All Posts Tagged With: "canada"
Info on those who want to visit, study or work in Canada could be shared
OTTAWA – A newly signed agreement says the United States will be allowed to share biometric information about visa applicants to Canada with third countries.
It means the fingerprints and photo of someone who hopes to visit, study or work in Canada could be passed to Washington, which in turn might share them with another country to help verify the person’s identity.
The federal privacy commissioner’s office has raised concerns that such personal information provided by Canada could end up in countries that have a poor human rights record, endangering the applicant or their family.
At a ceremony to sign the information-sharing agreement, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and U.S. ambassador David Jacobson stressed that the information would be handled with due regard for privacy.
The initiative, which affects nationals of 29 countries seeking visas, is part of a perimeter security deal reached last year between Canada and the United States.
The idea is to strengthen continental security while speeding the passage of goods and people across the 49th parallel.
How the traditional university is under attack from all sides
The epic battle waged between Gábor Lukács and the University of Manitoba, which ended last week, has shone an unflattering light onto the state of academic integrity at our universities.
Listening to most recent observers, one would think that our universities need to be completely “reinvented” because professors spend too much time either not teaching at all or at least not teaching practical job skills.
But the Lukács case shows what’s really wrong.
As universities become increasingly defined by their administrations—as opposed to their faculty—the traditional values of higher education come under assault from all sides: from management, from the public, and even from the associations that represent professors themselves.
If professors don’t produce research, who will?
University research is under attack these days. This editorial in the Globe and Mail is just the latest call for “reform” of a system where university professors are, they say, too devoted to research, contemptuous of teaching, and wasting the public’s money. If professors spent more time teaching and less time researching, taxpayers and students would get more bang for their buck, they argue. As a student and a young scholar, I always took the value of university research for granted.
Apparently I can’t any longer.
One reason such editorializing is wrong-headed is that the anti-teaching prof is a myth. While those outside the academy like to represent today’s professor as a hyper-nerd who can churn out papers but not explain anything, the stereotype simply doesn’t hold up. In nine years as a student and eleven as a professor, I have met only a few professors who hated teaching, and not a single one who didn’t work hard at it.
Former radical militant denied entry to Canada in 2009, scheduled to return in June
In about a month and a half’s time, former education professor and intellectual theorist Bill Ayers will try to enter Canada to speak at a higher-ed conference being held in Toronto in June. However, the last time he tried to do that, he didn’t quite make it to the podium. Back in 2009, Ayers was stopped by Canada Border Services Agency in a detention he called “arbitrary.” “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969,” he remarked at the time. “I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”
Ayers has a less-than-stellar resume from a border agent’s perspective–there’s no doubt about that. In 1969, he co-founded a group called the Weather Underground that was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War and expressed its disapproval through coordinated bombings of public buildings. The Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and New York City police headquarters were all targeted by the Weather Underground. When that shtick got old, he eventually moved on to work in education reform, becoming a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, but didn’t really become a household name until 2008 when he was connected to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
It was then that Ayers’ past started garnering widespread attention. Public appearances and speaking engagements featuring Ayers were cancelled, and of course, it wasn’t long after that Ayers found himself being denied entry to Canada, despite having visited more than a dozen times.
Now, the organizers of the Worldviews Conference on Media scheduled this June are looking to the Government of Canada to ensure Ayers makes it in this time. They issued a press release last week in which Prof. Mark Langer, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) said, “This is an issue of academic freedom, not one of a potential ‘threat’ to Canadian security. In the interests of open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas, Prof. Ayers must be allowed to speak.”
UWO student ejected from Harper rally for Facebook picture with Ignatieff
All you F-35 Joint Strike Fighter naysayers—this’ll make you bite your tongues. After all, the proof is in the pudding, and just this past weekend, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives proved the need to stay vigilant against enemies, many of whom can appear in even the most innocuous of forms.
Of course, I’m talking about 19-year-old University of Western Ontario student Awish Aslam, who managed to infiltrate a Harper rally in London on Sunday despite having a Facebook picture of her with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. The audacity, I know. How the undecided voter managed to get in, I’m not sure; but she and a friend were escorted out of the rally shortly after signing in.
According to Aslam, a man led them to a back room, tore up their name tags, and told them they weren’t welcome at the event. “We were confused,” Aslam told the London Free Press. “He said, ‘We know you guys have ties to the Liberal party through Facebook.’”
I don’t know how many times we must drill this message home, but students: Please exercise discretion when posting things online! Yes, you may have a night where you down too many beers with friends and decide to ‘Like’ the Canadian Learning Passport on the Liberal Facebook page, but others will notice your actions! And it goes further than that. Every time you sign onto Farmville and don’t post a comment about the long-gun registry, know you’re making a political statement. For every occasion you send a ‘Poke,’ you should be requesting a fitness tax credit. And finally, never, ever, ever, refer to a group message as a “Coalition.” Vague insinuations are fine, though.
