Today’s students keep strict boundaries with the strangers with whom they share the rent
When Logan Nash decided to move in with three other male students in second-year university, he imagined it would be like Joey Tribbiani’s apartment on Friends—everybody hanging around, sharing pizza and beer, playing air hockey and being, well, friendly.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Instead, the 22-year-old graphic design student found himself living in a quiet two-bedroom with only one roommate (the other two students having opted at the last minute to live at home with their parents for financial reasons). Instead of hanging around shooting the breeze and cooking spaghetti with meatballs, he and his roommate opted to live separate lives. His roommate had a severe nut allergy so food was strictly divided. The same went for toiletries. They split up the cleaning duties, conducted separate social lives and even organized their class schedules so they wouldn’t have to be in the apartment at the same time. “We were in the same program so it seemed better if we didn’t hang out together too much,” he says. “So most of the time we just did our own thing. The purpose of living together wasn’t for company, it was for each one to pay our half of the rent.”
Nash’s experience is not unusual. Many students today opt to live with people they’ve only recently met online, a situation that encourages social boundaries. More than any generation before them, today’s students are accustomed to personalized entertainment—TV shows and movies are downloaded onto phones and laptops, boom boxes have given way to iPods and noise-reduction headphones, texting is the new talking. Add this to the fact that more and more students come from fragmented families where communal activities like family dinners or en masse holidays are infrequent at best, and it’s not surprising student life is following suit.
While campus movies like Animal House and The Perfect Score might perpetuate the notion that university house-sharing is one long potluck or keg party, do not be fooled: most students these days are leading independent lives off campus—and for the most part, they like it that way.
“With the rise of capitalism we began to focus more on the individual than on the collective,” says Oonagh O’Hagan, author of the book I Lick My Cheese: And Other Notes From the Frontline of Flatsharing. “The result is that most of us go through a period of our lives where we end up living with strangers. Knowing how to deal with that is a real test of character.” O’Hagan’s book explores the comical side of roommate alienation through comic passive aggression. (“I pay rent, what do you do?” reads one. Another: “Dear Lakey, the zoo called, they’d like you back by 8 a.m.”) The goal, of course, is not to get to the point of deranged note-writing, and O’Hagan says having clear boundaries between roommates—both socially and chore-related—is a good place to start.
“I have some roommates who’ve become good friends but it’s very rare,” she says. “In the end, the experience of living with other people makes you more durable. You realize who your real friends are and that you don’t have to be friends with everyone all the time.”
But as students abandon for good the communal living ideals espoused in Plato’s Republic, is something greater being lost? In a recent column for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd bemoaned the advent of Facebook applications like RoomBug or the site URoomSurf.com, where university students now proﬁle prospective roommates according to personal hygiene and politics instead of choosing from the people they randomly happen to know. The rise of such sites, says Dowd, is indicative of a student culture that fears the conflict and social quagmires that invariably ensue from sharing our lives—and beer stash—with a bunch of complete strangers. “As you leave behind high school to redefine and even reinvent yourself as adult, you need exposure to an array of different ideas, backgrounds and perspectives—not a cordon of clones,” she writes.
But respecting social boundaries doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t pal around. Take Maggie Giles, 21, a media studies student in her fourth year at the University of Western Ontario. When she and her best friend decided to move in with another student in second year, they initially tried to share everything—chipping in for groceries, cooking meals, leaving the dishes until they could do a big group cleanup. But as they settled into campus life, that changed. “We’re still good friends but we realized it’s not necessary to do everything together,” she says. “We’ve definitely slowed down on that front.”
These days, Giles and her roomies keep their food stores separate—hoarding snack food like cookies and chips (what Giles describes as “easy grab” items that are vulnerable to roommate thievery) in their own rooms for safekeeping. They have separate toiletries and distinct social lives. As for chores, they now realize the best way to keep a student house clean is to have a “leave it the way you found it” policy, especially when it comes to dishes. “You have to realize you’re living with two other people and they may not take kindly to the level of grunge you’re comfortable with,” she says.
Christiane Orsini, a veterinary sciences graduate student at the University of Guelph, describes a similarly arm’s-length relationship with her housemates. She lives in a large split-level house with three women on the main floor and male students in the basement. They keep their food on assigned shelves, share a very crowded fridge and freezer, cook and socialize separately, and never have big parties. “We get along fairly well, but mostly we keep to our own busy schedules,” she says.
It’s quite common for students to want less of a less communal living experience as their university life progresses, says Darren Vanecko, president of Places4Students.com, a St. Catharines, Ont.-based Web directory that has taken over nearly half of the university housing directories in Canada (its clients include Dalhousie, U of T, University of Windsor and Saint Mary’s University, as well as many U.S. campuses). Students these days, he says, expect more from their living spaces in terms of amenities—separate fridges, bathrooms, or cleaning services built into the rent are not uncommon requests—and less from the people they live with. Many come to his site to meet roommates, or specifically ask for one-bedroom apartments or living situations in which their privacy will be respected. “Students are asking for more and frankly, in this market they can get it,” he says.
And while it all sounds very grown up, does it mean that housemates don’t have fun together anymore? Absolutely not, says Giles. “We still like to hang out and watch Grey’s Anatomy together every week,” she says. “We just tend to do it with our separate laptops open on our laps at the same time.”
The push to make grads more job-ready may be killing the liberal arts tradition
Ian Collins was almost a cliché. He finished a degree in visual arts at the University of Western Ontario and then spent four years waiting tables. “I was going in for job interviews, but I wouldn’t get the job,” explains the Toronto resident. The deal breaker? “It was always because someone else had real-world experience.” So Collins decided to enrol in a one-year diploma in sport and event marketing at George Brown College because, he says, it had a built-in internship. That led to a job after graduation, and now he’s an account executive at the marketing firm Zoom Media. At 31, Collins has his career on track. “College helped me by getting my foot in the door,” he says.
It’s no wonder students like Collins are looking to college for a different path. Despite the fact that Canada has the second-highest rate of education spending in proportion to our GDP, we’re nearly the worst of the 32 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries when it comes to placing grads in jobs they are qualified for. That’s especially hard to swallow considering the price of education today. With student debt load reaching a record high—nearly $27,000 for university students last year and about half that for college grads—more Canadians than ever before are considering college as a less expensive, more job-oriented alternative to the ivory towers.
