All Posts Tagged With: "AUCC"
New copyright licensing deal won’t help: Jesse Brown
You don’t hear much about the cost of post-secondary education dropping, but here’s one area where students should be spending less money than ever: texts. I’d say textbooks, but that’s just it–the costly hardcover textbook’s day is all but done. Ditto the cumbersome photocopied course pack. A slew of cheap and free options are available to a professor assembling a syllabus.
There’s Open Access, a growing international movement to forego the price-gouging of the academic publishers and publish peer-reviewed scholarly works as freely available material. There’s the ever-expanding public domain. There are millions of high quality essays and articles freely and legitimately posted online. There are affordable subscription-based databases and collections. There’s Google Scholar to sort through it all. And there are fair dealing exceptions to Copyright, which will be extended to educational uses as soon as this summer.
As lectures grow, special classes emerge for the academically-inclined
From the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings—on newsstands now.
It’s the third week of her university career and Maya Helferty, a first-year sociology (soon to be philosophy) major at the University of Guelph, admits that she’s already skipping her women’s studies and sociology classes. “There’s no point to those lectures,” says the Canadian who went to high school in Pennsylvania. “We just go over the same material that’s in the readings.”
Don’t assume she’s a bad student. She excelled at high school, in everything from Greek mythology to advanced calculus. Helferty is skipping lectures precisely because she is a good student. She’s read the material. She doesn’t need to hear it again. Being filled with facts is not why she came to university. She came to ask questions, discuss ideas and be inspired.
AUCC’s new statement needs some editing: Pettigrew
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has released its new statement on academic freedom. I welcome any clear, unambiguous statement saying that limitations to scholarly freedom, by anyone, are intolerable. It’s too bad that’s not what we got.
Although the AUCC proudly notes that the statement was unanimously accepted by university presidents, it must be noted that the views and interests of professors and presidents don’t always align. At many universities (though by no means all), the senior administration is viewed by the professoriate, not as the leader in academic progress, but as the occasional enemy of it.
While there is plenty to like in the AUCC’s statement, its framers have missed an opportunity by introducing numerous qualifications, and language that vaguely—and thus ominously—implies that the freedom of faculty can be subordinated to the will of the administration. Chief among these worrying qualifications are the repeated references to things like institutional “integrity,” “autonomy,” and “mission.” Given that university “missions” are usually dictated by senior administration, these qualifications imply that administrators are happy to give their professors all the freedom that they are comfortable giving them—and no more. That’s not really academic freedom at all.
Now, since it’s that time of year when essays are flooding in, let’s think of this statement as a first draft. In my never-ceasing desire to help universities be better, I’ve provided a copy of the AUCC statement, with edits that I believe could turn this C paper into an A.
Concerns arise over whether the education exception is neutered by digital locks
Proposed amendments to Canada’s arcane Copyright Act has provoked sharp disagreement within the education sector.
Introduced last Wednesday by Industry Minister Tony Clement and Heritage Minister James Moore, the amendments expand rules governing “fair use,” making several exceptions for education.
Under the proposed legislation, the use of copyrighted material in the classroom would be permitted over the internet, allowing students to legally view material during and after class, as well as from remote locations. To illustrate the change, the government has used the example of music students, those in the classroom as well as those studying remotely, to perform protected songs together, if it forms part of a lesson.
Students would also be permitted to print one copy of material delivered electronically by teachers. Other changes include a provision delinking material from “specific technologies” so that protected material that already include exceptions for education may be copied to a variety of formats before being presented to students.
One of the biggest proposed amendments involves the use of recorded broadcasts of current affairs programs, which will no longer have to be paid for. Documentaries, however, are not included in this provision. Another important amendment is permission for librarians to digitize copyrighted material for the purposes of inter-library loans.
The Copyright Act was last updated in 1997 before the advent of many media platforms such as MP3 players. The new legislation proposes to bring the law in line with common activities such as transferring media from one platform to another for personal use.
The legislation also aims to provide creators with new ways to protect their intellectual property. Most controversially, the government will protect the use of technological protection measures, or digital locks. It would become illegal for the locks to be circumvented, even in cases where copying material was permitted by other provisions in the bill.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has given the proposed legislation cautious praise. AUCC president Paul Davidson noted that the bill contains many changes that the university sector suggested during government consultations last summer. He said that the AUCC is “very pleased that the bill amends the fair dealing provision to include the purpose of education.” However, the AUCC has expressed concern regarding the “overly strict prohibition against circumventing the technical measures.”
Similarly, Tina Robichaud, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) said the changes will be “immensely beneficial for students, teachers and institutions.”