All parties want to encourage the youth vote, of course, but they can’t help it if young people disenfranchise themselves through mistakes like these. Young people should know better than to explore their political options before casting a vote –and worse yet–posting a totally meaningless picture online. Remember: don’t chew Big Red on Harper’s turf, unless you plan to stick it on the bottom of your shoe.
Education critic wants national standards applied across Canada
New Democrat Member of Parliament, Nikki Ashton, has introduced a private-members bill that would see the federal government establish post-secondary education standards across Canada. Bill C-635 would “establish criteria and conditions in respect of funding for post-secondary education programs in order to ensure the quality, accessibility, public administration and accountability of those programs.” Ashton told the Canadian University Press that despite the fact that education is within provincial jurisdiction, Ottawa also “has a responsibility to ensure that something that’s so integral to the way we move forward as a country is being invested in.” As with other pending legislation, Ashton’s bill would not be carried forward in the event of an election. Ashton is the NDP’s post-secondary education critic.
The answer may enrage you.
Having posted over a hundred entries to this blog on university affairs, I may seem foolish asking a question like “what is a university?” Shouldn’t I know? Isn’t it obvious? Does it really matter?
As some philosopher said regarding time, I know what a university is — so long as nobody asks me, so I was curious as to what my own definition would look like if I tried to spell it out. The answer is not obvious, though, because a university has not always meant the same thing over the centuries, and it does not necessarily mean the same thing to everyone now. And it matters because very often the arguments we have about universities turn on our assumptions about what universities are and what they ought to be. Recent debates over certain religious universities in Canada, provide one obvious example. What follows then is my initial, and admittedly provisional attempt to define what we ought to consider a university in this country. I hope it provides readers with some food for thought and some opportunity for debate.
1. A university has two principal functions: providing instruction on matters of intellectual importance and conducting research on those same matters.
2. These two functions, to the extent reasonably possible, should support one another. University teaching, therefore, is distinguished from other modes of education not only by seeking the highest levels of sophistication, but also by deriving its vitality from the atmosphere of on-going discovery fostered at the institution. For this reason, most, if not all courses at a university should be taught by faculty who are active researchers in the disciplines in which they teach. Conversely, research ought not to be done in isolation from teaching. Researchers should be open to allowing issues that arise in teaching to suggest new research questions and, where feasible, students, both undergraduate and graduate, should be given opportunities to participate in research.
3. Because strong intellectual work can only be done in an atmosphere where scholars feel free to take risks, challenge conventions, and change their minds, universities must foster an environment that prizes intellectual freedom. Except in cases of illegal conduct, violence, or flagrant abuse of the trust placed in faculty members, universities should never seek to sway, silence, intimidate, threaten, or otherwise influence faculty members to take, renounce, or be silent on any particular position, nor to control or monitor controversial actions. Indeed, universities should take all legal action necessary to defend the academic integrity and freedom of the scholars associated with it. Academic freedom is a right of individual scholars, not of universities themselves or their administrations. Therefore, no university should seek to impinge on the academic freedom of a scholar by claiming it has an institutional freedom to do so.
4. Though university education should provide the kind of intellectual enrichment that would serve any graduate well in the working world, university education should never be construed solely or even primarily as a path to employment. Even in disciplines with obvious professional connections such as education or law, the university should first aim to teach the history, theoretical underpinnings, crucial knowledge, and critical skills necessary to build a profound understanding of the discipline. A university law program, for example, should aim primarily to produce graduates with a profound understanding of law, rather than lawyers, per se.
5. A university has one additional secondary function: to serve as a cultural touchstone in its community to encourage all members of the public to participate in the life of the mind. Universities should, within reasonable limits and without needlessly detracting from its primary missions, sponsor and host artistic performances and displays, public talks, open debates, and other events that excite interest in intellectual pursuits, broadly construed.
This to me seems like a good starting point for a real, meaningful debate on what a university should be. Some readers might object and say that I have simply described Canadian universities as they are. To the extent that that is true, we should consider ourselves lucky, and seek to conserve and develop what we already have. But as the case of Trinity Western and Redeemer have demonstrated, not all institutions that consider themselves universities would sign on to all five of my criteria — particularly the part about academic freedom. Quest University, the new private institution in BC, would certainly not qualify because it does not expect its profs to be researchers, for example. And it’s not just those universities: I think you would be hard-pressed to find many university administrators or any politicians who would endorse number 4.
In any case, what we mean by the term “university” is a debate that we have to continue to have in this country. Have at it.
Pathways to Education focuses on improving post-secondary participation among low income students
Stephen Harper announced Thursday that Ottawa will be spending $20 million, over four years, to support Pathways to Education, a program that targets students in poorer neighbourhoods. “In an underprivileged neighbourhood, a university or college campus can appear a long way off, even when the actual buildings are only a few blocks away,” he said in Toronto. “Our government is investing in inner-city youth, to help them get a good education and build better futures.” Pathways to Education is a charitable organization, operating in several Canadian cities, that aims to reduce poverty by lowering the high school dropout rate and improving access to post-secondary education. The program focuses on tutoring, mentoring and financial assistance. Since it launched in 2001 Pathways has seen dropout rates fall in some neighborhoods from 56 per cent to 10 per cent.