Following the trend at universities, college presidents across the country are reporting increased enrolment since the recession. While Statistics Canada does not have recent numbers for the colleges, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges expects enrolment levels to be at an all-time high this year.
Converts like Collins are not the only ones praising the college alternative these days. Bill Green, chairman and CEO of the $21.6-billion consulting firm Accenture, is an outspoken advocate of community colleges. The greatest proof of his commitment: he convinced his 21-year-old son David to go to Dean, a community college in Massachusetts, instead of one of America’s elite private universities. “I believe many people who attend universities might be better served attending a community college to get started,” says Green, also a Dean graduate. “Colleges have been overlooked, undervalued and underappreciated for far too long.”
In the U.S., community colleges are seen as a panacea for the country’s economic woes: President Barack Obama and second lady Jill Biden held the first-ever White House summit on community colleges in October. International foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also pledged millions of dollars to community colleges.
Even those on the inside of the ivory towers advise students to consider their options. Laura Penny, a professor at Mount Saint Vincent in Halifax and author of More Money Than Brains, an acerbic tome about higher education today, says university is too often seen as the default after high school. “People who want a broad experience or who are going to qualify for medicine, law or graduate degrees should go to university.”
Everyone else, she says, should look elsewhere. “I think a lot of people who go to university would be much happier in community college, and less indebted. Especially if what they are looking for is the credential for a job. A university degree does not guarantee a job.”
Ashley Pelletier took the college route after high school. Now, at 24, she has already landed a job as an associate at a big accounting firm in Toronto. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in high school, and going to college didn’t require all the specific courses that are required for university.” She applied to a variety of programs at Seneca College and settled on accounting.
There, she found small class sizes, helpful teachers and lots of guidance for her career. “You get to know your profs and all of them had relevant industry experience,” she explains. “University is totally theoretical, whereas the professors at college are more practical.” While in college, she worked at RBC Dexia, and then translated her accounting and ﬁnance diploma into an accounting degree at York University. She sees her three years at Seneca as a bridge to her career. “It was a long haul but I don’t think I would have done as well at university if I didn’t start at college.”
Pelletier’s experience—capping a college diploma with a university degree—is also indicative of the increasingly porous border between colleges and universities. Seneca College president David Agnew says colleges and universities used to have distinct purposes, but “now, that’s completely changed.”
The generation now entering university is the most anxious since the 1930s
By the time Victoria Ciciretto left her family’s home in Kleinburg, Ont., to live and study at the University of Toronto, the 18-year-old was already a seasoned world traveller. “I’d gone away for a month in Europe for summer school in Grade 10,” she says. “I took a Grade 12 course in Greece,” she adds. “And the year before last, I studied English in England.”
Presumably, moving 40 km away from home would be easy, but instead the arts and science student was filled with anxiety. “For my first week, I was like, ‘Oh my god, why would people say this is the most amazing time of your life?’ ”
She was nervous about living in a dorm, about classes and homework, about what major to choose and if she would make friends. There was a reason she could handle summers overseas, but was scared of university. “I had really good friends with me when I went travelling,” she says. “When I went to university, I didn’t know anybody.”
Ciciretto’s concerns are not unusual. For some, anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and loneliness. For others, it’s a serious mental health issue—one that afflicts university-aged students more than any other age group.
Statistics Canada’s 2006 Community Health Survey of Mental Health and Well-being revealed that people aged 15 to 24 are most likely to experience anxiety disorders, with 6.5 per cent reporting an anxiety disorder in the past year. Studies in Canada and the U.S. have also shown that about 30 per cent of post-secondary students suffer from a mental health or substance abuse issue, compared to 18 per cent of the general population. Researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found today’s college students suffer from anxiety and depression at a higher rate than every generation since the 1930s.
Why all this stress during what’s supposed to be the most exciting time of life? Michael Van Ameringen, a professor in the department of psychiatry at McMaster University, explains that it may be timing. The co-director of the anxiety disorders clinic on campus since 1985 says students are at the peak age of susceptibility. “The university cohort is entering the age of risk for onset of psychological disorders,” he says. The first episodes of clinical depression, panic disorders and generalized anxiety typically manifest in the late teens or early twenties. That risk, paired with normal stress about the whole university or college experience, makes it the most vulnerable time.
Novelist Patricia Pearson swam through her undergraduate degree in her hometown of Toronto, but generalized anxiety disorder hit her during grad school, when she found herself alone in Chicago at the age of 23. In her book, A Brief History of Anxiety: Yours and Mine, she concludes that anxiety is more often a product of culture and circumstance (like loneliness) than something written in our biology. “There is data on the fact that in a country like Mexico, where there’s less onus on the individual and it’s more collective, anxiety doesn’t last as long,” she says.
The Mexican example and other cross-national psychological literature revealed that tight-knit communities with collective rituals in place—say churchgoing or fiestas—tended to be healthier. “You don’t feel as isolated and you don’t feel like it’s all about you,” she says. But university, Pearson points out, is often all about you; it’s a period of isolation from social supports.
In Generation Me, Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, attributes anxiety to the individualism that characterizes the group born after the 1970s and she links it to unrealistic optimism. Yes, according to Twenge, there is such a thing as too much optimism: young people (“Generation Me”) have been brought up with unrealistic expectations about how their lives will turn out. “When things don’t happen the way they expect, they can hit anxiety and depression,” she says.
In other words, they have less access to the traditional social connections that promote mental health, such as closeness to family, stable relationships and a strong sense of community, so they’re more likely to experience anxiety disorders. If anxiety becomes disruptive, Twenge suggests students should pay a visit to the university counselling service, or talk to elders who have life experience. “But these rough periods can be a learning experience, too,” she says. “Things don’t have to be perfect all the time.”
Students defy the laws of physics—just to prove their school is better than yours
The quintessential university prank comprises two elements: first, the feat should be technically ambitious. In the words of the legendary pranksters at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), exemplary stunts require “making possible the improbable.” Since MIT students coaxed a live cow onto the roof of a dorm in 1928, engineering students across the continent have made cars, telephone booths and even full-sized sailboats appear in the most unlikely places.
