Tag Archives: Student

Weekly Round-Up: July 5, 2013

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to the Weekly Round-Up!

If you’ve got stories or links that you think ought to be shared for next week, you can email us at unidiversityblog@gmail.com, or tweet us @uni_di_versity.

Lamenting the rising cost of tuition is a pastime of many students. Get this: Oregon’s legislature recently proposed that students commit a portion of their future income to re-paying the state instead of paying tuition fees up front. While many details need ironing out, it’s pretty rad that students from Portland State University proposed this plan to state lawmakers!

A recent report in South Africa indicates that improving literacy levels among primary students requires much more than improving the teaching skills of teachers. Schooling alone won’t fix literacy rates, so it’s time to look at alternative avenues to holistically improve literacy.

“Girl Rising” is a documentary that highlights the quest for education of nine girls across the world. Backed by heavyweight Meryl Streep, this film is gaining traction and thousands of screenings. Have you seen this film? We haven’t and we’re curious what it’s like, especially since plans are in the work for future editions involving Indian and French actors.

Gender stereotypes permeate education – science is for boys and arts is for girls, or so we’re often told. A recent study shows that even though boys outnumber girls in science related subjects, girls are now out-performing boys at the BTEC levels in the UK. Despite this success, few girls make the leap to science-related degrees at the university level.

End your week with a comical video of Brazilian students aged 8-13 correcting the grammar of their fave celebs’ tweets. Charlie Sheen, you stand corrected!

Have a stellar weekend, folks. Come back on Monday for some more good reads by the uni(di)versity team!

Tagged , , ,

Students need more than Kraft Dinner protests

On Monday, May 27th 2013, students at the University of Ottawa rallied at a meeting of the University’s Board of Governors to protest proposed tuition fee increases. The Board was slated to vote on a motion to raise tuition fees three per cent each year for the next four years. The multi-year proposal is an unprecedented approach, in lieu of an annual debate on tuition hikes.

Approximately seventy-five students were in attendance at the meeting, boxes of Kraft Dinner in hand. The proposal was taken off the table in response to this strong student presence.

Kraft Dinner is not only a staple of the student diet, but also of the student tuition fee protest in Canada. I recall one protest in particular, during my first year at the University of Ottawa. It was an exciting year for the lower tuition movement. The February 7 Student Day of Action saw thousands of students on Parliament Hill, protesting against tuition fee hikes. I felt inspired.

Sadly, the reality of the past seven years is that not much has changed. In fact, when considering the cost of post-secondary education, the situation is worsening. There are fewer scholarships, fewer research grants, less government funding for universities, escalating tuition fees, and higher student unemployment. Meanwhile, universities are teeming with students, and administrators are earning more money than ever.

Since I started university in 2006, tuition fees for my political science program at the University of Ottawa have risen from $4,364 to $6,341 in 2012. During the same period, fees for law school have risen even more dramatically. My future earning potential and my ability to pay back my students loans hasn’t risen that much – though perhaps my cost-of-living has.

Having served on the University of Ottawa Board of Governors from 2009 to 2011, I know precisely what university administrators will tell you:

Universities are receiving less funding from federal and provincial governments, but they are mandated to accept more students every year. The costs of maintaining quality levels of education are escalating, particularly when it comes to infrastructure, and students are their steadiest and surest source of income.

Besides, a degree is guarantee of future earnings! Win-win.

Anyway, we didn’t raise fees to the full 5 per cent per year that the government allows – never mind that 4.5 per cent hikes seem pretty darn close.

Of course, there’s some truth to this. However, I want to know what universities are doing to save costs. What are they doing to cut their overhead?* What are they doing to raise funds aside from hiking tuition? Why are university presidents supporting government efforts to raise or remove the cap on tuition fees? And why aren’t they lobbying the provincial and federal governments alongside students for more funding?

If you ask, you won’t get any answers. At least when I was around, the Board’s response was always that “our hands are tied.”

Universities and students should not be at odds like this.

The trouble for students is that we do not have a coherent or effective student movement when it comes to tuition fees and funding for post-secondary education. We are a long way away from universal post-secondary education, and I am conflicted as to its feasibility in Canada. However, I do believe the cost of post-secondary education in Canada as it stands is far too great.

An effective student movement for lower fees needs to fight its case on multiple fronts, with a sophisticated policy approach.

Some issues I’m particularly concerned with:

  • Colleges and universities should work in partnership with their student advocates.
  • Universities should not be forced to increase enrollment. The argument that universities must respond to “demand” for degrees is ludicrous and just another aspect of the commodification of education. Rather, admissions standards for university should be elevated to recognize the the skills and background required to receive credentials in a particular field. (Though university class should remain accessible to the general public). Admission should be based on merit, not user-fee entitlements.
  • Secondary education is sorely lacking. Improving curricula and consistently providing quality education at the secondary school level is key to ensuring universities accept qualified and capable students who want and will benefit from a degree, while also emphasizing the importance of colleges and trade schools.
  • There is a mythology that a university degree is necessary for employment in the modern Canadian job market. Degree inflation is a real problem. Meanwhile, many university degree holders find themselves in college after-the-fact to obtain the hard skills necessary for their desired careers.