Should schools be in the business of turning out employable grads?
Carlie Deneiko is from the tiny town of Watrous, Sask. (population 1,800), more than an hour’s drive southeast of Saskatoon. As a teen, she dreamed of travelling the world, but her priorities are shifting. “I’ve got a boyfriend, and I’m really settled,” says Deneiko, 20, a student in the faculty of education at the University of Regina. “It’s becoming more important to me to get a job.”
Deneiko’s not too worried: her education comes with a job guarantee. She’s one of 355 students enrolled in a new program at the University of Regina that promises students they’ll land a job—in their chosen field—within six months of graduation. If they don’t, the university gives them another year of tuition for free. The UR Guarantee has other bells and whistles (like internships and work programs), but for Deneiko, it’s that extra year of free tuition that pulled her in. “If I don’t get a job, I’m coming back to get my special education certificate,” she says.
Since it launched in September, the UR Guarantee has been incredibly popular. Enrolment in the program, which is open to all first-year students, has already jumped by 24 per cent, says president Vianne Timmons. “We looked at students’ motivation for attending university,” she says, “and realized they’re looking at a degree primarily as a launching pad for a career.”
Universities have long been seen as ivory towers, leaving job training to colleges and vocational programs, but that’s changing fast. “It’s not the old, green college on the hill anymore,” says Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg. “The marketplace has changed,” adds Ronald Bordessa, president of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT). “Some universities have moved quickly. Others haven’t, and are having greater difficulty attracting students.”
Regina isn’t the only university in the job guarantee business—tiny Sainte-Anne in Church Point, N.S., offers its education and business graduates free tuition if they haven’t found work after four months. It’s a radical approach—but some schools don’t even track how many graduates go on to get jobs in their field. Monitoring this is “absolutely critical,” says University of Alberta president Indira Samarasekera. “If your students are not finding employment, it means that employers are not finding them competitive.” Even so, it’s hard to know which schools are turning out the most employable grads, which leaves some industry leaders shaking their heads. “Amazingly enough, [employability] is not the metric for success that universities follow,” says businessman Reza Satchu, who teaches the highly successful economics of entrepreneurship course at the University of Toronto.
CMEC to address aboriginal education, international student recruitment
Over the next two days, provincial education ministers are meeting in Toronto to discuss aboriginal education. University participation rates for aboriginals are only a third as high as for the rest of the population, and half of aboriginal students never earn a high school diploma. The Council of Ministers of Education in Canada will be addressing how best to promote aboriginal education, and ways to include First Nations content in provincial curriculum. How to attract more international students is also topic on the agenda for discussion.
David Johnston wants a smarter more caring society
In an interview with QMI Agency, Governor General David Johnston said it would be “very appropriate” for him to influence public policy in areas such as education, research and voluntarism. “His goal, he said, is to have fostered a smarter and more carrying society at the end of his 4.5-year term,” QMI reported. While the former University of Waterloo president acknowledged that “You have to respect the office that you hold,” that doesn’t mean he should remain silent on issues of public importance, despite the fact the Governor General does not have direct political responsibilities. “I would like to see that notion of helping your neighbour not simply as something that you switch on and off, like do a good deed today, but as a mainstream feature of Canadian citizenship,” he said.
Sends letter to Atleo requesting meeting with aboriginal leaders
Aboriginal education has been identified as a priority by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In a letter sent to Shawn Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Harper said that the government is “open to participating” in a meeting with aboriginal leaders on the question of education reform. “The government has publicly committed to working with first-nations groups and other willing partners to develop options, including new legislation, to improve the governance framework and clarity accountability for first-nation elementary and secondary education,” the letter reads. Atleo told the Globe and Mail that he is encouraged by Harper’s “significant and focused” statements, and he that he hopes to have a meeting organized for the Spring.
Fewer jobs. Lower pay. Higher taxes. Now the Screwed Generation is starting to push back.
This January, the first baby boomers turn 65. The huge post-Second World War generation—which numbers 76 million in the United States, makes up almost a third of Canada’s population, and according to one estimate, controls 80 per cent of Britain’s wealth—will continue to enter their dotage at the rate of tens of thousands per day for the next 20 years. By 2050, there will be 30 million Americans aged 75 to 85, three in 10 Europeans will be 65-plus, and more than 40 per cent of Japan’s population will be elderly. In Canada, the ratio of workers to retirees—currently five to one—will have been halved by 2036. And despite the odd dissenter, the generation that still oddly finds Paul McCartney relevant has made clear its intention to take everything it feels it has coming. It will be up to all who trail in their wake to pay for their privilege.
