As a doctoral student, I am frequently asked about my plans after graduation. With over a decade of teaching experience at the post-secondary level, most people assume that I am heading for the professoriate. When asked in casual conversations, I always smile and say, “you know, it is a funny thing that you’ve asked…” and go on to explain that I am studying the experiences of doctoral students who will not end up in careers as university professors.
As reported in June 2016, UNHCR estimates that 65.3 million persons were forcibly displaced, 21 million of whom were refugees. Such staggering numbers are unprecedented. Here, we explore the response of Canadian universities and colleges to the crisis in ways that are fulfilling their role as actors for social public good. In addition to offering courses and conducting research that delve into global forced displacement issues across a variety of disciplines, the response of Canadian higher education institutions can be organized broadly into three types of activities. One, they have intensified involvement with refugee sponsorship and scholarships. Two, they have provided advocacy and legal assistance for sponsors and refugees. Three, institutions have organized and participated in forums to share and discuss ideas and engage with other actors to identify needs, effective practices and innovative interventions.
By Creso Sá
Last week Alain Kaloyeros resigned from the presidency of the State University of New York’s (SUNY) Polytechnic Institute in Albany, following charges of multiple felony counts in state and federal courts as part of a corruption investigation.
Kaloyeros, the university president who has been regarded as the “single most powerful force in the Capital Region’s high-tech economy over the past two decades”, is accused of rigging university contracts to favor selected firms.
The downfall of Kaloyeros is a dramatic development for SUNY’s nanotechnology agenda in New York. His high profile in the state and personality were fodder for the media, which often reported on his Ferrari-driving and million-dollar salary.
The university itself was exhortatory; a portrayal titled “Alain Kaloyeros: A New Breed of Scholar” (removed from the website since the charges were announced), described him as “a new breed of 21st century academician: a professor and researcher who not only embraces but delights in the role of entrepreneur.” Three years ago, one long-form profile in the Buffalo News asked “Can Buffalo find a guy like Alain Kaloyeros?”
The tenor and topic of reporting have changed since last year, when news surfaced of a federal inquiry into SUNY Poly’s contracts, including Kaloyeros’ role in them. How did he become such a powerful influence at the university and in the state? And what does his fall mean to SUNY’s role in the promotion of nanotechnology in New York?
By Marc Gurrisi
In recent years concerns have been raised by government officials, college and university administrators, faculty, staff and students with regards to the skills and competencies attained through Ontario’s post-secondary education (PSE) sector. Why aren’t all graduates finding gainful employment? What skills do employers look for? How can we make our students more innovative and entrepreneurial? These are just a few questions that have invigorated widespread debate on the overall quality and accountability of Ontario’s PSE sector.
Amidst these concerns, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) recently announced its plans to launch an assessment of students’ literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills as a means to measure what they call ‘critical employability skills’. HEQCO’s Essential Adult Skills Initiative (EASI) is embarking to measure the core skills that most employers feel are foundational to success. Ten public colleges and five public universities have volunteered to participate in this new assessment initiative.
The test uses the Education and Skills Online assessment tool from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and it will be taken by first-year students and graduating students from across various disciplines. Each student will receive individualized reports of their results and how it compares internationally, while the results of each college and university will be provided solely to each institution.
“The initial goal is that colleges and universities use these results as instruments for quality enhancement,” says Harvey Weingarten, President & CEO of HEQCO.
What is a quality PSE?
The rolling out of this initiative raises several questions about what it means to deliver a quality PSE in Ontario. Does quality imply teaching students core competencies? Or is it a matter of graduates finding employment? Or might we determine it based on students’ perceived worth of the time and resources they input? Or is it perhaps all of the above?
Quality has yet to be a significant determinant of PSE funding in Ontario, though, with the anticipated funding formula revisions likely to place greater emphasis on performance indicators, it will soon become clear what sorts of indicators represent quality to the provincial government. Nevertheless, at present, it remains to be seen what specific skills or competencies are reflective of a quality PSE.
HEQCO has outlined four classes of learning outcomes: basic cognitive skills (numeracy and literacy), discipline-specific skills (specialised knowledge and skills), higher-order cognitive skills (communication and critical thinking), and transferable skills (teamwork, initiative and resilience). However, it is unclear which of these four classes is most representative of a quality PSE. And do colleges and universities have the responsibility to foster each/any/all of them?
This ambiguity may be a limiting factor on HEQCO’s upcoming initiative. For example, HEQCO claims this test will help provide insight into how effectively students are developing their literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills to succeed throughout their lives. Using HEQCO’s definitions from above, it seems this test is more about measuring basic cognitive skills and a bit of higher-order cognitive skills. Skills such as teamwork, initiative and resilience – the transferable skills most desired by employers – are not covered in this assessment. To be fair, HEQCO is actively seeking ways to utilize reliable assessment tools capable of measuring transferable skills, which is incredibly difficult to standardize.