Others have found it nearly impossible to applaud expansions to fair use given the protection provided for digital locks. “By imposing a blanket provision against all circumvention, the government will lock down a vast amount of digital material, effectively preventing its use for research, education and innovation, and curtailing the user rights of Canadians,” said David Robinson of the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
The Canadian Federation of Students agrees. “The government has indicated a willingness to compromise. Step one is listening to Canadians and abandoning blanket protections for digital locks,” said national chairperson David Molenhuis.
With no Canadian accreditation body, universities look south of the border for stamp of approval
Simon Fraser University has applied for accreditation from the U.S. quality assurance board Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Being the first large research university in Canada to look south of the border for accreditation, the university’s move highlights the fact that Canada lacks any national mechanism for assuring quality of post-secondary institutions.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) academic planning and budgeting director Glynn Nicholls, who is also accreditation project manager, explained that SFU’s need for accreditation is related to its joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The university became the first non-U.S. school to be a member of the 100-year-old sports organization when it was accepted as a member in July 2009. SFU’s varsity teams will compete in the Great Northern Athletic Conference, which includes Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho.
Yet, member schools of the NCAA must be accredited and Canada offers no national quality assurance process that is comparable to that of the States. Here colleges and universities are approved by provincial governments, which generally do not assess institutions as rigorously as quality assessment bodies like the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NCCU). Since education falls under the provincial government’s jurisdiction, there is no national mechanism to assess institutions, leaving room for much inconsistency across provincial borders. Canada is the only developed country in the world that lacks a national accreditation system for post-secondary schools.
In the absence of an official quality assurance mechanism in Canada, membership in the Association of Colleges and Universities of Canada (AUCC)—a national lobby group representing over 90 universities—has served as de facto accreditation. This had had negative ramifications for some students. In the past decade, provincial governments, particularly in B.C. and Alberta, have given some colleges the right to grant bachelor degrees. However, just because the government in one province approves the right of an institution to grant a degree doesn’t mean that degree will be recognized by universities outside of that province, which can be a problem for students pursuing graduate or professional degrees outside their home province.
Many registrars require that bachelor degrees come from institutions that have membership in the AUCC, but not all degree-granting institutions qualify for membership with its emphasis on peer-reviewed research. This puts these colleges in an odd position: their provincial governments say that they are qualified to grant a bachelor’s degree; the national lobbying group for universities says that they are not. There’s no referee to break the impasse.
While this isn’t an issue for SFU, which is a member of the AUCC, Nicholls says it is “unfortunate” that there isn’t any national accreditation in Canada. “If there was a similar process in place, we would be supportive.”
SFU’s academic departments are regularly assessed, according to Nicholls, and the university always performs well in academic assessments. “But there has been a gap when it comes to looking at us at an institutional level,” he says. The NCCU accreditation process will probe SFU’s academics but also its administrative procedures by examining five key standards: SFU’s vision, whether it has the resources and capacity to pursue that vision, its planning processes, how it assesses success, and how it adapts to change.
The academic labour market never gets any breathing room
It wasn’t that long ago when the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada was predicting that we would need tens of thousands of extra PhD graduates. It was reasoned that growing demand for university combined with a mass exodus of baby boomer professors, would create a glut in the academic labour market. The message to government was fund more grad school spaces. The message to students was, forget about all that negative talk of spending five years in a doctorate program only to wind up in temporary sessional appointments. Now is the time to get that PhD.
It is not very novel to point out that, in light of the past year-and-a-half, this scenario seems like a sad joke. Students are indeed piling into grad programs, but largely as a relief from a brutal job market. As financial trouble appears to be dialing down in other sectors, problems continue unabated in the higher education sector. Universities have been making changes in response to economic realities that will ensure that a tight academic labour market will remain the norm long after the overall job market recovers.
As one illustration, the Modern Language Association recently reported that there has been a 51 per cent decline in available English positions over the past two years.
Many institutions have said that they will leave open positions unfilled, which can be accomplished by relying on sessional instructors and eliminating small classes, while they wait to see what their respective provincial governments do with respect to funding.
Some universities are picking fights with faculty unions. And unions are having none of it. At Queen’s, the administration requested that faculty take a two per cent pay cut, which was rejected by a vote of 89 per cent earlier this month. Last week, the Lakehead Faculty Association protested administration imposed furlough days, stating in a release: “Employees should not be made to suffer because administrators are unable to manage university finances.”
