more likely to stay and practice medicine in province X. Then again, there are even more compelling reasons to not go down this road. Follow the logic of locals-only and we end up building educational walls around each province. It’s expensive to educate every university student, not just medical students. The bulk of the cost of educating undergraduate students is borne by the provincial governments. The restrictive admissions practices imposed on medical schools are a terrible precedent, and not a precedent we should want to see followed.
Unfortunately, that’s not how Manitoba sees it. According to the most recent issue of the University of Manitoba’s Bulletin newspaper (see page 4 of the PDF), “effective with the 2009 admissions cycles, 25 out of the 29 students in a first-year dentistry class will be from Manitoba.” Is this an initiative that the university is undertaking in response to pressure from the Manitoba government? I don’t know. All I know is that, like bad legal precedents, bad policy precedents have a habit of giving birth to many children.
Does anyone have other examples of restrictive enrolment practices? Some provinces charge differential fees to out-of-province and foreign students, but I’m talking about hard quotas on the number of students who aren’t locals. Let us know.
Millennium Foundation says a degree is a great investment, but other studies raise a few caveats
If you have a university degree, you can expect to earn $746,000 more over your working life than someone with only a high school diploma. The information is contained in a study released today by the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, authored by Joseph Berger and Andrew Parkin. The authors also found that Canadians with only a high school diploma are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than a university graduate. College graduates enjoy higher earnings than those with only a high school education, but the earning gap is not as wide and their lifetime payoff is only about half that of university graduates.
Bergin and Parker say they wrote this report in in order to counter “a series of recent suggestions that somehow we have too many [post-secondary] students in Canada, not too few.” They write that “the evidence about the positive returns to post-secondary education is so well-known that it seems unnecessary to review it again.” There’s pretty much no refuting that, if you take the income levels of all those with a university education and compare it to the incomes of all those with only high school, university looks is one heck of a good investment. College similarly looks like a good investment, but university appears to be a much better one. A few years ago, I opened our annual Rankings issue with an article entitled “The Best Investment Money Can Buy.” I estimated, based on a less thorough analysis of Statscan data than Berger and Parkin offer, that the return on a university degree was about $1 million dollars in extra lifetime earnings.
I still hold to the view that university offer serious economic benefits to students and society — but I have some caveats. Education is the fount of progress: social, scientific and economic. A more skilled society will be a more prosperous and successful society. But the more I look at our higher education system, the more frequently I see disconnects between the true statement “our society needs more educated people” and the not necessarily equivalent statement that “our society needs more people with university degrees.” The latter should equal the former, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. There’s lots of evidence that an increasing number of kids are simply being pushed through the system: they may get a university degree (and before that, a high school diploma) without having learned anywhere near as much as the credential suggests they should have. A few weeks ago, a chemistry professor told me about how some students in his third-year and fourth-year classes — students who are majoring in chemistry — never learned the most basic elements of the first-year material. He’s not sure how they made it in to upper-year courses; they’re not educated enough to be called scientists. But they’re going to get a B.Sc. What exactly is their degree worth? Somewhat less than the ideal.
A number of commentators, such as professors James Cote and Anton Allahar, authors of this book (and a related blog) have said that we are lowering standards in order to raise enrolment, devaluing higher education in the process. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for Cote and Allahar’s argument that we are putting too much emphasis on getting more people into higher education, and too little emphasis on what they do once they get there — what they actually learn. Cote and Allahar similarly point to a focus on credentials over learning in some high school systems — which deal with weak students by shoving them through the system regardless of actual performance or learning, raising everyone’s grades, raising graduation rates and giving the illusion of educational progress. More knowledge/skill/education are good things, for the individual and for our society and economy. However, we can’t just assume that more schooling, of whatever type, in whatever field and of whatever quality, equals education/learning/skills. Our system should aim to make those linkages — and this is where Parkin/Berger and Cote/Allahar surely agree. We can’t automatically assume that more people with credentials (whether that is a high school diploma or a B.A.) equals more people with knowledge and skills that lead to higher returns to themselves and to society.
