McMaster professor Marshall Beier has been named as one of six winners of the 2013-14 Teaching Award from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). Beier will receive the award at a ceremony in Toronto on Oct. 25.

This latest award adds yet another honour to Beier's well-decorated teaching career. Beier received a McMaster Student Union Faculty Teaching Award in 2003, an Ontario Leadership in Faculty Teaching Award in 2007 and most recently, a 3M National Teaching Fellowship in 2012, among others over his 14-year tenure at McMaster.

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"Something that’s become increasingly important to me in recent years is thinking about new ways to engage students as bona fide bearers of knowledge and as knowledge producers in their own right," Beier said in a press release. "Not merely as passive recipients of whatever might be imparted by way of the familiar ‘Sage on the stage’ model of teaching."

For the 2014-15 year, Beier is teaching courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Currently, Beier teaches a fourth-year course entitled Conceptual Issues: Global Politics and Advanced Issues in Global Security and a graduate course entitled Theories of International Politics and Advanced Concepts of International Relations Theory. Beier is also a contributor to McMaster Children and Youth University, an initiative that provides free lectures to teenagers on Saturday mornings.

“It’s always very exciting and very gratifying to be involved in new initiatives like this that present us with opportunities to think about how we might develop new ways of thinking about our roles as teachers,” said Beier.

Beier received his Ph.D in political science from York University, and joined the Department of Political Science at McMaster in 2000. He is currently researching the militarization of childhood funded by an insight grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

With a number of Ontario universities facing large pension deficits, the province recently gave universities and other public sector employers a three-year extension to put sustainable pension plans in place.

Prior to the extension, several universities were running pension deficits in the hundreds of millions and had applied for solvency relief from the government, with terms expiring in January 2014. The three-year extension would allow universities to defer their solvency payments, or make interest-only payments, until 2018.

“[The extension] gives universities and their employees breathing room to address their pension plans,” said Graeme Stewart, communications director for Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). The OCUFA lobbied for short-term relief from pension pressures.

Currently, all but three universities in Ontario face pension solvency deficits, according to OCUFA.

Queen’s University, for instance, faces a pension deficit of $459 million. To pay that off in 10 years, the university would have to draw heavily from its operating budget — extra funds it does not have — to allot $35 million annually to its pension fund.

Caroline Davis, vice-principal of finance and administration at Queen’s, recently called the university’s deficit issue “one of the most pressing financial issues facing Queen’s” in a Q and A on the school’s website.

Davis also said that the three-year short-term relief “would not eliminate [the university's] solvency problem and it would come at a cost.”

“It’s a little like making only the minimum payments on your credit card,” she said.

McMaster University’s 2013-14 consolidated budget similarly cited the university’s pension deficit as “the most significant financial pressure McMaster faces.”

The University of Ottawa has a pension deficit of $289 million and was approved for solvency relief this past June. Prior to the approval, the U of O faced the option of diverting $62 million, about 9 per cent of its operating budget, to paying off the deficit over five years.

Unfunded pension liabilities in universities have been an issue in Ontario for a number of years, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis.

“There were contribution holidays taken a decade ago when the plans had surpluses – the universities asked to not make contributions and were given that,” said Stewart. “The market crashed in 2008 and still hasn’t recovered. We also have historically low interest rates.”

“This is a short term stop gap,” Stewart said of the extension granted by the province. “OCUFA has received a grant from the government to do research on [sustainable pension options] – and so has the Council of Ontario Universities.

“It gives us time to do research and gives us time to propose some solutions.”

In a leaked framework proposal, the province expressed an urgent need for universities and colleges to further specialize in niche areas. The Ontario government sent the draft to administrators, seeking clarification on strategic enrolment plans and feedback on metrics tied to funding.

The leaked document, entitled “Ontario’s Proposed Differentiation Policy Framework: Draft Discussion Paper” and marked confidential, comes on the heels of expected changes to the post-secondary sector by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

The document stresses the need “to protect the gains of the last 10 years” in the face of current fiscal challenges.

The Ministry stated that it “has opted for differentiation as a primary policy driver for the system” and outlined eight components under which institutions can be evaluated. The components range from teaching and learning to innovation and economic development.

The government also proposed evaluation metrics to be used in funding considerations, based on discussions with various stakeholders since 2012. Some metrics include teaching-only faculty, student employment outcomes, employer satisfaction, research productivity and distribution of credentials.