Common sense, not to mention decency, wouldn’t call that just. But an outsized, over-entitled, and self-obsessed demographic is awfully hard for politicians to ignore. Take Britain’s example. In last spring’s general election, the most effective ad run by David Cameron’s Conservatives was also one of the simplest: a close-up of a newborn baby, wriggling in a bassinet as a music box tinkled in the background. “Born four weeks ago, eight pounds, three ounces. With his dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, and Gordon Brown’s debt,” intoned a female voice. “Thanks to Labour’s debt crisis, every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better.” The point was impossible to miss: the time had come to stop mortgaging the country’s future.
As his first act, the new prime minister, a 44-year-old Gen Xer, cut his and his ministers’ pay by five per cent, and froze all their salaries for five years. Tackling the U.K.’s $177.5-billion budget deﬁcit and $1.6-trillion-plus national debt—annual interest payments alone stand at $70 billion—would require everyone to sacrifice, he told Britons. But there were also expectations that the burden wouldn’t be equally shared. After all, one of Cameron’s leading wonks, David “Two Brains” Willetts, now the minister for universities and science, had published a rather pointed manifesto, The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children’s Future—and How They Can Give It Back, just before the election. After their victory, Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, applauded the coming reckoning for a generation—his own—that had “eaten through all that abundance like hungry locusts.” And even as the new government’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, stood before Parliament in mid-October to announce $131 billion in spending cuts over the next four years—and the elimination of as many as 500,000 public sector jobs—the protect-the-youth rhetoric continued. “Today’s the day when Britain steps back from the brink,” he said, ensuring “that we do not saddle our children with the interest on the interest on the interest of the debts we were not ourselves prepared to pay.”
The reality, however, proved to be somewhat different. The age when U.K. citizens can start drawing old-age pension would gradually increase from 65 to 66, but other entitlements like free eye tests and prescriptions for the elderly would remain untouched, as well as winter fuel allowances, and free local transit for anyone over 60. Among the biggest budget losers was the department for education, facing an overall reduction of 10.8 per cent, which according to one economic think tank will translate to funding cuts for 60 per cent of primary schools, and 87 per cent of secondary schools. And the legacy of “Two Brains” for Britain’s shafted youth? A 40 per cent cut to post-secondary teaching grants, and a doubling—or in some cases, tripling—of tuition, to as much as $14,500 a year.
On Nov. 10, more than 50,000 angry students gathered in London to rally against the cuts. A video of Nick Clegg, the Liberal-Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, promising to do away with university fees during the election campaign, was greeted with choruses of “wanker, wanker.” “They’re proposing barbaric cuts that would brutalize our colleges and universities,” said Aaron Porter, the president of the National Union of Students. “We’re in the fight of our lives. We face an unprecedented attack on our future before it has even begun.” Later on, a crowd of several thousand descended on the Conservative Party headquarters, trading punches with police, smashing windows, lighting fires, and for a time, occupying the building.
“The situation for young people is not terribly good,” Ed Howker, a 29-year-old London journalist and author, says in a classic bit of British understatement. “And there’s no sense from the government that they have the interests of the next 30 or 40 years of Britons in mind.” Of the country’s 2.45 million unemployed, close to 60 per cent are under the age of 30.The new budget has not only frozen civil service hires, it scrapped two youth jobs funds, slashed rent subsidies, and cut the money for new housing by half. Howker, who along with Shiv Malik wrote the just-released Jilted Generation: How Britain Bankrupted its Youth, says the sense of despair is becoming overwhelming. “Our generation just seems to be a lot worse off. In terms of key things like getting stable housing, or a well-paid job, or a successful career, we just don’t have it.” The boomers’ aren’t evil, he says, but they nonetheless bear much of the responsibility. The generation that relentlessly mythologizes its “peace and love” heyday became ardent consumers as they aged, and ended up moulding politics in their “me-first” image. “It’s a consumer version of democracy, where politicians realized that if they merely satisfied the short-term desires of their electorate, rather than think in the long term and make good decisions on behalf of the future of the country, they would win elections,” Howker argues. The bills become somebody else’s problem.
Want a scary number? How about $1.5 trillion, the amount the C.D. Howe Institute estimates Canada’s rapidly aging boomers are going to cost Ottawa and the provinces in extra health and pension expenses over the next 50 years. Or perhaps 2,500, the number of new long-term care facilities the Canadian Medical Association says will be needed to accommodate the doubling of Canada’s 65-plus population in two decades. Sixty thousand is how many RNs the Canadian Nurses Association predicts we will be short by 2022. Or maybe just one per cent, the expected annual amount of real per-capita GDP growth in Canada over the next 30 years as boomers leave the work force—less than half of what we’ve experienced over the past four decades.
Combine a demographic bulge with a falling birth rate and ever-increasing life expectancy (now 80.7 years at birth in Canada), and pretty much all the figures start looking ugly. “We have a significant challenge ahead of us,” says Chris Ragan, a professor of macroeconomics and economic policy at McGill. “The tax base will slow down, and spending will speed up. We can’t just do nothing.”