One of Canada’s leading economists says universities should prepare for declining enrolment, not growth
Earlier this week I spoke with David Foot, University of Toronto economics professor who is best known as the author of Boom, Bust & Echo: How to Profit from the Coming Demographic Shift., one of the best-selling and most influential Canadian books of the past decade. You can listen to our conversation here. (Note that I had some technical difficulties, as they say — my device that records directly from a telephone headset was buggy, so I had to record from speaker phone. So the audio is a bit rough at the start. But sit tight: sometime before 1:00, it improves.)
So what did Foot have to say about how demographic changes are going to impact higher education?
“Right at the moment colleges and universities across Canada are stretched to their gills, as it were, for space,” says Foot. The number of “Echo” generation births, according to Foot, peaked in 1991, and the last of that group is now in the higher education system or soon will be. But after 1991 birth rates began to decline. That means we’re about to enter a period where Canada’s university-age population will be falling, not rising.
“We know that there’s a smaller cohort of 17 year olds and 18 years olds [coming], and so we know that university and post secondary enrolments will gradually decline in the first decade of the new millennium.”
Some areas, such as the Atlantic provinces, are already experiencing a declining population of university-age people. However, a number of university administrators have predicted rising enrolments. Two years ago, the presidents of the Greater Toronto Area universities said that there was an urgent need for new funding and possibly even the construction of a new university in the region, to cope with what they expect will be a boom in university enrolment in the GTA, due to a growing GTA population combined with rising university participation rates. (See our stories on the subject here and here.) The participation rate measures the percentage of young people choosing to pursue higher education. If participation rates increase, meaning that a higher percentage of young people choose to go to university, enrolment could continue to increase even in the face of a declining population of young people.
Foot, however, says he’s “putting a caution” on the GTA presidents’ assumptions. “They’re not aware of the demographics as well as they might be.”
He questions in particular the assumption that participation rates will rise — and he argues that if we get into a situation where universities in the GTA are crowded while campuses in the rest of Ontario and Canada are thinning out, we should look to make better use of those underused universities. Will it make sense, asks Foot, “to build more buildings in the GTA when there are buildings in Sudbury and Windsor and Peterborough that are not being fully utilized?”
“It’s a little bit of I’m going to look after myself jack and to hell with everybody else, and that’s not necessarily good public policy from the government’s point of view. I think some exchange programs with some of these other universities that are likely to have declining enrolments would be a much better public policy perspective.”
University participation rates have increased sharply over the past generation, and many assume the trend will continue. Foot says it’s unlikely. “Past trends embody the incredible increase in the participation of women in post secondary education, and as we know there are now more women than men in those age groups in our post secondary system.” Those looking for participation rates to increase can point to the opportunity to fully engage populations currently underrepresented in higher education, such as the disabled or native Canadians. However, says Foot, “the important point here is that women are half the population. So if you get a rise in participation rates in half the population, you’re going to see an impact on enrolments. But if you’re looking at the disabled or native peoples as the next group to raise the participation rates, disabled peoples are less than 1 per cent, the native population is less than 4 per cent. You’re not going to get the same sort of impact of the increase in participation from much smaller groups.”
Listen to the audio of the full interview here.
The editor (not exactly as illustrated) will be the judge of that.
Our site is looking to expand its roster of regular bloggers. You could be a high school student, university student, college student, graduate student or faculty member. This is your chance to share your experiences, ideas, passions and pet peeves with a national and international audience. We’re looking for traditional bloggers — i.e. people who communicate through the written word — and also video bloggers, photo bloggers and cartoonists. Or bloggers who combine some or all of the above. It’s the end of the first decade of the third millennia. All sorts of previously crazy things are possible.
So, you ask, how do I apply? Send us:
1. Your name, email address and other basic contact deets.
2. A short bio or c.v.: Where are/were you at school? What are/were you studying? Or if you’re a high school student, where/what do you hope to study? And so on.
3. Samples of your writing: This is the most important part. These samples don’t necessarily have to be published work. Articles, blog posts, tweets, emails, txts, notes passed in class or mad ravings from your diary: whatever. Just show us that you can think and write, and do both simultaneously while walking and chewing gum. Pedigree isn’t important. The proof of the pudding is in the eating; the proof of the writing is in the reading.