Unfortunately, this unwillingness to make concessions may lead to even more drastic measures. Forget pay cuts and furlough days, the days of “voluntary” retirement have already returned. Only a couple of weeks after the faculty union at the University of Alberta agreed to discuss the possibility of unpaid days off, the administration announced that it will be offering voluntary retirement packages, the Edmonton Journal reported on boxing day. The U of A has not ruled out outright layoffs, as have happened at other schools.
For example, the British Columbia Institute of Technology has announced that it will layoff five per cent of its staff in the coming year. Layoffs have been announced at the University of Calgary, and Guelph to name a couple others. We should expect much more carnage in the spring as universities finalize their 2010-2011 budgets. While it is easy to blame the economy, or the government, universities while crying cash poor over the past decade have, apparently, not taken many steps to prepare for downturns.
Though voluntary retirement may seem more humane than outright layoffs, it signals much deeper financial troubles than a simple trimming of the labour budget. Begging people to give up their jobs is never a good sign.
The voluntary retirement package was a common theme of the 1990s that, combined with leaving positions unfilled, led to a 10 per cent reduction in the total number of faculty across the country. It took years for the academic labour market to recover. The hiring spree across campuses during the early and mid 2000s was largely a move to reinstate positions lost during this period. The AUCC thought that this trend would continue well into the next decade. That’s just not going to happen.
This is compounded by the fact that, when given the choice, baby boomers simply won’t retire at the rate we have expected them to. It hardly bears mentioning that one of the great ironies of the recession is that while it has encouraged students to recede into PhD programs, it has also ensured that they might not have anywhere to go when they finish.
Justifying the university means justifying what universities do, not what we want them to do
Over at University Affairs, deputy editor Léo Charbonneau, recently asked his readers for their thoughts about protecting universities against the possibility of massive cuts to higher education. He asks, “What’s the best line of argument to protect universities from the cuts to come?”
Charbonneau poses the question after reviewing an article by Paul Wells written for the alumni mag at Wells’ alma mater (see here, page 46). Wells, one of the few national columnists who thinks higher education is worth talking about, admonishes the idea that university administrators should take a pragmatic approach to protecting their funding.
Administrators like to emphasize the economic impact of higher education. Universities are special, they argue. Not only do they contribute to economic activity in the here and now (like every other large employer) but they make our workforce more productive, and contribute to job creation across the entire economy, and in the long term, in ways that no other sector can. Give them more money and we will get more economic growth as a result. ( The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada made this very argument in its pre-budget submission to parliament’s finance committee).
Such a line of argument would be great for universities if it were true, or, if it is true, if it could be proven. Unfortunately this is not really the case. As Wells writes:
The problem with that line of argument is that in a really nasty economic environment, governments on a tight budget will take that as a cue to go hunting for anything a university does that doesn’t, demonstrably, simplistically, generate the ideas that drive a new economy. Whatever they find that looks like a ‘frill’ by that definition will be in danger of getting cut. And frankly, most of what goes on at a university is hard to justify as part of a job-creation mill.
Charbonneau takes issue not with Wells’ analysis, but with Wells’ conclusions that universities “need to go back to basics and talk more … about the intrinsic value of knowledge, scholarship, beauty, contention, and an environment that urges scholars toward ambition and accomplishment.” Charbonneau finds Wells misguided, and says he doubts “whether it’s the type of argument that our current governments will buy into.”
Though Charbonneau does not come right out and say it, it seems obvious that he sides with the view that universities should adopt a pragmatic approach and tell governments what they think governments want to hear.
It should be obvious that Wells is correct on this question.
Of course current governments are not going to buy into the argument that universities are justified by their core activities of teaching and learning. No one ever bothers to make the case to them. Instead universities act ashamed that they investigate the origins of the universe, or competing views on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and emphasize what are in actuality only incidental outcomes of higher education.
The logic of academia is internal, meaning its impact on the rest of society cannot be predicted or planned. And, if we start trying to plan it, then what made academia unique withers away. Taking the pragmatic approach does not convince governments to value higher education, it concedes the terms of debate to those who think intellectual pursuits are all about direct economic outcomes. What happens when people start looking for this return?
A more appropriate way to view universities might be something similar to how we view public spending on the arts. As a certain prairie based education writer put it earlier this week:
[T]he public is not stupid, and universities should not be so sheepish about what they do. If universities announced that they were no longer going to study ancient history, or the origins of the universe, or Shakespeare, then the public would likely be distressed.
After all, we support public funding for the arts because of the intrinsic good they are thought to confer on the community. Why not teaching and learning? Like the arts, higher education is a luxury of wealthy societies to be appreciated, not as a means to solve all our problems or to be debased on utilitarian grounds.
If schools want to justify themselves, or demonstrate their relevance, they have to show us what it is that they uniquely do.