If governments won’t support the liberal arts, someone else is going to have to do it.
Canadians have for many years been justly proud of their system of public universities. And as with publicly-insured health care, our system of government-funded universities serves as a means to distinguish us from the U.S. Sure, we say, Harvard and Yale may be great schools, but their costs make them almost exclusively for the elite few, while working-class Americans have to settle for modest state schools or community colleges that no one takes seriously. Here in Canada, by contrast, anyone can go to any of our high quality public universities.
So far, so good, but the times are changing, and changing fast. It is increasingly an accepted article of faith among university administrators and government officials alike that universities are economic levers. As such, programs that seem to have a clear economic benefit — business, engineering, computer science — are increasingly understood as the disciplines that matter, while the traditional areas of studies — the liberal arts in particular — are viewed as old-fashioned, irrelevant, and economically unsustainable.
Like many professors of the humanities, I have railed against this view, with no success. No matter how many times people like me argue that education ought not to be mainly about training workers who can create value for corporations, the march of the Philistines goes on. No matter how many times people like me point out that research shows how liberal arts grads actually end up doing better economically than graduates from applied programs, English Literature still appears to be the discipline you can’t do anything with, while Entrepreneurship seems street smart and savvy.
So be it. Governments have the right to fund what they see as important and if the electorate doesn’t make an issue of it, I suppose we shouldn’t expect our politicians to do so either. The barbarians aren’t at the gate: they’re in the cockpit.
But if governments refuse to properly fund and support and promote the liberal arts, they should allow — indeed, by all rights they must allow — the creation of private universities for those same liberal arts. It’s one thing to deny funds to such programs. It’s entirely another to deny the whole populace the right to pursue the kinds of education they want. Notice, by the way, that I am not talking about for-profit institutions, only institutions that do not rely on regular government funding.
Can such institutions be viable? I think they can be, though the gestation period will be long and difficult. For one thing, they would require a certain amount of start-up capital, and that would mean private donors. But building a foundation of private donations is not impossible, and many existing universities got their start just that way. Such donations would go mainly towards building and furnishing a building (or renovating an existing structure), providing books for the library, and creating an endowment from which an annual investment revenue could be drawn to continue to cover the maintenance costs.
Once a base of donations has been gathered and the start-up costs have been covered, the running of a small liberal arts college is actually extremely cost efficient. Without expensive labs and scientific equipment, and with an endowment to help cover day-to-day costs, the largest expense for such an institution would be faculty salaries, and these could be covered through tuition. I could imagine a small, credible liberal arts university with, let’s say, five departments: Literature, History, Philosophy, Anthropology/Sociology, and Languages. We could tweak the exact organization and complement, but let’s start there for argument’s sake. Now, let’s imagine five members in each department, and let’s say every faculty member teaches 3 courses per year with 30 students in each class. That’s enough room for 450 students taking a full course load. Now, let’s say each of those students pays something near the top end of the existing Canadian tuition scale (and why not for an elite liberal arts school?) or $7000 per year. That’s about $3.2 million in revenue. Our 25 faculty members, making, let’s say $75 000 per year, cost about $1.9 million for their salaries, leaving us a surplus of over a million dollars to spend on other things such as administrative costs.
Readers might argue with the particular details and the exact arithmetic, but the basic point holds: a small, private liberal arts university would not be particularly expensive to run. And with a small faculty and student body, the army of administrative staff that bogs down the budgets of other universities could be largely, though not entirely, avoided. There would be no need for Deans or Chairs or their secretaries. Similarly, by focusing only on academics, needless expenses like football teams can be forgone, too. Many aspects of campus life — residences, food services, the bookstore — could support themselves with the revenue they generate.
But why would anyone go there? For one thing, there is still a large number of students (and parents) who understand that the joys of communing with the great minds of our past and present are too great to pass up. Moreover, such a university would attract the very best scholars and teachers in the relevant fields, because Canadian liberal arts professors generally feel undervalued and would jump at the chance to teach in a small university dedicated only to their disciplines.
Moreover, employers would scramble to hire graduates from my little university because they would recognize that their well-developed curiosity, imagination, and critical faculties make them much more valuable in the long run than graduates from public universities trained in technologies that will be obsolete in five years. And so students will be all the more eager to attend, knowing that a degree from Pettigrew University really means something.
But wait, don’t such colleges already exist as public universities? They do, but given current trends, they won’t in the long run, and those who want to save the liberal arts traditions from the unexamined dustbin of history have to start preparing now. If we don’t, the last university liberal arts program will be cut by the end of the century, long after there are enough people left who remember why it mattered.
But to start now we need to do two things. First, start keeping your eye out for rich people who want to leave a legacy akin to, say, the Stanford family and when you find them, encourage them to establish a foundation for a private liberal arts university. And get them to tell their friends, too. Second, give up the notion that Canadian universities all have to remain public and get your provincial government to give it up, too.
Once you’ve done those things, contact me, and I will take it from there.