Second, a good dose of competitiveness—sometimes bordering on vindictiveness—is the hallmark of a quality hoax. A famous example: at the annual Yale-Harvard football game in 2004, Yale students, disguised as the fictional “Harvard pep squad,” distributed white-and-red placards to 1,800 unsuspecting Harvard fans. The fans were told that when they lifted the placards, they would read, “Go Harvard.” They actually spelled, “We suck.”
While the foundation of the pranking tradition can be fairly claimed by American students, Canadian students have begun to challenge their pre-eminence as tricksters.
When the morning light began to filter through thick fog in San Francisco on Feb. 5, 2001, viewers at Vista Point on the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge spotted an unexpected sight: hanging from the bridge, some 10 stories above the water, was a Volkswagen Beetle. The stunt, attributed to anonymous engineering students from the University of British Columbia, caused traffic jams and stopped boats from passing beneath the bridge for hours.
The feat commemorated the 20th anniversary of the first VW Bug prank, when UBC engineers hung a car off Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge to celebrate the skills of engineers and tradespeople who build bridges. The tradition recently spread to UBC’s satellite campus in Kelowna, B.C. In February 2010, a giant red fibreglass “E” (for engineering) was hung from a bridge that spans Okanagan Lake.
The bridge escapades are, of course, a variation of the earliest type of prank pioneered at MIT—the elaborate installation. In 2009, a secretive club called the Brute Force Committee, made up of engineers at the University of Toronto, honoured their predecessors by rebuilding a monument—a huge sword in the stone some 12 feet tall—that once stood on campus as a symbol of the faculty of engineering. The nocturnal unveiling of the sword, led by a student wearing a black mask and cape embroidered with the committee’s crest, involved lighting the sword on fire.
For all their efforts devoted to making the improbable magically appear, university pranksters are also preoccupied with making objects mysteriously disappear. In 1978, after much planning, a trio of enterprising engineers from UBC broke into the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, entered the assembly chamber, and stole the Speaker’s chair.
Engineering tricksters have not only vented their larcenous urges on inanimate objects. UBC engineers were at various times rumoured to have kidnapped former prime minister Kim Campbell and former Maclean’s columnist Allan Fotheringham.
In 1967, a group of female dorm-mates at Dalhousie University actually nabbed folksinger Gordon Lightfoot, releasing him only after receiving a ransom of canned food for charity.
Hostilities between faculties and universities often enter the equation when pranking. One snowy night in March 2006, members of U of T’s Brute Force Committee stealthily constructed a five-metre-long Trojan Horse in the central square of the McMaster University campus. McMaster’s engineers re-gifted the horse to the University of Guelph, and Guelph returned the favour with a huge fabric griffin, their mascot. McMaster intended to return what they referred to as a “duck” after “toasting” it, but the structure proved flammable.
In recent years, some of the most creative practical jokes haven’t been performed by engineers, but consisted instead of a large group of seemingly unconnected people suddenly congregating to perform an unexpected act: the so-called “flash mob.”
That includes one of 2010’s biggest pranks, which was organized by University of Victoria psychology student Shawn Slavin. Nearly 1,000 people showed up on campus at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday in September to participate in a giant “lip dub” (a music video of people lip-synching) of Michael Bublé’s Haven’t Met You Yet. UVic gets points for competitiveness, too, as the video was essentially a response to another lip dub recorded by a Spanish university also called “UVic”. Rivalries and displays of engineering genius aside, Slavin’s motivation for coordinating the event speaks to what is perhaps the one commonality underlying all of these pranks: “We wanted to get a whole bunch of people to do something—just for the hell of it.”
Satellite campuses abroad aren’t just offering degrees, they’re selling our values
The new campus of the University of Waterloo has lots of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Iranian students, but none from Ontario. You’ll see more hijabs than Flames jerseys at the University of Calgary’s new nursing school. That’s because both schools are in the Middle East—and they aren’t meant for Canadians.
Waterloo’s new campus in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Calgary’s three-year-old nursing school in Doha, Qatar, reflect a new strategy by Canadian universities to recruit bright students, train professors, and build connections throughout the world. These new campuses aren’t just small universities either. They’re mini diplomatic missions. If you ask Amit Chakma, president of the University of Western Ontario, they’re also the key to Canada’s future place in the world.
Under the leadership of Canada’s new Governor General, David Johnston (who was president of the University of Waterloo at the time), Chakma helped oversee the development of the new Dubai campus of Waterloo before moving into the president’s chair at Western. He’s not shy about his ambitions for the school. “The British education system of the 19th century, particularly Oxford, Cambridge and the London School of Economics, influenced the rest of the world,” says Chakma. “It produced leaders like Gandhi, who then took what they learned back to their home countries. Turn the clock forward and you don’t influence the world through your economic or military power, but through your people, ideas and connectivity. At the end of the day, it’s the people who build the country’s bridges,” he explains. In other words, the campuses will help Canadian ideas—and Canadian values—spread through the new relationships they foster. “Think of the difficulties we’re having between the Islamic world and the Western world,” he says. “Why wouldn’t we be offering opportunities of a modern, liberal, Western education for those in Dubai who want to take advantage of it?”
The first two years of Waterloo U.A.E.’s programs (which include chemical and civil engineering, financial analysis and information technology management) are taught by Waterloo professors, who build connections with businesses and potential research partners during their residencies in Dubai. The students, many of them sons and daughters of foreigners working in the Middle East, will spend the final two years on campus in Waterloo, where they build connections with Canadian students and professors. After four years, they earn a coveted Canadian degree.
The Waterloo graduates then make good candidates for admission as immigrants under the new Canadian Experience Class, an immigration scheme that allows foreigners who have studied here to fast-track their residency, so long as they’re employed in the year after graduation. If they don’t choose to stay in Canada, they will take their well-travelling Canadian degree and spread the good word about Canada abroad. “What happens when someone gets a degree from Canada is the person retains their link to Canada all their life,” explains Leo Rothenburg, vice-president, international at Waterloo. “We call them ambassadors.” One day, there will be as many as 3,000 such ambassadors graduating every year.
