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Speculative Diction

In the news: Canadian PSE round-up


There has been so much going on in Canadian post-secondary education over the past few months, that while my blog posts have focused on other things, it’s time to do a bit of a round-up of the major “happenings” in what is called – in the Twittersphere – #CdnPSE.

Top of the news is the ongoing Quebec students’ anti-tuition “strike”, which began in February (protests began earlier, in 2011). The students have joined a global movement of sorts, since similar protests have happened in Europe and in South America; and their activities are beginning to receive international media attention (the Twitter hashtag for the ongoing events is #ggi). The strike was prompted by the province’s announcement in late 2010 that tuition would rise by $325 per year over the next 5 years (a 75% increase). Quebec currently has the least expensive tuition in Canada, and students have been fully willing to hit the streets in defence of this lower-cost education. University leaders and politicians continue to make the argument that PSE quality cannot be maintained without raising tuition, and that low tuition merely subsidizes education of the upper-middle and wealthier classes, rather than providing accessibility for the underprivileged.

The Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) signed a copyright licensing agreement with Access Copyright. There has been much criticism of the new arrangement, which contains an increase from under $4 to about $26 per full-time student per year, wrapping into the fee what was formerly an extra charge per copied page for coursepack copying. Canadian copyright expert Michael Geist has argued that the deal is over-priced and irrationally restrictive.

York University, after announcing that a partnership was in the works with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) (a think-tank funded by Jim Balsillie of RIM), had to scrap these plans when its faculty rejected the arrangement citing concerns about academic freedom. The arrangement with CIGI would have created 10 research chairs in international law (as well as graduate student positions), but the Osgoode Hall faculty council voted it down by 34 to 7. York, along with Wilfred Laurier University and the University of Waterloo, had been threatened with censure by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) for its proposed venture with CIGI.

Back in the summer of 2011, Brazil announced it would fund 75,000 scholarships for students to study overseas (in STEM fields only), known as “Science Without Borders.” Canada has acted quickly to secure part of this bountiful student-market for itself. On April 24 a large delegation of Canadian university presidents travelled to Brazil on a trip designed to cultivate lucrative ties between the two nations, and ultimately to recruit more Brazilian students. Brazil is seen as a country with a burgeoning middle class (it’s part of the so-called BRIC nations), unlike other countries long described as “developed” but now presenting sapped markets for international post-secondary students and other economic partnerships.

A recent international comparative study has revealed that Canada’s tenure-track and tenured professors are apparently the best paid in the world. Some people think this is a good thing, since salaries are absurdly low in many other countries where PSE systems have been marketized and academic labour has been destabilized. But others see it as a sign that faculty are over-paid and under-productive, and some have tried to pit faculty salaries against student tuition (and critiqued pensions in the same way) which seems like a kind of “generational warfare” approach. Interestingly, that same argument is being used to position Quebec’s striking students as “entitled” for demanding that their tuition be kept low as it was for previous generations.

More Canadian PSE tidbits…

  • On April 4, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and technology released its report on PSE accessibility in Canada.
  • Ontario students had their own sit-in on April 5 at Minister Glen Murray’s office, protesting another 5% tuition increase for the upcoming academic year.
  • The Ontario “Sunshine list” of public sector salaries over $100,000 was released, providing more fodder for critiques of university employees’ salaries.
  • Canadian student visa rules were loosened so that international graduate students can now work in their chosen fields before graduation, potentially earning extra funding for themselves and developing Canadian careers.
  • Concordia University was dinged $2 million as a penalty for over-generous severance packages dished out to former senior administrators.
  • McMaster University has been chided by the Hamilton Spectator for an ongoing lack of “accountability, transparency and disclosure”, particularly about the details of former university president Peter George’s contract.
Melonie Fullick
Melonie Fullick is a PhD candidate at York University. The topic of her dissertation is Canadian post-secondary education policy and its effects on the institutional environment in universities.
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  1. Jen / May 1, 2012 at 11:42

    I find it somewhat surprising that a $325 increase over five years is deemed worthy of going to the streets. It occurs to me that some of these students, who are absolutely acting “entitled,” will be suffering some serious shell-shock when they get out into the real world. I bet my cost of daycare will increase by that much in five years (let alone the cost of anything else).

    While it’s great that these students are passionate about something, maybe there is somewhere more valuable to put this energy?