3(b) Samples of your videography/photography/cartoons/etc: If you’re a post-literary type, and you’d like to do a primarily multimedia blog, send us a few media samples. Again, we don’t care if your work has been published/broadcast in the corporate or campus MSM. All that matters is the quality of the work, which will speak for itself. The proof of the video is in the viewing.
4. A plan. Not a plan for the rest of your life. A plan for the blog. What do you want to do with the blog? What sorts of topics do you want to cover? Some people are hard core reporters; some are deeply personal chroniclers. Both approaches, and all choices in between, are open. Just let us know what you have in mind.
When you’re ready, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remedial education is about the least glamorous thing a university can do. But it’s also among the most important
In the Chronicle of Higher Education this week, Kevin Carey of think tank Education Sector takes a look at a remedial education program at the not-exactly-celebrated Cleveland State Community College. Cleveland State is not anyone’s idea of a prestigious institution of higher learning, and remedial education is about the least glamorous thing a university or college can do. Professors and administrators dream of landing NIH grants, partnering with NASA and mentoring Rhodes Scholars — not teaching first year calculus to Johnny the D student. But as Carey points out, more and more of America’s students are the kind of students who end up at places like Cleveland State: people who want and need higher education, but who may also need a lot of extra help. (Ditto for Canada’s university and colleges). And unless universities and colleges devote their attention to figuring out how to educate these people, instead of just processing them, they won’t graduate with knowledge and skills. Or they won’t graduate at all. If that happens, all of the extra spending on higher education, all the extra opportunity costs of people staying school instead of joining the work force, will be so much buck for so little bang.
There’s a big push on in both Canada and the US to send more young people to higher education. But all other things being equal, the higher the percentage of high school graduates (or even non graduates) that we send to university/college, the higher the percentage of students in university/college with academic challenges. Given that the percentage of the population enrolled in post secondary education is higher than ever (and in Canada, higher than anywhere on Earth), its not hard to see why that the problems Carey describes are widespread.
Cleveland State Community College is a typical American institution of higher education. Meaning: (a) It’s publicly supported and struggles to raise money; (b) admissions standards aren’t stringent; (c) most students come from local high schools; and (d) many students don’t arrive prepared for college-level work. It’s easy to forget, given how much sway elite institutions and their graduates hold, that the Cleveland States of this country educate most of our college students.
Every year nearly two-thirds of Cleveland State freshman are forced to take at least one remedial course. (Again, that is not unusual. A 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that more than 40 percent of all students — and over 60 percent of community-college students — needed remediation.) Until recently nearly 50 percent of the remedial students at Cleveland State were failing those courses, greatly increasing their odds of dropping out.
As John Squires, the chair of Cleveland State’s math department put it, “if half your students fail, you can’t call that a success.” So he decided to try something different. I’ll let you read the article to find out exactly what Squires did, but it worked:
The results were impressive. The percentage of remedial students at Cleveland State earning at least a C in the three math courses jumped from 55 percent to 72 percent. Of course, pass rates are always subject to changing academic standards. But when the college compared students’ test results in basic math with common items on final exams from the previous five years, the proportion answered correctly increased from 73 to 86 percent.
And when remedial students went on to college-level math, their success continued — completion rates increased from 71 to 81 percent, even as rates for other students stayed flat. For the first time, students coming from the remedial sequence earned higher grades than their peers did. Enrollment in college-level math at Cleveland State is up 42 percent this spring. Now the English department is looking to do the same.
Oh, and Cleveland State’s success approach to remediation, according to Carey, is not based on a windfall of new money. In fact, it’s cheaper than the previous, failed approach. But Carey nevertheless doubts that colleges and universities will quickly move to copy the success approach due to what he calls the inherent conservatism of higher ed, and a kind of NIMBYism at both the high school and university level.