The organizations that speak for student are silent. They are hardly present in policy debates, elections, or public discourse. A day of action every year (or every other year) is not enough, and lobby days on Parliament Hill are only valuable if your organization is already well-regarded. Students themselves are disenchanted. Those currently enrolled are too distracted trying pay bills and study to act, or are short-sightedly disregarding those who come up after them.

I believe in the importance of a student union that speaks for all students in Canada and in each province, one that lobbies for greater funding and support for students. Unfortunately, the Canadian Federation of Students, the largest such union, has been running a losing campaign for over a decade, resting on the laurels gained from their successes in the 1990s.

It’s time to shake more than a box of KD at the problem. We need a creative, new approach to resolve the issues underlying the barriers to post-secondary education, the decline of Canadian universities, and the impact on students’ futures.

I do not know what the answers are to achieving this ambitious goal, but I know it’s a goal worth fighting for.

*Note: there’s been some discussion at uOttawa and other universities that the answer to the issue of overhead is online course and degrees: virtual university. I am opposed to moving towards this model. Nothing compares to being in a classroom, to physical presence. And to buy and sell degrees online with minimal effort on the part of universities and students, I believe, will only further degrade the quality of education and the further bolster its commodification.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The classes we love and the classes we hate

While it’s easy to talk about the bad side of our education systems, I think it’s worth talking about some of the ways that classes can be awesome and empowering.

I’ve been lucky enough to have had some great classes in my post-secondary education – sometimes thanks to professors, sometimes thanks to classmates, sometimes thanks to the material. What’s really striking to me is how different those classes are from the classes I hate attending. It’s like they’re barely part of the same process – the only similarity is that they both take place in a classroom.

So what makes for an excellent class?

A prof that respects students

It’s brutally obvious when a prof doesn’t give a crap about what students have to contribute to a course. These are the profs who stand at the front and lecture, with no interest in class discussion and no effort to make the material accessible. The approach, at its worst, is sink or swim – figure it out without my help, or don’t figure it out at all.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are profs who don’t just want to teach students, but also want to learn from them. These are professors who ask questions that aren’t about the facts of the material, but instead are about opinions, interpretations, or understandings. They facilitate class discussions and encourage engagement; they love to hear about creative approaches; and if they hear an argument they haven’t thought of before, they hear it out rather than dismissing it out of hand.

These professors teach students like people, rather than – in the actual words of an actual university administrator at an actual school I attended – “income generating units”. Amazingly, I’d rather learn from someone who respects me than from someone who treats me and my classmates like a waste of time.

A prof that makes learning accessible

You know that prof who seems to have no ability to control class discussion? Where students will just interrupt the lecture, spout irrelevancies, and give wrong answers, while the prof’s response is to just sit back and watch?

That sucks. Not just because it’s a waste of everyone else’s time, but because it makes the material less accessible even for the people who want to be there. People who aren’t interested in jumping into aggressive discussions are frustrated when the conversation strays so far off topic that they might as well be in another class. It’s harder to focus on the material when class structure gets thrown to the wind whenever that dude at the back wants to bring up his irrelevant job experience that he thinks makes him an expert.

A class requires leadership on the part of the instructor, because in the vast majority of circumstances, students in a classroom environment can’t teach themselves as effectively on their own. Without that leadership, it becomes a fight for students to wade through the mess of the classroom proceedings to get at the knowledge the material contains. It’s exhausting, and miserable, and makes the whole class an unpleasant place to be.

Supportive classmates

One of my favourite classes from last fall was a class with a brutally dense textbook, tough material, and a prof who stood at the front of the room and lectured without stopping for an hour and a half. I skipped classes out of boredom and – I’ll be honest – I was that student professors hate, sitting in the back of the class screwing around on Facebook.

And yet.

I was lucky enough to be taking the class with a few other highly motivated friends who were just as bewildered by the material as I was. After a few classes, we sat down and reviewed our notes to make sure we’d actually understood the lecture. Before the exam, we had some epic group study sessions where we went through the cases – some 200 of which we had to memorize before the closed-book final exam – to make sure we understood and remembered them.

Some of the only cases I remember from fall semester were in that class, because it seems that turning the main point of the case into a terrible pun and giggling over it with friends is sometimes the best way to learn.

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that make a class empowering. As much as we like to talk broad theory about critically approaching normative material, sometimes the real activism comes from professors who take the time to listen and classmates who help you learn.

With only three items, my list of what makes for an excellent class is hardly exhaustive. If y’all have any other examples of ways that profs or classmates made a class unexpectedly excellent, shout it out in the comments!

Tagged , , ,