Calgary’s nursing school offers students from around the world the opportunity to earn a Canadian degree in the Middle East. (Unlike Waterloo’s program, they spend the entire four years in Qatar.) Gail Fredrickson, acting public affairs director for the University of Calgary Qatar, says her school is helping Canada’s image in a region “of growing importance.” She says that Qatar’s people are fascinated by Canada. Case in point: two nursing students who travelled to Calgary were profiled by the local newspaper when they returned. “It was big news in Qatar!” says Fredrickson.
The Canadian branch campuses aren’t just in the Middle East. Since 2005, the University of Waterloo has partnered with Nanjing University to offer the University of Waterloo environmental engineering program. Chinese students spend two years in China before arriving at Waterloo. Once in Canada, the students are offered classes where they brush up on their English while learning everything from how to navigate Canadian grocery shops to how to use the local bus system. Graduates of the program earn both a Chinese and a Canadian degree. After that, about 50 per cent stay in Canada for graduate work. Some stay permanently.
Unlike the many lucrative graduate programs Canadian schools have set up overseas, these undergraduate campuses are not money-making schemes. Waterloo says they have not turned a profit in the U.A.E.—nor is that their goal. Waterloo hopes to profit in a non-monetary sense by providing its Canadian undergrads with the opportunity to study in foreign countries, while still learning from Canadian professors. So far, the school has only provided a few co-op students with experience in China and Dubai. But next year, Waterloo will offer engineering students the option to spend six four to six weeks in Nanjing.
According to Leo Rothenburg, Waterloo has already profited in another way from the bridges it’s building overseas. Waterloo professor Lei Xu was able to develop a new low-cost steel-frame structure that can withstand earthquakes after meeting new research partners on the other side of the Pacific in 2005. After the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 killed upwards of 69,000 people, the Chinese government asked him to help make new cities safer. “Research that happened in Waterloo is being applied to a make houses safer in China,” explains a proud Rothenburg. “That wouldn’t have happened without these relationships.”
Waterloo is getting noticed, too. “I once chatted with a gentlemen in the lounge of Beijing airport who was an official from the Housing Ministry,” says Rothenburg, who gave the man a business card. “He knew Waterloo—because he knew about [Xu’s] work.”
Photo: These engineering students will come to Canada to finish their degrees
Student unions pour money into political causes that many members don’t even know about, let alone support
The story made headlines everywhere: it was Feb. 11, 2009, and Daniel Ferman was a member of Drop YFS, a group dedicated to overthrowing the York Federation of Students. Drop YFS was presenting a petition with 5,000 signatures—enough to stage a coup of sorts. They were protesting the student union’s support for a teachers’ strike, which would potentially leave students on the hook for missed class time. They were also against the union backing the Israeli Apartheid Week, which many pro-Israel students despised. As the press conference began, Ferman and his fellow Drop YFS members were faced with a crush of student union members who came in to denounce the petition rally. After a volley of shouting, the crowd moved to the Hillel student lounge where some of the Drop YFS members took refuge. “Students were barricaded in the lounge,” says Ferman, who was Hillel @ York’s president at the time and helped organize the Drop YFS effort. “It got very nasty. Police were called. There were racist slurs.”
Students like Ferman don’t think it’s the student government’s role to take sides on political issues. “I think students have every right to speak up when they feel student dollars are promoting hate and a toxic atmosphere on campus,” says Ferman. Since the 1980s, student unions have been growing in power. They take money from undergraduates every year, which is charged separate from but alongside tuition, and they’re supposed to work for students. Some of that cash funds services, such as health and dental coverage, and student athletics. But much of it goes to advocacy and clubs students may find offensive. “They’d taken very controversial stances on what to fund in pro-life versus pro-choice issues, on Tamil issues going on in Sri Lanka. On every worldwide issue, they’d taken a position,” Ferman says of the YFS, which operates with a $2-million budget. They rarely take the position he would take.
The Canadian Federation of Students—an umbrella organization for student unions—has been heavily criticized for rash advocacy using student funds. The national organization, with its provincial subsidiaries, lobbies on behalf of 600,000 student members across Canada. These “members,” who automatically gain that status if their student union is a member organization, each pay $4.01 per semester to the CFS. In 2010, that came to $3.7 million in membership fee revenue—money used to fund the not-for-profit’s advocacy work. Students also pay an average of $4 per semester to be members of their provincial CFS. That’s before student union fees, which average out at around $30 per student, depending on the school. CFS national chairperson David Molenhuis acknowledges that some of the national campaigns, such as its current effort to fight the Canadian Blood Services’ decision to ban gay men from donating blood, are hot issues—but he doesn’t think they’re controversial. “They attempt to address head-on issues that perhaps college and university administrators don’t feel comfortable addressing,” he says. Some students also feel uncomfortable with their fees going to such politically sensitive issues.
For example, last June, the CFS wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty joining the cry for a public inquiry into the “unprecedented curtailment of civil liberties” that took place at the G20. “The federation stands up for the rights of students to participate and to assemble publicly and to participate in demonstrations,” said the letter. “We defend the rights of students to mobilize in public, and the G20 is no exception.”
Some students at the University of Ottawa were upset to learn that not only does the CFS take a political stand on the G20, their own student union spent at least $1,000 to rent a coach bus to shuttle about 50 protesters to Toronto during the G20. Student Peter Flynn, who also heads up the University of Ottawa Campus Conservatives, blasted the expenditure as a “blatant misuse” of student fees. “I highly doubt that every single student who has to pay those fees would be happy to know their money was being spent to send a few individuals to protest for the weekend,” Flynn told the Ottawa Citizen.
York student Gregory Kay was also irked by his student union’s support for G20 protests. The YFS and the student union at the University of Toronto co-sponsored “Toronto vs. the G20: a teach-in.” Class included Black Bloc tactics, which ended up seeing storefronts and public property smashed during the summit in downtown Toronto. “That’s something most students don’t believe in at all,” says Kay, who is the business representative for the YFS board of directors. “Most students aren’t anti-capitalist. They’re not interested in civil disobedience.”