Coming soon and you heard it here first
A friend of mine turned me on to a recent piece in the New Yorker on the state of higher education in America. The author is responding to the supposed crisis in the education sector and essentially debunking it. Now you’re welcome to review the article, written with the style and in the elevated prose that one would expect from such an esteemed publication, but the piece also rests on what I consider to be an unimaginably ignorant premise. The system must work, or so we should believe, simply because so many people are lining up for school. If the educational system were broken, people would presumably be opting out of it.
Now, bearing in mind that this article takes an American context, there’s already one huge problem. Many people are opting out of the public system down there. If one allows that education includes any kind of organized learning at all then sure, I suppose it’s easy to establish that lots of people are in favour of receiving that. But in America it is increasingly delivered by private or partly private institutions. So taking all forms of education and throwing them into one big pot only confirms one of the most basic facts about today’s modern society that everyone knew already. We all need to spend more time learning, and while we may have some choices over what and how we learn it’s hardly an option at all to simply opt out of education entirely.
More critically to the Canadian experience, this article also omits any real attempt to grapple with the ballooning cost of modern education and the resulting debt that often follows. And here is where I’ll introduce a concept that we all need to hear and think more about. It’s the idea of sub-prime education. Degrees that we are putting out on the market that are unlikely to pay off. Education that doesn’t actually create higher pay or better jobs or new opportunities. Sub-prime education.
The sub-prime mortgage crisis is often referenced but rarely understood. I’m not an economist but allow me to give a primer. American politics and American citizens bought widely and deeply into the narrative of home ownership. Home ownership was seen as the route to both private and public prosperity. So huge government programs were created to get as many people buying homes as possible and many citizens gladly mortgaged themselves to the hilt in order to buy as much property as they could possibly afford. And for a while it seemed to work. Unfortunately, many of the home loans put out there so that people could afford these mortgages were sub-prime. Prime is the rate at which a lending institution loans money to individuals it considers to be a good bet. Sub-prime is a higher rate, reflecting the fact that the lending institution considers the borrower to be a worse bet. Spread the risk over enough weak borrowers and the extra tax helps cover the occasional default. That’s the basic premise. It gets more complicated when banks start trading these loans and packaging them as investment vehicles, but that’s the basic premise.
What banks did not count on is that when the property market started to tank it created a cascade effect. Lack of faith caused the value of everyone’s investment to plummet. It’s a classic market bubble. When it bursts it drags everyone down. Only in the market you catch investors who, with adequately good sense, have protected themselves through diversification. When you catch homeowners you catch everyone. Ordinary people who put all their eggs in this one basket not because they are bad investors but simply because they bought into the narrative that home ownership is the route to prosperity. Time was that everyone believed that as an article of faith. No longer. But not until we had a whole lot of wreckage to teach us otherwise.
Now let’s look at education. In Canada, the floating rate of interest on the federal portion of a student loan is prime plus 2.5 per cent. That is, in the most literal terms imaginable, the very definition of “sub-prime.” Our government is publicly acknowledging that investment in education is a sub-prime lending risk. That doesn’t mean it never pays off. That doesn’t even mean it’s a bad bet for everyone. That just means that spread out over a wide sample group it simply isn’t a very good bet, on average. And private lending institutions aren’t even eager to participate at that rate. Contrast that with the rates that professional students can expect on their student loans if they go to private banks. For degrees in law and medicine — education that banks consider to be good bets — students can expect to access sizable loans at straight prime rate or at prime plus 0.5 per cent. That’s what it looks like when the market believes in the value of an investment.
As soon as I know what the CICIC does, you’ll know too
A couple of days ago I wrote a quick piece titled “No guidance for international students.” Shortly thereafter, Mr. Yves Beaudin, the National Coordinator for the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC), showed up to correct me. I sent him some mail to suggest an interview and he’s accepted. As soon as something can be arranged we’ll have the results.
Here’s what I know now. The CICIC is primarily focused on supporting the recognition and portability of qualifications and educational credentials. It seems to work both ways–helping Canadians to navigate foreign systems and helping those foreign to Canada to navigate our domestic systems. And for that reason alone I’m already happy to promote them. This is a real need for all concerned and has been the subject of considerable attention. Apparently CICIC was conceived as a response to Canada’s obligations under a UN Convention on the subject. If you really want to read up on that you can do so here.
What I don’t yet know, and what I’m eager to find out, is whether or not CICIC is the answer to the other problems I was initially writing about. Credential assessment and recognition, while very important, is only one challenge for international students. As for the rest of it? Well, the jury’s still out.
I will say this much. The CICIC and Mr. Yves Beaudin are fast on the draw when it comes to their email. And I wouldn’t fault them for solving just one piece of the puzzle while the rest remains, if that turns out to be the case. But I guess we’ll all know soon enough. In the meanwhile, for international students who can’t wait, you can contact them here.