Already, the proposed framework is raising questions about institutional autonomy and student impact, particularly for those living in northern and rural areas.

On Sept. 24, OPSEU, a union which represents more than 8,000 college faculty, requested that joint task forces be set up “to both mitigate the negative impact of any changes on faculty, but also to achieve the changes to the objectives.”

Since roundtable discussions began last year, CFS-Ontario and OCUFA have expressed concerns about differentiation being a cost-saving measure. OUSA has cautioned that teaching and research should not be separated in the differentiation process.

In response to recent concerns, TCU minister Brad Duguid said, “We [the province] will not be micromanaging but we do have a stewardship role.” He said the province would “use funding mechanisms to drive change in the system.”

“If there’s a world-class institution doing something in one area and another institution down the road wants to get in on it, that doesn’t really make sense,” he said.

Duguid also emphasized the importance of “building a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism.”

“Some of our institutions are doing a tremendous job [of doing that]. We need to encourage that because it’s going to benefit graduates in any field.”

For McMaster University, a large-sized school with approximately 24,000 full-time students, one challenge will be to reconcile high research intensity with a student-centred approach - two facets that have been identified as equally important in the University’s 2011 “Forward With Integrity” mandate. With greater differentiation, it remains to be seen how the university will effectively balance the two priorities.

McMaster’s provost, David Wilkinson, said the proposed framework is not surprising but it is unclear how the province will move forward in terms of funding.

“It’s too early to tell what the impacts [of the framework] might be,” Wilkinson said. “It’s certainly a competitive process and it does force us to demonstrate to the ministry how we can be more effective than other universities. It will also provide certain avenues for collaboration.”

Like other Ontario universities, McMaster is already differentiated to an extent—for example, the University is well known for its school of medicine and flagship interdisciplinary programs.

Laurentian University, a smaller institution in Sudbury with a total of 9,700 students, has also been setting itself apart from other institutions. Laurentian released its strategic plan in 2012, outlining the University’s distinctive programs, including mining engineering, sports psychology and applied geophysics.

Laurentian president Dominic Giroux said the university has looked to expand programs that aren’t readily available elsewhere.

“When I first came in [Apr. 2009], the strategic plan was 16 pages and had 102 priorities – I wanted the board of governors to submit to us a report of no more than five pages to identify a limited number of signature programs in research excellence. It took us about 10 months. What came out loud and clear at the initial stage was the need to focus, focus, focus,” Giroux said.

“Differentiation shouldn’t lead to program expansions or closures - it’s an issue of where more space should be allocated,” Giroux said.

By Oct. 11, administrators are expected to respond to the government’s proposed framework. The government stated it would provide a finalized framework by late October.

While various groups have been consulted since 2012, the government will negotiate only with institutions about metrics and funding. Universities’ strategic mandate agreements will be under negotiation until spring 2014.

Photo by Halley Requena-Silva/Courtesy the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario.

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is set to implement big changes to Ontario’s post-secondary education sector over the next six months. TCU minister Brad Duguid said he expects greater differentiation between institutions, more e-learning opportunities and easier credit transfers.

Duguid met with student and faculty groups over the summer to discuss reforms proposed by the ministry. The ministry has now entered the decision-making stage.

“My sense is that there is recognition among all student groups and faculty groups that, if we just go on the way we are now, given the fiscal environment, it’s not sustainable,” Duguid said.

The province is expected to make announcements addressing three key issues in the next six months.

Online education

The province has proposed an Ontario Online Initiative that would take a consortium or “centre of excellence” approach to providing more e-learning opportunities.

“I expect this fall we will be moving forward with a strategy that will help make Ontario a leader in this area,” Duguid said.

In February 2012, a leaked policy paper from the ministry, suggesting that students should be able to take three of five courses online, drew criticism from several student and faculty groups. Groups responded by raising concerns over reduced quality of education through e-learning.

“It seems now that the government has backed away from a degree-granting institution. Students pushed back on that very strongly,” said Alastair Woods, CFS-Ontario chairperson.

“Online education should only be pursued as a means to provide more access to distance education, not as a cost-saving measure,” said Rylan Kinnon, director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Association (OUSA). “We feel the government understands that and is making progress.”

Kinnon said OUSA has recommended extended hours for online student support and online credit transfers.

“Having credit transfer is a central aspect of it–students need to know that their [online] course will apply to their program in their home institution,” Kinnon said.