In short, this pilot test is more about assessing students’ basic and higher-order cognitive skills. Whether or not these competencies are the prerogative of colleges and universities rather than the K-12 sector is up for debate. While it remains to be seen what new information this assessment will provide, we can anticipate a variety of ways in which the results of EASI might impact the Ontario post-secondary education sector.
How will EASI impact Ontario colleges and universities?
Since this initiative is truly the first of its kind at the post-secondary level in Ontario, it is unclear how its results will impact the sector. It is fair to anticipate that one of the key benefits this initiative can provide is that it will give each student participant a sense of their own literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills with international benchmarks to compare. It is also likely that each participating institution will use the results to inform their practices and see where certain areas could be improved through course curricula and/or program designs.
The final reports summarizing all of the findings will also provide the provincial government and employers with a snapshot of the cognitive skills Ontario’s first-years and graduates possess. Finally, and perhaps ideally, the EASI project will illustrate the improvements needed within the K-12 sector to ensure their students are literate and numerate, and prepared to build on those skills at the post-secondary level.
However, there is some concern that EASI could pave the way for a singular framework of learning outcomes to take root within Ontario PSE. For instance, the large emphasis on cognitive skills, while important, does not effectively address the transferable skills piece that is most representative of employer demands. It is therefore arguable to consider this test as less of an assessment of ‘critical employability skills’, and more so an assessment of ‘essential life skills’. Ensuring students have the skills needed to succeed in life is an important aspect of our education system, but it would be debateable to suggest that cognitive skills fully encapsulate that ideal.
Lastly, we know that PSE is not like K-12 education. There is no standardized curriculum and there isn’t a provincially-held learning outcomes framework that each college and university has to abide by in order to maintain their funding (at least for now). Students in different programs will exercise and develop different cognitive skills throughout their program’s duration. Some won’t even continue using skills like numeracy for the entirety of their PSE.
Moving forward: more of the same?
So if we anticipate some graduate students with equal or lower numeracy scores compared to first-years, does this mean their programs are of poor quality? Of course not. There are discipline-specific skills and the far more valued transferable skills that HEQCO has also outlined, which remain unexamined in this instance. But knowing that transferable skills are very difficult to assess in a standardized format, are we left measuring the same general cognitive skills we have always measured?
There are two main takeaways from this thought exercise: 1) It is debateable how effectively EASI will tell us much new information about our PSE students; 2) It is unclear how the results of EASI will impact the sector as a whole.
We should remain optimistic, though, as all parties seem to genuinely yearn for the highest quality PSE possible in Ontario. Like any new initiative, the effectiveness of this project will be determined by how its results inform policy; how it is used by HEQCO, how it is used by the participating colleges and universities and, most importantly, how it is used by the Ontario government to influence PSE policy.
In the “knowledge economy”, countries around the world have been promoting the virtues of innovation and the role that universities can play in supporting it. No other region appears to have embraced the potential of innovation with such fervour as Africa. However, there is a substantial disconnect between innovation policy aspirations and the reality of universities in many African countries. In this context, there is a need to re-frame the role of universities in Africa to reflect more realistically existing institutional capabilities and national needs. (more…)
By Merli Tamtik
The federal government is emphasizing a new collaborative approach in building ‘an inclusive innovation agenda’ with the help of ‘Innovation Leaders’ – stakeholders from the business community to universities and colleges, the not-for-profit sector, social entrepreneurs and indigenous business leaders. A more focused and collaborative approach to support entrepreneurship and innovation is desperately needed, as recent policy reports show a continuing innovation under-performance in Canada compared to other OECD countries (see this and this). (more…)
By Dan Lang
To continue the discussion that began in the previous blog posts (see Part 1 and Part 2) about HEQCO’s report on The Differentiation of the Ontario University System let’s at look some significant matters of fact insofar as what the report calls “financial sustainability” is concerned. (more…)
The broad reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) are having an impact on international academic relations in Canada. While the changes have essentially added new layers of regulation to the TFWP itself and the categories of labour mobility exempt from the TFWP (now grouped under the International Mobility Program (IMP)), including international postdocs, my sense is that these new procedures are having particularly challenging repercussions for visiting professors. (more…)
By Dan Lang
A previous post discussed how the recent HEQCO report, The Differentiation of the Ontario System: Where we are and where we should go?, is the latest instalment of an on-going debate in Ontario about differentiation. This post addresses questions the report itself raises about how its conclusions were drawn about differentiation, including the indicators and data used. (more…)
By Dan Lang
When thinking about systems of higher education three books that I often return to are Burton Clark’s The Higher Education System, Diana Crane’s Invisible Colleges, and Steven Scott’s Seeing Like a State. All three provide insightful prisms through which to view HEQCO’s most recent discussion of differentiation. (more…)