Coming to Canada, you’re pretty much on your own
I recently received yet another email from a concerned international student looking to study at a Canadian school. The details don’t really matter, but suffice it to say that this student dug up a year-old article of mine from On Campus about a lawsuit happening at this school but unrelated to his proposed program, and wanted to know if he should reconsider. And oh yeah, could I recommend another program that might be better for his purposes — anywhere in North America.
I get this sort of mail fairly regularly. While I’m usually able to say at least something useful, I’m always stumped by just how little international students know about post-secondary education in Canada. To begin with, for example, this fellow was looking at a college program. Does he know and appreciate the difference between “college” in Canada and “college” in the U.S.? He was, at least, looking at a reputable public college. But quite often international students get sucked into the (largely unregulated) private career college system. Seeing the difference between the two systems, from half a world away, must be darn near impossible. And all of that is before we even start to talk about money questions, visa issues, professional licensing, etc. It’s frustrating for me when I get so many questions I can’t answer, or where I can only scratch the surface of these issues, but I can’t blame international students for mailing me. They have few enough options.
Often, when we talk about Canada’s obligations to our international students, we seem to speak in terms of sharing the opportunities we enjoy here, creating jobs and scholarships, expanding work visas, and so on. But the truth is that many international students really do just come here to get their education and intend to return home with it. They are pursuing foreign credentials for any number of reasons, but most of them would be recognizable to any Canadian student. It’s a way for those who can afford it to combine travel with school. It’s an opportunity to prove or to polish fluency in English. It may be a gateway to an international career. It could simply be a way to distinguish one’s credentials from out of the pack of job applicants when the day comes. But really, any of these reasons are very similar to why a Canadian student might choose to study in France rather than Toronto.
The challenge of accommodating these students in our system is more one of information than resources. The resourcing decision, for good or for ill, was made some time ago. Aside from whatever merit-based scholarships may exist for the top cut of students, international students are expected to bear the full cost of their education in Canada. In some cases they may even supply positive revenue (what we would otherwise call profit) for the schools that host them. And this is a point of contention for some people, but it seems what’s most important at this stage is to ensure that students who are investing very significant sums of money here at least have the opportunity to invest wisely. And here’s where we fail.
I will observe that some individual schools are doing a pretty good job with international student services. I want to compliment those efforts. The issue I’m talking about, however, occurs before students commit to an individual school, and when they’ve decided to study in Canada but aren’t sure where they should start. Before these students commit to a school there’s very little available in the way of help, and if they commit to the wrong school or act on bad information it may be too late afterward. And of course there’s always the fact that sometimes these students need to be warned away or protected from the schools themselves, and in these cases we can hardly rely on internal services to do that.
For a student coming over from South Asia (or equivalent) it may well be the case that any destination in the country (or on the continent!) is equally convenient. What that student wants is a good education with good opportunities to follow. And there is simply no centralized resource to which that student can turn for information. Anything to fill this void would be a serious undertaking — probably one requiring cooperation between the federal government and the governments of the various provinces and territories — but considering how much money comes into Canada each year from foreign study and how important these markets are to our international identity, I’d argue it’s an important investment to make. Not to say we need to be in the business of actively marketing ourselves to foreign students. The strength of our system seems to speak for itself. But once we’ve decided to accept their enrolment and their tuition, you’d think we’d offer them more in the way of guidance to ensure they leave Canada with good memories and a positive experience, rather than feeling like they’ve been duped, neglected, or simply ignored.
Photo: Getty Images
The Facebook campaign
We take it for granted today that social media is a force to be reckoned with — with students and younger folks leading the charge. It’s really amazing how fast this new reality took hold. I had my stint in student politics from 2003 to 2006 and I never leveraged social networking for that. It all came later. Well, I’m all socially networked now. But I still haven’t tried to use it to make a real point yet. Maybe I haven’t had a truly original point to make until now. Now I think Leonard Cohen should be our next Governor General.
For those who haven’t heard, Stephen Harper recently announced that he would not be recommending Michaelle Jean for a second term as Governor General. Although the Governor General is nominally the Queen’s representative, in actual practice it will be the Prime Minister’s decision as to who is appointed. This decision is effectively one that Mr. Harper can unilaterally make, but all kinds of practical constraints intrude. It has to be someone who won’t embarrass either the nation or Harper’s party. And for all that the Governor General may be very important for a brief time in some constitutional crisis (prorogation anyone?) the odds of this happening again any time soon are so long that it isn’t worth buying a lot of negative press with an unpopular choice. So where does that leave us? This is politics played in the theatre of public opinion. And this is what social media was made for.
So here is Leonard Cohen for Governor General – The Facebook Campaign. And really, why not? He is respected and even revered both internationally and domestically. He is fluently bilingual and is gladly claimed by both French and English Canada. He loves our nation in the quiet way only true Canadians understand. He is spiritual and morally centered without pushing his faith on anyone else. He’s a heck of a good choice in every respect, save perhaps that he’s probably too smart to get suckered into the job. That, and he makes a much better income on stage.