Of course, if students are unhappy with their student government, they aren’t doing much to change it. While voter turnout tends to be higher when contentious issues can be resolved with a ballot, the average voter turnout sits at between 25 and 30 per cent. Many students see student government as too divisive—or too inflexible—to even bother running. Ferman, for one, considered running for a seat on the executive in 2009, but couldn’t put his academic career on hold for a year as the bylaws dictate. He ran for—and won—a seat on the board of directors instead.
“It’s an interesting dichotomy—that the student president isn’t even a student,” he says. “There are lots of inherent problems with the organization, but the lack of flexibility is a major one.” In late August 2010, the university’s ombudsman released a report saying the student union’s electoral process needed a massive makeover, making recommendations Ferman believes might one day legitimize the organization. “Now the onus is on the student federation to take some of these recommendations to heart.”
Photo: Christinne Muschi/Reuters
FESCHUK: A few words of advice from a man who spent six years in school, for a four-year degree
It’s never made any sense that universities invite prominent people to deliver commencement addresses to graduates. Graduates don’t need advice. They’ve just spent four years acquiring wisdom, knowledge and a prestigious degree. A career at Starbucks is practically theirs for the taking.
The people who need guidance are the nervous high school students preparing to make the leap to a post-secondary institution. I therefore offer this “premencement” address to the class of 2015 . . .
Future graduates and assorted dropouts, cast-offs, washouts and Internet millionaires: you may think I can’t relate to you because I’m over 40. Poppycock and horsefeathers! I daresay you rapscallions and I share the commonality of affixing our knickerbockers one limb tube at a time.
Besides, so much about university life is eternal. The commitment to self-improvement. The reverence for the classics of literature. The godawful cafeteria food. For generations now, students have been asking, “Who was this Salisbury fellow and why are the steaks of him so tough and tasteless?”
Permit me to give you some dos and don’ts from my own personal experience. Pay keen attention—it’s not every day you get guidance from a person who spent six whole years at the University of Western Ontario . . . for which he ultimately received a four-year degree.
DO avoid early classes, especially the ones that begin at 8 o’clock in the morning—or any of the other o’clocks in the morning. I’m not saying I rarely made it to my 8 a.m. political science lecture, but to this day I believe political science involves the dissection of elected officials.
DON’T start a popular website in a fit of misogynistic rage or it will become the centrepiece of a major motion picture that makes the entire world think you’re a colossal douche. (Technically, I learned this not in school but by seeing The Social Network—still, it seems like a pretty important “don’t.”)
If possible, DO live in residence for your first year. Residence life will provide at least half your overall university enjoyment, 75 per cent of your hangovers and 100 per cent of your bedbug scars. Plus, it makes stalking incredibly convenient.
DON’T bring huge piles of sand into your dorm room for a beach party. It sounds like a good idea—but the sand is hard to get rid of, especially when you don’t try to get rid of it and you just leave it there.
DO push the academic boundaries. I developed the ability to take a friend’s eight-page essay and, without adding any words, turn it into it a 12-page essay—with no obvious signs of padding like huge fonts, wide margins or entire Led Zeppelin songs passed off as relevant quotations. I was kind of like the Harvey Keitel character in Pulp Fiction, except instead of murders I helped “clean up” academic lethargy. And that one murder.
DON’T agree to live with just anyone. Your roommates will see you at your worst, assuming they can crane their necks around the six-foot stack of dishes and glasses and—wait, did something just move in there?
In one important way, times have changed since I was in school. In the ’80s and early ’90s, we could get stinking drunk and blindingly stupid in the privacy of our own throw-up. Not anymore. Had I been born 20 years later, I’d be the unwilling star of a Facebook group entitled Drunken Spandau Ballet Impersonation Fail.
So by all means DO wear a balaclava. Wear it when you go out drinking. Wear it when you stay home drinking. Wear it when you engage in other youthful nonsense like cutting class or voting NDP. The most important thing you can get out of your university experience is an education. The next most important thing? Plausible deniability.
Class of 2015: university is an undertaking you will remember for the rest of your life, especially on weekends when you’re doing community service for that indecent exposure conviction.
Never forget that you have worked for this. You have studied for this. Many of you have cheated off the Internet for this.
One final don’t: DON’T hurry. You are entering a bubble of personal freedom, attractive people and Red Bull. Enjoy it. And don’t worry—we’ll be sure to save all of the world’s problems for you to solve.
Maclean’s has spent 20 years gathering the best numerical data to compare the quality of Canadian schools. It isn’t easy. Here’s how we do it.
Maclean’s places universities in one of three categories, recognizing the differences in types of institutions, levels of research funding, the diversity of offerings, and the range of graduate and professional programs. Primarily Undergraduate universities are largely focused on undergraduate education, with relatively few graduate programs. Those in the Comprehensive category have a significant degree of research activity and a wide range of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including professional degrees. Medical Doctoral universities offer a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research; as well, all universities in this category have medical schools, which sets them apart in terms of the size of research grants.
In each category, Maclean’s ranks the institutions on performance indicators in six broad areas, allocating a weight to each indicator. Primarily Undergraduate and Comprehensive universities are ranked on 13 performance measures; Medical Doctoral universities are ranked on 14. Figures include data from all federated and affiliated institutions. The magazine
does not rank schools with fewer than 1,000 full-time students, those that are restrictive due to a religious or specialized mission, newly designated universities or those that are not members of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).
The rankings are based on the most recent and publicly available data. Statistics Canada provides student and faculty numbers, as well as data for total research income and all five financial indicators: operating budget, spending on student services, scholarships and bursaries, library expenses and acquisitions. Financial figures are for fiscal year 2008-2009; student and faculty numbers are for 2008. Data for the social sciences and humanities research grants indicator and the medical/science research grants indicator are for fiscal year 2009-2010 and obtained directly from the three major federal granting agencies: the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The Canadian Association of Research Libraries provides figures used for the library holdings indicators; the numbers used for this year’s calculations are for 2008. In addition, Maclean’s collects information on dozens of student and faculty awards from 46 administering agencies, and sends more than 11,000 reputational surveys to university officials at each ranked institution, high school principals and guidance counsellors, CEOs, recruiters and the heads of a wide variety of national and regional organizations.
