Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Month in Higher Ed News (June, 2011)

It's been a very busy month, so I thought I'd try something new--a "round-up" of some of the biggest news stories in post-secondary education, and also little bit about what I've been up to (on this site, around the web, and even in the "offline world"!).

In Canada, Statistics Canada recently released Education Matters: Insights on Education, Learning and Training in Canada, including the results from the last (not latest--last) cycle of the Youth in Transition Survey (YITS). This was the best available data source for looking longitudinally at Canadian students' post-secondary choices and their post-degree career paths, so the survey's cancellation is a big loss for Canadian PSE policy making.

It was a big month for the provincial government in Ontario with many education announcements rolled out across the province, including a five-year plan for PSE called Putting Students First. Accessibility will certainly be the emphasis; the government (if re-elected) plans to add another 60,000 student spaces, 6,000 of them in Masters and Ph.D programs. There were capital funding announcements as well, including a new Engineering building for York, science lab upgrades for UT Mississauga, and a new Liberal Arts building for McMaster (which has had a private donor secured since 2007). The government also announced its continued support for the expansion of accessibility initiative Pathways to Education.

Graduation season in Canada brought with it a number of articles (and a book) critiquing Canadian universities and questioning of the value of post-secondary education, particularly in the face of rising student debt loads. The current (disheartening) career situation for post-secondary graduates is influenced by generational/historical economic trends, and reflected in the negative news coverage and the ongoing debate about the role of the university in preparing young people for (economic) life.

And lastly, Canadian mathematicians have continued with their critiques of NSERC's key Discovery Grants competition, its review system and award allocation results. They argue that while Canada has gone out of its way to establish prestigious faculty positions (such as the Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Research Chairs), the funding arrangements at NSERC leave many world-class researchers without adequate resources. NSERC has responded, arguing that the reaction to the funding changes has been mostly positive and that the mathematics community is largely to blame for its own misfortune.

June also brought two major, and highly anticipated, policy developments overseas--one in the U.S. and one in the U.K.

In the United States, the final revised version of the Gainful Employment legislation was released on Thursday, June 2. This policy is designed to regulate the private, for-profit colleges that often exploit low-income and otherwise disadvantaged students. The for-profit colleges have put a lot of cash and effort into lobbying against this legislation. However in spite of its potential benefits, some of the less positive implications of the policy could extend into the rest of the PSE "sector" in the U.S.

In the UK, the long-awaited, much-decried government White Paper on PSE was released this week to an immediate volley of critiques. Though I have yet to read all 83 pages of it myself, there's already plenty of commentary to check out as well as existing analyses of the marketisation and privatisation tactics being employed by the U.K. government (including the short one I wrote in May).

Also in the UK, AC Grayling's new private liberal arts university received huge amounts of flak from various quarters, including accusations that they'd copied syllabuses (syllabi?) from other institutions.

...And a little bit closer to home...

At the beginning of the month I was at Congress in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where I presented at two different associations' conferences. The first presentation was on graduate education (for the Canadian Sociological Association), and the second was about media coverage of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs (CERC), for the Canadian Communication Association. I posted a link to the CERC presentation (on Prezi) here. Congress was a great opportunity to "bump into" people I already knew, and also to meet some of those Tweeps I hadn't yet seen in person.

After more or less successfully using Prezi for the first time at Congress, I wrote two blog posts for Jo Vanevery's blog, here and here.

From June 16 to 18 I attended WorldViews Conference on Media and Higher Education, in Toronto. This month's posts here at Speculative Diction included three live blogs from WorldViews (day 1, day 2 and day 3) as well as two follow-up posts on universities and the media (you can read them here and here if you haven't yet seen them).

Later in the month I was very pleased to be recruited to University of Venus blog as a regular contributor; soon afterward I collaborated with Lee Skallerup, Afshan Jafar and Mary Churchill, on a series of written responses to the attack on UBC scholar Rumana Manzur by her husband in Bangladesh.

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