Differentiation

Duguid said the province will continue to push for greater differentiation between Ontario’s colleges and universities “to stay competitive in the global economy.”

“We can no longer afford to have a system that is organically developing based on whatever preferences the institutions may have. We can’t have duplication in the system,” he said.

With greater differentiation, institutions are encouraged to grow preferentially in areas they already excel in, so that each institution can be assessed by specific performance indicators.

OCUFA, which represents 17,000 university faculty and librarians, released its response to the Ministry’s discussion guide, raising concerns over rhetoric and some proposed reforms.

“We don’t really know what ‘differentiation’ means,” said Kate Lawson, OCUFA president. “If it means students in any part of the province can access high quality aspects of education they want, we can support that. But we’re concerned that the government might look at it as a cost-saving mechanism.”

“From OCUFA’s point of view, universities in Ontario are underfunded and need reliable baseline funding,” Lawson said.

OCUFA has stated that it will not support using institutional performance against the goals outlined in the SMAs [strategic mandate agreements] to determine allocations of public funding.

“We believe such a system [imposes] a punitive hierarchy of “winners” and “losers,” OCUFA stated.

Credit transfer

While Duguid did not confirm or deny that the consortium established between seven universities last year will be expanded, he said a more fluid system is one of his priorities.

“I see no reason why, in the coming years, courses can’t be fully transferable across Ontario institutions,” Duguid said.

Kinnon said OUSA supports the ministry’s push for more course-mapping (institutions trying to match each other’s popular courses) as well as putting standards in place for appeals, residence requirements, and minimum grade requirements.

OUSA has also cautioned that rural and northern institutions should have a breadth of offerings since distance is a greater factor for those students.

“Up until now the ministry and the sector have done a lot of good work on college-to-university credit transfer. Now we need to focus on university-to-university transfer,” Kinnon said.

This article was also published on the Canadian University Press's newswire

Maryssa Barras

The Silhouette Intern

Alumni Association hosts Welcome Wednesdays

Starting on Jan. 23 the McMaster Alumni Association will be hosting Welcome Wednesdays. Once a month students will be welcome to visit the Alumni House for free coffee and bagels from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Members of the Student Relations Committee will be present for information on how to get involved on campus. Registration is required and free at alumni.os.mcmaster.ca.

New mentorship program launched

On Jan. 23, Communication Studies and Multimedia unveiled a new mentorship program where upper-year students are paired with first and second-year students. A meet and greet social was held to introduce and pair up mentors with mentees. This program was the result of a student-led initiative and will have continued socials for mentors and mentees to bond.

City of Hamilton issues cold weather alert

There is a cold weather alert for the City of Hamilton as of Jan. 18. Cold weather alerts mean that temperatures are expected to go to or below -15 C. The cold weather could reach up to 10 degrees lower than average for this time of year, is expected to last all week, and could potentially warm up over the weekend. Students should be advised that the cold-warm trend will continue for the weeks to come.

Humanities launches Experiential Ed. centre

The Faculty of Humanities is launching the Humanities Target Learning & Experiential Education Centre (HTLC). Funded by the Faculty of Humanities and full-time Humanities students, the HTLC was passed by students through the McMaster Humanities Society Referendum with the goal of increasing career exploration an experiential opportunities for Humanities students, and will be hosting events throughout the semester for interested students. The official launch is on Jan. 21 in CIBC Hall at 10:30 a.m. Students, faculty and staff are all welcome.

Study finds 905 residents oppose austerity cuts 

A new study by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) found that over two thirds of residents in the 905 region of Hamilton do not want the governments deficit-cutting agenda to compromise the quality of university education in the province. 86 percent of residents oppose university funding cuts, and 75 percent oppose shifting the cost of higher education onto students with higher tuition fees.

Student and faculty groups in Ontario don’t like what the government has in store for the future of post-secondary education.

In response to a recent discussion paper by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU), several groups say they do not agree with Minister Glen Murray’s proposed reforms.

Key issues raised by student leaders include government intrusion in post-secondary education, tuition hikes, a rapid shift toward technology-based education and incentivization of entrepreneurial learning.

The Canadian Federation of Students - Ontario (CFS Ontario) and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) are among those concerned about a perceived ‘unprecedented intrusion’ of government in the post-secondary sector.

“People who are in the best position to determine what's best for students are students themselves, faculty members and university administrators,” said Graeme Stewart, communications manager at OCUFA. “We want to keep decision-making power with [those parties].”