Maclean’s weights the rankings as follows:
STUDENTS & CLASSES (20 per cent of final score) Maclean’s collects data on the success of the student body at winning national academic awards (weighted 10 per cent) over the previous five years. The list covers 40 fellowship and prize programs, encompassing more than 18,000 individual awards from 2005 through 2009. The count includes such prestigious awards as the Rhodes scholarships and the Fulbright awards, as well as scholarships from professional associations and the three federal granting agencies. Each university’s total of student awards is divided by its number of full-time students, yielding a count of awards relative to each institution’s size.
To gauge students’ access to professors, Maclean’s also measures the number of full-time-equivalent students per full-time faculty member (10 per cent). This student-faculty ratio includes all students, graduate as well as undergraduate.
FACULTY (20 per cent) In assessing the calibre of faculty, Maclean’s calculates the number who have won major national awards over the past five years, including the distinguished Killam, Molson and Steacie prizes, the Royal Society of Canada awards, the 3M Teaching Fellowships and nearly 40 other award programs covering a total of 848 individual awards (eight per cent). To scale for institution size, the award count for each university is divided by each school’s number of full-time faculty.
In addition, the magazine measures the success of faculty in securing research grants from SSHRC, NSERC and CIHR. Maclean’s takes into account both the number and the dollar value received in the previous year, and divides the totals by each institution’s full-time faculty count. Research grants are reported by how many are awarded to the primary investigator on a project. Social sciences and humanities grants (six per cent) and medical/science grants (six per cent) are tallied as separate indicators.
RESOURCES (12 per cent) This section examines the amount of money available for current expenses per weighted full-time-equivalent student (six per cent). Students are weighted according to their level of study—bachelor, master’s or doctorate—and their program of study.
To broaden the scope of the research picture, Maclean’s also measures total research dollars (six per cent). This figure, calculated relative to the size of each institution’s full-time faculty, includes income from sponsored research, such as grants and contracts, federal, provincial and foreign government funding, and funding from non-governmental organizations.
STUDENT SUPPORT (13 per cent) To evaluate the assistance available to students, Maclean’s examines the percentage of the budget spent on student services (6.5 per cent) as well as scholarships and bursaries (6.5 per cent). Expenditures are measured as they are reported to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.
Who has bragging rights? Where should you apply? Our annual exclusive has the answers.
Maclean’s marks schools the same way your intro psych professor will mark you. We assess universities on several key skills and then weigh them to find out who is top of the class. The 49 universities we rank are placed into one of three categories to recognize the differences in levels of research funding, the diversity of offerings, and the range of graduate and professional programs.
To Sign Up and view our Full 2010 Rankings data for each of our three main catergories, click here. For our complete 20th Anniversary edition of the Rankings, pick up a copy on newsstands now.
Medical Doctoral universities offer a broad range of Ph.D. programs and research; all institutions in this category have medical schools.
* Indicates a tie
* Indicates a tie
Primarily Undergraduate universities are largely focused on undergraduate education, with relatively few graduate programs.
|7||St. Francis Xavier||(4*)|
|19||Mount Saint Vincent||(19*)|
That mysterious substance guidance counsellors call ‘fit’ is not so mysterious anymore.
Deanna Jarvis, the 19-year-old first-year student on our cover, says she knows the University of Guelph is the right place for her. She’s just not sure why. Maybe it’s the gold and red leaves that litter the campus in the fall. She could never live in a concrete jungle, she says. Perhaps it’s that Guelph offers a rare major (adult development, families and wellbeing) that will teach her how to help people. “I just like to listen to friends and help them,” she says. Or maybe it’s that Guelph is a big enough school to keep famous playwrights like Judith Thompson on staff. Jarvis, a parttime actor, is a huge Thompson fan. Whatever the reason, Guelph just seems to fit.
Parents, students, university presidents and even education marketers are trying to nail down exactly what makes a school fit. Traditionally, school size and city size were the shorthand for determining where a particular student should go. Big schools offer more cultural opportunities; tiny schools offer more personal interaction, or so the theory goes. Those rules still apply, but sociologist James Côté, of the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., has found another predictor for what he calls the “goodness of fit.” His research found students do best when their inner motivations match what the environment has to offer.
Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University, agrees that students should look inward to determine the best school for them. “For some students it will be a small, intimate, collegial environment,” says Traves. “For other students, their personalities will be sufficiently expansive and their strength of purpose and needs will be such that going to a small environment will be too much like an extension of high school.”
Côté would agree, but says university officials are not the only people to ask. “You’ll have to do the digging yourself,” he says. Some “universities don’t want to alienate prospective students who aren’t the right fit,” he explains. “Because they’re funded by tuition and the number of bums in seats.”
Assuming they’re not going to university because of parental pressure, most students have one of three motivations, according to Côté: the “personal and intellectual” motivation, the “career and materialism” motivation, or the “humanitarian” motivation.
For the student whose goal is to develop personally and intellectually, a small liberalarts oriented school is best, he says. “A good liberal arts education really requires smaller class sizes, so you can have seminars and contact with faculty,” he explains. “You’ll also be required to do more public speaking and writing. A large school simply can’t do this.” St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, N.S., and Quest University in Squamish, B.C., are examples of schools where students seeking personal and intellectual growth will find it, he says.
Large, reputable schools like McGill and the University of Toronto fit students who are personally and intellectually motivated, says Côté, but be sure “you’re outgoing or able to work on your own.” Students who choose the school primarily for its reputation, says Côté, need to remember that “they may never see any of the profs that make those schools famous.”
The second type of student, the “careeristmaterialist,” is someone who wants a degree mainly for the job and prestige. “The careeristmaterialist might fit at schools that are vocationally oriented,” says Côté. “We’re going that direction at Western,” he says, giving the example of the increasing popularity of degrees like the bachelor of management and organizational studies over the traditional broad B.A.
The third (and more rare) motivation to study is altruism. Côté offers King’s University College (a Western affiliate) as a good fit for the “humanitarianism-motivated” student, because of its social justice focus.
Ken Steele, an education marketing expert, agrees with Côté that universities themselves are unlikely to help you determine fit. Most universities are still trying to be “everything to everyone,” he says. However, he has seen a few encouraging examples of schools that are marketing with “goodness of fit” in mind. “Acadia [in Wolfville, N.S.] actually says it’s not for everyone,” explains Steele. “They want students to know they’re coming to a small town and that’s going to be a shock for some of them.”
