Who is Teaching Your University Classes?

Cliche image of a professor. Why are they always dudes with beards writing on chalkboards? And why is it always math?

Cliche image of a professor. Why are they always dudes with beards writing on chalkboards? And why is it always math?

I’ve spent much of my summer researching university recruitment literature. I want to see how the rhetoric of university life compares to the reality, particularly for “first generation” students — those whose parents didn’t attend post-secondary education.

Through this exercise, I’ve had to sit down hard on my own cynicism at times, particularly when it comes to the portrayal of teaching, and of university professors. There’s some over-the-top material here. Take this institution, which promises, “Our award-winning professors are brilliant minds who will engage, motivate and inspire you.” Or this one, which echoes, “You will learn from nationally and internationally renowned teachers and researchers.”

This is, frankly, bald rhetoric. And there are a number of reasons why parents and students alike should be sitting up, and taking notice.

Reason Number One: Research is Over-rated. Seriously.

First, we should be cautious about buying in to the “academic rockstar” discourse. Continue reading

The Maclean’s University Rankings: Celebrating 20 Years of Pointless Competition

The 2015 edition of the Maclean’s University Rankings marks the 20th anniversary of the publication. Although it is subject to derision by the institutions it features, most of these protests have subsided into occasional whimpers. Really, there’s not much the universities can do. As Maclean’s states in the methodology for the study, the data they pull is publicly available, or generated through their own research; they don’t rely on the universities to get it.

The Maclean’s University Rankings drive me crazy — in part because they are so very, very badly done, and more deeply because they play a significant part in generating and legitimizing a toxic culture of pointless competition in our higher education system. Yet the damn things continue to fly off the shelves. Why do we buy in? Continue reading

Confusion Galore in Canadian Post-Secondary Education

The Canada Council on Learning, a federally funded research group just released a report on the challenges of assessing quality in post-secondary education in Canada. Up to Par: The Challenge of Demonstrating Quality in Canadian Post-secondary Education (there’s a mouthful, eh?) describes, among other concerns how downright confusing post-secondary education has become.

Here’s the deal: until the mid 1990s,if you went to college, you got a diploma or a certificate. If you went to university, you got a degree. And Canadian universities have been fairly standard in the quality of education they offer. So we’ve had this rather agreeable system from the standpoint of the student: What you see is what you get.

Too bad the Canadian system is going to start looking like the American one, where figuring out where to go to school is as complicated, time consuming and annoying as trying to read your cell phone bill. As colleges and universities compete for students, they get more “gimmicky” and aggressive in their recruitment tactics. Students and potential students are stuck trying to identify the “real deal” through all the marketing hype.

The CCL report points out the known problem of degree/diploma mills – fraudulent institutions that award fraudulent credentials – but I suspect that most people seeking a credential on the basis of their “life experience” know what they are doing, and what they are getting. The larger problem, in my opinion, is the growing number of institutions that are legally licensed to offer courses and provide certificates or diplomas or whatever you want to call them that, once obtained, have no pull in the labour market whatsoever.

It is good to see some recognition, through the CCL, that quality recognition is an increasing problem in Canadian post-secondary education. What remains to be seen is if and how well provincial governments respond to the call.