The MTCU’s discussion paper, entitled “Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creativity, Innovation and Knowledge” was drafted this past summer. To the dismay of student leaders, the paper was written without student consultation and publicized in late August during the back-to-school rush.

The paper comes on the heels of a controversial leaked policy paper in February, tentatively entitled "3 Cubed." The leaked document suggested that universities should increase efficiency by offering more three-year degrees and allowing students to get more than half their credits online.

MTCU’s recent summer discussion paper acknowledges a rapidly changing post-secondary education sector and the need for Ontario institutions to respond.

Though the proposal outwardly rejects efficiency-focused strategies to curb costs, it also aligns itself with the trend of "high quality outcome-based credentials" becoming the norm.

The report says “cost reductions and the elimination of redundancies are essential parts of our government’s fiscal plan,” but these are not enough to meet the fiscal challenges.

In the long term, the Ministry sees “adopting innovation in the sector to drive productivity” as the other half of the equation.

One proposed reform, a simpler credit transfer system, has already been implemented in a recent partnership between seven universities and has generally been well received.

“Credit transfer, online learning, different experiential options - these are all good things. Our concern is that the government seems to be saying: we’re going to tell you what to do, when to use online learning, when to use learning technologies, when to do co-op,” said Stewart.

There are several shared concerns put forward by CFS Ontario and OCUFA, showing overlap between student and faculty reactions to the Ministry's proposal.

 

Underfunded Ontario PSE sector

Respondents pointed to the fact that Ontario’s post-secondary sector is the least funded in the nation. Per-student funding currently stands at $8,349, which is 34 per cent below the national average, according to a 2011 Statistics Canada report.

“The underfunding problem is decades old in Ontario,” said Stewart, who cited Ontario’s per-student funding as the primary reason for a higher student-faculty ratio.

By 2009, Ontario’s ratio of students to full-time faculty was nearly seven per cent higher than the national average, according to a separate report by Stats Canada. Today, there are roughly 27 students for every professor in Ontario.

“This means students can’t have the same face-to-face interaction, professors aren’t as available, students find themselves in larger classes and they have fewer course choices. It also means universities don’t have the money to restore their older buildings,” said Stewart.

 

Higher rate of tuition increase

“When the government allows per-student funding to decrease, that puts pressure on institutions to increase tuition fees because they have to replace that revenue,” said Stewart.

This year, tuition fees across the nation have risen at more than three times the rate of inflation. Student and faculty representatives argue that this would create a more elite system and diminish accessibility to higher education.

“I don’t think we can say that right now, or even a couple of years ago, tuition fees were at the right place and we should increase rates with inflation,” said Sarah Jayne King, chairperson of CFS Ontario.

“Tuition fees are beyond the point where we can simply freeze them and be happy with that," said King.

CFS Ontario has drafted two tuition fee proposals for the most recent provincial budget that would have tuition fees reduced immediately by 25 per cent.

 

Emphasis on performance-based funding and incentivization

CFS Ontario criticized the proposal’s emphasis on ‘entrepreneurial learning’ and the practice of subsidizing private sector research via the post-secondary education system.

In their response, CFS Ontario asserts that “promoting the creation of business incubators or incentivizing entrepreneurial education in the province’s public colleges and universities does not facilitate knowledge, innovation or creativity.”

OCUFA similarly criticized the provincial government’s ‘performance funding’ model, saying it “makes quality improvement impossible” and unfairly punishes students.

“I don’t think the minister has a totally clear idea of what he wants yet, but our concern is that the recommendations in the paper tend to push the [post-secondary education] system toward this kind of labour market focus,” said Stewart.

 

Using technology as a cost-saving measure

“Students are concerned that online courses are going to be implemented as a cost-saving measure, when we know that to actually produce a high-quality online education is quite expensive,” said King.

There have been no concrete proposals put forward yet mandating that three out of five courses be online, said King, referring to the contents of the leaked ‘3 Cubed’ ministry document earlier this year.

However, she said there is continued concern among students that the education sector is headed in this direction.

 

The ministry asked that formal responses to the discussion paper be sent in by Sept. 30. Respondents include CFS (national), COPE, COU and OPSEU.

King and Stewart said they don’t know of any definitive timeline for a response from the Ministry, but representatives continue to be open to discussions with the government while awaiting a follow-up.

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