William Barker, president of the University of King’s College in Halifax (an even smaller school than Acadia), suggests visiting as many schools as possible, sitting in on lectures, and staying overnight with a friend.
That’s advice Côté wants parents to hear. He says more parents should encourage their offspring to explore far and wide; too often they encourage offspring to choose the closest school to home in order to save money. “You may save a lot financially in the short run, but you will have lost in the long run,” he says. If a person fails at university because it’s the wrong fit, they risk losing millions of dollars in lifetime earnings, he explains—and it’s not a cheap investment. “If parents were forking out this kind of money in the stock market or real estate, they’d look at it much more carefully,” says Côté.
Of course, not everyone can afford to fly around the country to research each school. That’s why Maclean’s asked successful students from four schools exactly what makes their university the right fit for them. Their answers prove just how important it is for future students to ask themselves who they are and why they want a degree. Why? Just ask Côté. “If you don’t develop goals of what you want to get out of university, you potentially squander the most transformative experience of your life.”
With Cameron Ainsworth-Vincze
For 20 years, we have been bringing together parents, presidents, professors and prospective students in a conversation about education
Going to university is like standing on the edge of your life—one of many edges, we later discover. It’s an optimistic moment, especially if you believe Oscar Wilde when he said that the basis of optimism is sheer terror. Students have to figure out not only where to go, but more importantly and subtly, where they belong—the “goodness of fit,” as one of our experts described it. We parents have to stand aside (okay, not too far aside) and let them choose, negotiating our own desires and fears alongside theirs. We hand them off to their professors, who take on the daunting task of literally educating our darlings—roomfuls of ambitious, cocky, nerve-wracked kids—to become the very best and smartest versions of themselves. Meanwhile, we all look to the leaders of our universities, presidents from the University of Victoria to the University of Prince Edward Island, to navigate and define what it means to be an institution of higher learning in Canada in 2010. And while we’re on it, just what is the purpose of a university education today—to expand your mind? Get a job? All in all, it’s a lot to think about.
Which is where Maclean’s comes in. For 20 years, we have been bringing together parents, presidents, professors and prospective students in a conversation about education. This, the 20th anniversary issue of our university rankings, is our biggest and most ambitious edition ever. Our goal is not just to be the most valuable resource in the country—and we are that—but also to personalize the university decision by making it as easy as possible; everything you need to make up your mind is right here in one place. It’s not a cheap decision, either: a four-year degree in Canada now costs about $60,000. On the other hand, university graduates earn an average of 75 per cent more over their lifetime than non-graduates, and have a substantially higher employment rate. Not bad, as investments go.
The same might be said of the decision 20 years ago to launch Maclean’s first-ever rankings issue. “At the time, universities were the most closed, secretive public institutions in the country,” says former Maclean’s editor Kevin Doyle, who created the university rankings. “There was so little information available, parents and students had no idea how to go about selecting a university.
The first rankings, published in October 1991, stirred a public debate and began a process that had a revolutionary impact on the schools themselves, says Doyle, who recently retired as executive director of communications and public affairs at the University of Windsor. “Universities have changed because of this. They’ve come to treat students as clients to be sought after and cultivated.”
Sen. Linda Frum agrees. The subject of this week’s interview and the author of her own guide to universities in 1987, she recalls her university experience. “I attended McGill University in the early ’80s, a period when a hostile separatist government was starving the institution of funds. Back then, the suggestion that the school would one day be rescued by a $750-million fundraising campaign financed by Anglo alumni would have sounded fantastical. The idea of a McGill principal as governor general? Outright delusional. And yet both have happened. The once-battered university has returned gloriously to the centre of Canadian life”—and to the top of our rankings in their category for the sixth year in a row. In the same time period, the annual rankings issue has become Maclean’s most-anticipated single issue of the year and an important franchise in its own right. We like to think that Maclean’s had a role in the emergence of McGill and other universities across the country as leaders in the golden age of university education we now live in.
Which is an optimistic thought, isn’t it? There’s a lot of optimism in this issue, in fact, starting on the cover with the thousand-watt smile of Deanna Jarvis, a student at the University of Guelph. Being a mother myself, with a son in university and a daughter on her way, it’s the mother’s hopes expressed in this issue that I keep thinking about. Johanna Schneller, on the now-commonplace university road trip with her daughter Hayley, writes: “My eyes kept filling with tears, not because I’m hormonally challenged, but because the belief that one should dream as grandly as possible moved me.”
And then there’s Frum, who has nightly dinner-table conversations with her teenage twins about where they’ll choose: “I love my kids, like all moms love their kids, and I’m desperate for them to make the right choice. Although now I know that there are a lot of right choices. You can have a great time in a dozen different places. Even though you only get to choose one, it’s hard to get it spectacularly wrong.” The gleam of the future is in their eyes. Just look at Deanna.
Complete university issue and full Ranking results on newstands Nov 11, 2010.
Worries that efforts in the U.S. to limit enrollment of Asian students in top universities may migrate to Canada
When Alexandra and her friend Rachel, both graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school, were deciding which university to go to, they didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto. “The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian,” explains Alexandra, a second-year student who looks like a girl from an Aritzia billboard. “All the white kids,” she says, “go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.”
Alexandra eventually chose the University of Western Ontario. Her younger brother, now a high school senior deciding where he’d like to go, will head “either east, west or to McGill”—unusual academic options, but in keeping with what he wants from his university experience. “East would suit him because it’s chill, out west he could be a ski bum,” says Alexandra, who explains her little brother wants to study hard, but is also looking for a good time—which rules out U of T, a school with an academic reputation that can be a bit of a killjoy.
Or, as Alexandra puts it—she asked that her real name not be used in this article, and broached the topic of race at universities hesitantly—a “reputation of being Asian.”