To be sure, such reasoning puts schools at risk of being dismissed as frivolous, but it doesn’t have to. Higher education advocates should learn to own the debate and not be afraid to talk about what they actually do.
Recession drives the biggest spike in enrolment since 2003
Despite the shaky job market for university grads during the recession, or because of it, new enrolment figures show about 38,000 more students enrolled in Canadian universities this fall over last.
About 870,000 full-time students enrolled this year, an increase of 29,000 undergraduates and 9,000 graduate students from last year, according to figures released by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.
Herb O’Heron, a senior adviser at the AUCC, says it’s the biggest increase in enrolment since 2003 and the recession is driving demand for spots.
“Part of it is the recognition of the value of a degree,” he said. “Even in the midst of a recession, the jobs for university graduates continue to rise.”
Students and professors say they are encouraged by the display of faith in higher education, but remain skeptical about whether universities can deliver what they promise.
The spike in enrolment is occurring as cash-strapped governments make cuts to already underfunded universities, which, they say, degrades the quality of education for students who continue to pay sky high tuition fees.
James Turk, executive director of Canadian Association of University Teachers says while the government recognizes that education is key to economic recovery, it is not placing enough emphasis on funding.
To reach the funding level seen in the 1980s, when there were fewer university students, the government would need to increase funding by $4.2 billion a year, Turk said.
Meanwhile, as enrolment increases, universities cram students into the seats and aisles of already packed lecture halls, which degrades the quality of education students receive for their money.
The new university that wants to change everything
This is definitely not your typical first-year course. Instead of being packed into a lecture hall along with several hundred strangers, these 20 students are lounging around an oval table in a brand-new classroom and laughing almost hysterically. It’s still September, but their familiarity is already apparent. The room quiets as a generously bearded, scholarly-looking man introduces today’s topic: the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. But instead of lecturing on the finer points of the seminal document himself, David Helfand, a visiting professor from Columbia University, directs the students to present their assigned discussion points, intervening from time to time to keep the conversation moving forward with the occasional question or gentle correction.
The conversation doesn’t need much prodding. Soon the students are jumping in with questions of their own, most of which are surprisingly thoughtful and relevant for a group only three weeks into their academic careers. “What’s the point of all those countries ratifying it if it’s not legally binding?” one young woman asks. Another student: “If we’re all supposedly equal, why give special privileges to disabled or First Nations people?” Another, unembarrassed by her youthful ignorance, admits, “Man, I never even knew what ‘whereas’ meant before yesterday!”
Helfand is a leading astrophysicist and chair of the department of astronomy at Columbia, and yet here he is, teaching a first-year class on human rights at Quest University, a little-known school up a mountain in Squamish, B.C. This class—and everything else at the barely year-old university—is far from ordinary. The student body is tiny. The focus is entirely on undergraduates. Tuition is $24,500 a year. Professors teach exclusively, and do not do research. To emphasize the point, they aren’t even called professors but rather “tutors.” And students don’t take individual courses as at other universities, but instead study in intense, 3½-week-long interdisciplinary modules known as “blocks.” Today’s class is part of the year’s first block, focused on the relationship between humans and nature, covering topics as varied as Jared Diamond’s Collapse, the philosopher Rousseau and the science of rivers. Although Helfand admits that he was initially skeptical of the unorthodox approach, he says it’s been a remarkable success. “So far, every subject works just brilliantly. The level of engagement is something I’ve never witnessed in 30 years of teaching university.”
Quest is Canada’s first non-profit, secular, private university—and its approach is arguably the most radical experiment in Canadian higher education since the great university expansion and transformation of the 1960s. And yet despite the promise in evidence in the classroom, this is an experiment that is not going well. Students aren’t flocking to the place. Enrolment is far below expectations. The university’s leadership has been a revolving door, its mission at times confused. The school’s financial health may be shaky. What does such a rocky start for Canada’s most ambitious and publicized higher education revolution say about the state of undergraduate education in Canada?
Quest is the brainchild of David Strangway, one of Canada’s most experienced academic administrators and a former president of the University of British Columbia. When Strangway retired from UBC in 1997, after 12 years at the helm, he had no intention of settling down to a quiet life in his hometown, the retirement haven of Kelowna. Then aged 62, he had bigger plans. He would build a university according to his idea of what undergraduate education should be: it would avoid graduate studies and research, and it would be private. The model would be the liberal arts colleges of the U.S. northeast, such as Vermont’s Middlebury College. In Strangway’s view, most Canadian universities no longer focus on undergraduates, but have instead become graduate research establishments that also teach undergraduate students.