But leaving aside the unlikeliness of the choice, does having a bunch of people in a Facebook group really prove anything? I don’t know. I waffle back and forth on this one. But I do believe in the power of an idea. And social media gives me the power to turn a quip over breakfast into a potentially national movement to draft this man into office. And that’s pretty cool. If enough people join maybe we can actually get his name in the mix. Who knows?
What really matters, more than anything, is that we demonstrate to the government that we are indeed still watching. We care who represents our nation, even in a role that is often just ceremonial. Our choice for Governor General sends a message about who and what we are as a nation. The message I’d like to send to the world is that we’re a nation not afraid to be led by a poet.
She’s relevant because we are making her relevant
Until this week I knew very little about Ann Coulter and I liked it that way. I was vaguely aware of her as a deliberately provocative, talking-head right-winger. I had the sense that she was good at antagonizing people. That was about it. I had about as much interest in following her “work” as I do in Rush Limbauch’s oeuvre.
This week I can’t hide from her. She’s everywhere. Elections just ended at U of T with the usual accusations and counter-accusations, students at UTSC just approved an unprecedented and massive levy to fund a world-class athletics facility for use in the 2015 Pan-Am Games, wrestling continues unabated over the fate and status of First Nations University of Canada, and all I can bloody well hear about is this screwball American provocateur who has just about nothing relevant to say to Canadians and nothing informed to say to anyone. Someone please tell me why I’m supposed to care?
The freedom of expression angle I get. It’s important to pause once in a while to reflect on the importance of free speech and also on the occasional limits necessarily imposed on it. But honestly, can’t we have that debate in context of someone who is at least relevant? Ezra Levant is a home-grown topic of debate, speaking to and about Canadian issues. Ann Coulter is just a traveling gong show promoting nothing other than her own celebrity. And we let her! We even help her! Every line I’m writing this very moment gives her more of the commodity she’s so successfully selling — her own profile. She doesn’t care if we like her or what we say about her just as long as we keep listening and paying attention. And we sure are doing that.
The fact that this is playing out on our university campuses is no coincidence. Students make fantastic reactionaries. There’s a whole lot of good intentions there but not a lot of direction. So with very little of their own to say, student activists simply argue about what someone else is saying. Coulter opens her mouth and gets the whole thing rolling for us. She says something outrageous, some students argue she shouldn’t be allowed to say it, others defend her right to say it, and all of a sudden that’s the whole debate. Students aren’t saying anything at all–or at least nothing of their own. They’re just arguing over what Coulter said. And that’s just sad.
Maybe I’m bitter because the spat of Ann Coulter articles here are the biggest thing for On Campus in ages. Even the strike at York didn’t attract this much attention or this many comments. Students do have a lot of power and can set the agenda for discussion of post-secondary issues if they want to. But taking on real and complex topics is difficult. Getting all outraged about Coulter–or alternatively, getting all outraged over the suppression of Coulter–is easy. And as long as we keep getting distracted by every circus sideshow that comes to campus, it’s going to remain that much harder to bring attention to the real issues affecting post-secondary students in Canada today.
But hey, in the spirit of giving everyone what they want, here’s a video of Coulter saying outrageous things. Enjoy.
You can hold a job while in school, just don’t expect much else in terms of support
We have an international readership here, and I received some mail the other day from a student hoping to study in Canada.
I am an international student considering education in a college in Toronto. I am also depending on part time jobs to take care of my living expenses. Now that the announcement has been made that recession is over in Canada, is the situation still the same or got better now and how do you expect it to be in the near future. Thanks in advance.
First, let’s talk about working on a student visa. It’s not nearly as difficult as it once was. The extended details can be found at this government website. The short version is that you can always work on campus with no restrictions. For off campus employment, you need to apply for an additional work permit that will allow you to work 20 hours per week during the school year and full-time during breaks and in the summer. I gather that’s a pretty straight-forward application and shouldn’t be a problem. Though as the site says, merely having the permit doesn’t guarantee anyone a job.
Now, I can’t swear that’s going to be enough to support your studies. In fact, once you combine living expenses and tuition the odds that you can earn enough to entirely cover your studies are probably quite slim. I’m not sure if that’s going to be a problem for the student who wrote me in this case, but it’s something that international students need to know. And it leads me around to an interesting point.
Quite a lot of international students are interested in studying here. I suppose that’s a good thing, and reflects well on Canada. But some of the questions they ask about funding, scholarships, and covering their costs suggests that not all international students understand how they are regarded by Canadian institutions and governments. Rightly or wrongly, no one really believes that Canada has an obligation to fund or support the studies of every student who wishes to come here. Those who can pay the full cost of their tuition (without the usual subsidies for domestic students) and also cover their living expenses are welcome to do so – but the idea that society owes people the chance to pursue post-secondary education just doesn’t apply to international students. The very few merit-based scholarships that are available are purely selfish in nature. The hope is that Canada will retain the best and the brightest.