Discussing the role that race plays in the self-selecting communities that more and more characterize university campuses makes many people uncomfortable. Still, an “Asian” school has come to mean one that is so academically focused that some students feel they can no longer compete or have fun. Indeed, Rachel, Alexandra and her brother belong to a growing cohort of student that’s eschewing some big-name schools over perceptions that they’re “too Asian.” It’s a term being used in some U.S. academic circles to describe a phenomenon that’s become such a cause for concern to university admissions officers and high school guidance counsellors that several elite universities to the south have faced scandals in recent years over limiting Asian applicants and keeping the numbers of white students artificially high.
Although university administrators here are loath to discuss the issue, students talk about it all the time. “Too Asian” is not about racism, say students like Alexandra: many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they’re not willing to make. They complain that they can’t compete for spots in the best schools and can’t party as much as they’d like (too bad for them, most will say). Asian kids, meanwhile, say they are resented for taking the spots of white kids. “At graduation a Canadian—i.e. ‘white’—mother told me that I’m the reason her son didn’t get a space in university and that all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots,” says Frankie Mao, a 22-year-old arts student at the University of British Columbia. “I knew it was wrong, being generalized in this category,” says Mao, “but f–k, I worked hard for it.”
That Asian students work harder is a fact born out by hard data. They tend to be strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university. Stephen Hsu, a physics prof at the University of Oregon who has written about the often subtle forms of discrimination faced by Asian-American university applicants, describes them as doing “disproportionately well—they tend to have high SAT scores, good grades in high school, and a lot of them really want to go to top universities.” In Canada, say Canadian high school guidance counsellors, that means the top-tier post-secondary institutions with international profiles specializing in math, science and business: U of T, UBC and the University of Waterloo. White students, by contrast, are more likely to choose universities and build their school lives around social interaction, athletics and self-actualization—and, yes, alcohol. When the two styles collide, the result is separation rather than integration.
The dilemma is this: Canadian institutions operate as pure meritocracies when it comes to admissions, and admirably so. Privately, however, many in the education community worry that universities risk becoming too skewed one way, changing campus life—a debate that’s been more or less out in the open in the U.S. for years but remains muted here. And that puts Canadian universities in a quandary. If they openly address the issue of race they expose themselves to criticisms that they are proﬁling and committing an injustice. If they don’t, Canada’s universities, far from the cultural mosaics they’re supposed to be—oases of dialogue, mutual understanding and diversity—risk becoming places of many solitudes, deserts of non-communication. It’s a tough question to have to think about.
*This article was originally titled “‘Too Asian’?” For our response to the controversy it has generated, click here.
The FT’s E.M.B.A. evaluation looks at a variety of performance measures for each school
Similar to the Financial Times’ regular M.B.A. rankings, the FT’s E.M.B.A. evaluation looks at a variety of performance measures for each school: the career progress of students, faculty quality and the diversity (female and international) of both faculty and students.
Executive M.B.A. programs normally allow their participants to remain at their jobs, pursuing the degree part-time
Targeted at people who already have a career but want to take it to the next level by earning an advanced degree, executive M.B.A. programs normally allow their participants to remain at their jobs, pursuing the degree part-time. Tuition, often covered by employers, is generally high.
Information is for the 2010-2011 academic year. **Tuition differs for international students: $44,025 at Guelph; $39,874 at UPEI; $36,000 at Regina; $53,975 at Royal Roads. UQAM program open to Canadian residents only (tuition higher for out-of-province students).
Source: Canadian universities
Canadian schools didn’t crack the top 20 in either of the Financial Times’ rankings, but York (Schulich) placed first on the alternative Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey
Beyond Grey Pinstripes M.B.A.
Beyond Grey Pinstripes is an alternative ranking of business schools, conducted every two years by the Aspen Institute’s Center for Business Education. The ranking assesses the degree to which leading M.B.A. programs integrate issues concerning social and environmental stewardship into the curriculum.
Plus, average GPA and test scores and which schools require the MCAT
Gaining admission to medical school is a competitive process. In the table below, Success Rate indicates the percentage of applicants who received at least one offer of admission. Note that success rates for in-province applicants are generally higher than for out-of-province, because most medical schools reserve nearly all of their seats for local students. The grade point average (GPA)—or R score in Quebec’s CEGEP system—shows the average for successful applicants. The medical college admission test (MCAT) is a standardized test required for admission at many faculties. CLICK ON CHART TO ENLARGE
Statistics on applicants, admissions and success rates are for 2008-2009. MCAT scores are for students entering in fall 2009. GPA scores are for students entering in 2010, except those flagged with an asterisk, which are from 2009. ††All figures for Queen’s are from 2006-2007. †Includes all Maritime provinces. **Located at Lakehead and Laurentian universities. Note: higher international success rates at some universities may be misleading, given that at some institutions the number includes students who applied for positions available under contract with foreign governments or educational institutions.
Source: Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada; MCAT scores obtained directly from Canadian medical schools.
First-year tuition for academic year 2010-2011
Gaining acceptance to medical school is the first hurdle. The next challenge is paying for it. The figures listed below show first-year tuition for academic year 2010-2011.
Two Canadian tuition figures are listed for schools in Quebec: the first applies for residents of Quebec; the higher figure is charged for students from outside the province. *Tuition for residents of Quebec or New Brunswick.
2009 figures show enrolment continues to increase
The medical schools listed below are sorted by size of enrolment: from the largest, Université de Montréal, to the smallest—and newest—Northern Ontario School of Medicine. These 2009 figures show enrolment continues to increase (up 15 per cent compared to 2006), with women outnumbering men at most institutions.
*Northern Ontario School of Medicine is located at Lakehead and Laurentian universities.
Source: Office of Research and Information Services, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada
Undergraduate enrolment for women is less than 25 per cent almost across the board
Undergraduate enrolment at Canadian engineering schools ranges from a few dozen students to more than 4,000 at Waterloo and Toronto. As these 2009 figures show, the number of female students remains low: less than 25 per cent at all but a handful of institutions.
Source: Engineers Canada *2007 figures
Environmental and software numbers are up by roughly half, while mining or mineral enrolment has nearly tripled
Across 13 disciplines, mechanical, electrical and civil continue to be the top draws, but other fields have grown significantly over the past four years. Environmental and software numbers are up by roughly half, while mining or mineral enrolment has nearly tripled.
Source: Engineers Canada