Remedial education is a particular challenge. The K-12 system considers every student who graduates and then enrolls in college as a success — anything that happens afterward is someone else’s problem. The higher-education system considers every remedial student as a product of K-12 failure, and therefore someone else’s problem. The only “someone else” left is the student, dogged by the shadows of two systems that refuse to take responsibility for the educational killing zone that lies between them.
Final thought: this all comes around to one of the arguments made by one of last year’s best books on education: Amar Bhide’s “The Venturesome Economy.” Bhide, a business professor at Columbia, decries the excessive focus on the highest-end of post-secondary education, namely PhDs and basic research. The challenge and opportunity, in Bhide’s well-argued and carefully documented view, is not to produce even more PhD’s and even more high level research. Research is a good, but, as he puts it, because a certain amount of something is good more of it is not necessarily better — particularly if the cost of producing more of this good means that we produce less of some other good. Instead, we should be worrying about what he calls the mid-level and ground-level impediments to our society and economy making full use of those high level innovations. What are those impediments? They’re educational: A society where people are more literate, more numerate, understand basic science, etc, is more “venturesome”, more able to innovate and more prosperous. And we clearly have some huge gaps in our society on that scare.
That’s the promise of the remedial math program at Cleveland State Community College.
“It is one of the few things we are world competitive in,” says UK university pres
The president of one of the UK’s leading universities, Imperial College London, has called on the government to privatize the country’s top five universities.
He suggested that these leading universities be able to charge unlimited tuition, to allow them to compete with and raise funds equivalent to those at the disposal of the leading US institutions. UK tuition is currently capped at around £3,000 per year — equivalent to approximately US$5,000 or C$5,500. That’s one-seventh the undergraduate tuition fee at leading US universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton. According to Sir Roy Anderson, head of Imperial College, London, the goal is to create a pool of universities that could compete with the US Ivy League. To give these British universities the tools to do so, Sir Roy proposes that tuition at the top 5 UK universities be allowed to “float free” of the government’s cap on tuition, effectively removing these universities from the UK’s publicly funded university system.
Though the Ivies charge very high tuition, the extra cash allows them to offer extensive financial aid to lower and middle income students.
The five universities Sir Roy singled out for privatization were Imperial College, Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics and University College London. They are generally seen as the UK’s most prestigious institutions, and are highly ranked by such international surveys as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Shanghai Jiao Tong Academic Ranking of World Universities. (There are some serious questions about the methodology of the second survey, but we’ll leave that discussion for another day).
Sir Roy told the Standard:
“How important is higher education to UK Plc? Staggeringly so. It is a multi-billion-pound industry. It is one of the few things we are world competitive in.
“If you take the top five universities, they have enormous potential to earn income for Britain. How best to do that? My own view would be to privatise them. You don’t want to be subject to the mores of government funding or changing educational structures.”
“Higher education is a product that Britain does superbly. Even if in 20 years’ time Imperial is a private institution able to compete with the Harvards and Yales, like them, I very much hope we would have the scholarship endowment to continue to take people from all walks of life.”
Sir Roy also condemned the Government for being preoccupied with dying industries such as car manufacturing.
As we learned from the coalition government controversy, many Canadians don’t understand our parliamentary system. The GG may want to add herself to the list
Earlier this week, Governor General Michaelle Jean offended some people by eating raw seal meat. Earlier today, she upset nobody by advocating forcefully, and not for the first time, for the federal government to create a university in the Arctic.
The former gesture wasn’t controversial: she was just doing her job. When you visit the citizens of your country as the Queen’s representative and the font of constitutional authority, and those citizens invite you to dine with them, you dine. When they ask you to take part in a legal cultural activity, you take part.
But when those citizens ask you to lobby the government on their behalf, you say “hey, that’s not my job. I’m the monarch — I reign, I don’t govern.” You want governing? Talk to the people who run in elections. Talk to your MP. Talk to the government.
Unfortunately, that’s not how Madame Jean responded to understandable calls from her hosts for the creation of a university in Canada’s vast, underpopulated and undereducated North. Asked if she would continue to push this idea to elected officials, she replied, “of course.”
