Back to school: What is the media saying?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Kayla MacIntosh, Junior Communications Officer, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

As Junior Communications Officer at the Federation, I monitor the “back to school” news that fills the media every September when more than a million Canadian students head back to college and university. In this blog you can find a variety of important conversations about the post-secondary education (PSE) sector and its biggest achievements and challenges moving forward in the 2016-17 academic year.

Several Canadian universities, 13 in total, were buoyed in their back to school start, with landmark investments of $900 million, announced on September 6  from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) for research in fields ranging from data science to sustainable food production. Québec media noted that this announcement meant that four universities in the province are receiving a total of $213 million dollars in research funding. The federal government also promised a $1.5 billion increase over five years to its student grants program.

Recent Education Policy Research Initiative (EPRI) research has shown that the earnings of post-secondary graduates are higher than those without a university or college education. The study indicates that those with a degree in the humanities or social sciences (HSS) earn $61,900 only eight years post-graduation, showing that an arts degree does pays off. The Washington Post reported that a study out of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York has found that that there is exaggeration of underemployment and low pay of liberal arts majors. Arts advocate and Carleton University Professor Paul Keen states that the employment rate is good and salaries are strong  for those with PhDs in the humanities, and that we just need to be a lot more aware and proactive about the pathways that PhD students can enjoy.

There are a number of good news stories specifically about Indigenous education at the PSE level. First Nations University celebrated it’s 40th anniversary, and both Lakehead University and the University of Winnipeg launched Indigenous course requirements.  University of British Columbia unveiled a new centre to honour residential school survivors this month, and a bachelor of education program offered through McGill University debuted in Listuguj First Nation in September. Despite these achievements, a financing cap in the Aboriginal student funding program continue to be problems for Aboriginal students, leading to growing under-representation on campuses across the country. The number of students receiving federal support for higher education has reportedly dropped 18.3% since 1997, despite a 29% growth in the First Nations population in the same time period. Sadly, there remains much ignorance and too many stereotypical preconceptions in our school systems, as well as a need for more contemporary Indigenous education at both provincial and PSE levels.

A last conversation that overtook back to school talk in the past few weeks is sexual assault on campus. Ontario is taking action to end sexual violence on campus by requiring all Ontario universities to create a policy that complies with Bill 132, the Sexual Violence and Workplace Harassment Action Plan by the end of 2016, pushing those such as Carleton University to scratch obsolete sexual violence policies and create entirely new ones. Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt has announced that  all 26 of that provinces educational institutions will soon have sexual assault policies in place. Concordia University’s Sexual Assault Centre will be launching animated consent and sexual assault films around campus this fall in an effort to attract attention to the issue. University Affairs ran a story on how addressing sexual violence on campus is becoming a full-time job at some universities, and some are hiring professional staff dedicated to bringing awareness to the issue.

Back to school times are as busy and expensive as ever, having some ask if the experience is worth the cost or if we’d be better off  eliminating instructors and playing online videos. I’m looking forward to the discussions that occur as the year unfolds, but for those of you who enjoy a more statistical view, Universities Canada has released a new set of Back to school 2016 quick facts.



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