“Canada is at least 40 years behind,” Jean told The Canadian Press. “Canada is the only northern state that doesn’t have a university in the North. Canada is four decades behind Norway, Finland, Sweden, the United States. The United States has three universities in Alaska. There’s a university in Greenland. In northern Sweden. In the Norwegian Arctic.”
She then apparently went on to describe to the CP reporter exactly how such a university would be organized, with satellite campuses spread across the region; how it would be open to people from all across the country; how it could be funded out of royalties imposed on mining companies, and so on and so forth. Reading the CP story, one gets the sense that the reporter was at least as baffled as I am. Perhaps next week, the G-G can come to Toronto to urge city council to build more bicycle paths, or the province to buy new streetcars.
Or: why is everyone taking offense at facts that aren’t offensive?
It’s old news, it isn’t bad news, it isn’t anyone’s fault and it isn’t even all that difficult to deal with — and yet each and every mention of Canada’s doctor shortage causes a certain number of Canadians to start crying “discrimination!”
The facts, which Maclean’s made a cover a story a year and a half ago (and which the predecessor to this website first mentioned several months earlier) are as follows: female doctors tend to work fewer hours than the physicians of a previous generation, and fewer hours too than their male counterparts. And given that the majority of the students at Canada’s medical schools are female, and thus the majority of our new doctors are female, and given that all doctors and in particular female doctors work somewhat less than their predecessors, we are experiencing and will continue to experience a doctor shortage. Each average doctor of the future will be able to treat somewhat fewer patients than the average doctor of the past. That’s just a fact. It would appear that it’s easily remedied: all we have to do is increase medical school enrollment and/or increase the number of trained physicians recruited abroad.
This isn’t a crisis. Nobody’s suggesting that women physicians be somehow blamed or punished for the fact that you may be having trouble finding a family doctor or booking an appointment with a specialist; nobody’s calling for female doctors to be ordered to work more. There will be no roundup of women doctors for ritual stoning in the town square. Really. The facts are so banal that they should defy controversy. It’s just basic math: if a hypothetical family doctor can handle a patient roster of 1,000 patients, then a town of 1,000 people needs one family doctor. But if the average family doctor can only cover 500 patients, then we need to double our imaginary town’s physician population. That’s it. That’s all. Everyone take a Valium.
Perhaps if the researchers who first compiled these statistics had declined to be curious about the cause of our physician shortage, and had simply reported that, for reasons unknown and unknowable, today’s young doctors work somewhat less than yesterday’s doctors, we would all have moved on to considering how to address the situation. Maybe that would have been better. Instead, we’re wasting our time feeling wounded and alleging that women are victims of “scapegoating.” It’s depressing. Prescribe a course of treatment and discharge this patient already.
American prof calls for a graduate education revolution in New York Times article. Did he hit the mark?
Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).
That’s the lead of an angry, entertaining opinion piece published in the New York Times a few weeks back by Columbia University religion professor Mark C. Taylor. Taylor opens with a novel take on one problem facing the modern university — one problem that nobody much wants to talk about.
Taylor’s contention is that the university is broken because it turns out too many graduate students for the job market to support — and in any case, the only job these grad student will be qualified for if one in the professoriat, where they will spend a lifetime producing clones of themselves. The author describes an academy marked by increasing specialization and insularity, where disciplines are carved into increasingly small (and irrelevant) subdisciplines, producing work that no one will read or care about, for the sake of producing work and justifying one’s existence. As an example, he cites a colleague proudly informing him that his best Ph.D. student is doing a dissertation on the use of footnotes by the medieval theologian Duns Scotus.
There’s been push back against Taylor’s proposals, including this response in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (for what it’s worth, the comments following this article, in which various posters join the debate, is better value than the article itself.). One could also argue that Taylor’s critique may be less relevant in fields such as medicine where increasingly narrow research specializations may be necessary for scientific progress.
Should we change graduate schools as Taylor proposes? Should we at least experiment with different models? Good questions, particularly given that nearly every university in Canada has made it part of its core mission to increase the number of graduate students enrolled, and the university sector as well as various governments (notably Ontario) have agreed to fund substantial increases in the number of Master’s and Ph.D.’s produced.