Wednesday Night #1614

Written by  //  February 6, 2013  //  Education, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond;
cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education. — Mark Twain

Discussion was more than usually lively and informative, hence the account touches on a number of points without fully reporting on all that were raised.

Since the student ¨strike¨ last year there has been an enormous amount of navel gazing in Québec about the cost of university education and who should bear the financial burden. Part of the problem is the dichotomy in the area of funding, with the federal government and foundations largely responsible for funding research and the provincial government for education.
The Quebec government (of whatever stripe) is schizophrenic about the role of our universities. On the one hand, they want to point to the highly educated population and on the other, they recognize that the need is for twice as many graduates of the technical programs in the CEGEPs and high schools.
Nobody is informing the students of what their options are – and where the jobs are. Thus,  the students who are demanding free tuition do not understand the economic  and demographic situation in Quebec and nobody is helping them to do the math.
At least one Wednesday Nighter makes the case that many of Quebec’s students are not seeking free tuition, but rather a recognition on the part of the government and academic authorities that there is a revolution in learning that needs to be addressed and that the students should be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. One proposal advanced by the student groups is that fees be paid only after the student has graduated and is earning money …
Equal access to university education, although a noble concept inevitably leads to high costs, large classes and indebted graduates; it  also limits the traditional classroom discussion possible in the smaller classes of past generations. Ideally, education represents the intellectual capital of the population, hence the nation and if so, efficiency in optimizing the educational system is, or should be the objective of governments.
At the recent Forum of the Montreal universities and the Chamber of Commerce, the Université de Montréal proposed a model (see Chers étudiants, j’ai une solution) that bases fees on the real costs of education in each discipline and takes into account  the earning potential of the graduates of the programs, thus medical student fees would rise, while those of arts students would fall. The model indicates that overall revenues to the university would remain roughly the same,  while the distribution of the fees would be more realistic in value for cost. This differential fees model is not new and it has been adopted by a number of countries.
Although apparently not yet defined, there is very likely an optimum size for a class according to the discipline in which it is offered, with the ease of lecturer-student exchanges being in inverse relationship to class sizes.
While not providing the same “bricks and mortar” social environment, open online classes (MOOCs) offer an increasingly popular alternative to a very broad audience, with, in one case, a reported fifty-six thousand students participating in the same online class together. However, anecdotal evidence shows that within that huge number, small groups of like-minded students identify one another and work together in small virtual groups. Given the world-wide reach of the courses, there is a huge diversity of perspectives in the ‘class’,adding a very positive element to the learning process.
This of course, is totally in contrast with the labor intensive Oxford-Cambridge model that blends weekly tutorials (one-on-one or a small group of students) at the self-governing colleges and halls, supported by classes, lectures and laboratory work organized by University faculties and departments.
A frequently forgotten fact is that, although our rating has dropped somewhat since Korea has spent enormous sums on raising the level of education, according to 2008-2010 data, Canada ranked number one among OECD countries in terms of percentage of the population with higher education. [See Canada leads the world in highly-educated adults and be sure to read the sidebar on The Canadian Paradox] On the down side: many of them are earning below the nation’s median income – and that’s before the gender earning gap is discussed. Germany, on the other hand, has dropped in the ranking but this is due to that country’s policy of selective entry, preferring to maintain the tradition of apprenticeship, as an alternative to university. It is said that by the age of six, German children have established their area of adult employment and work towards the end established from that time on.
It is essential that education policy take into consideration the importance of early childhood learning; studies have proven that the child who is encouraged and intellectually stimulated at an early age has far greater chances of success. Moreover, primary and high school years also play an important part in developing the values that include respect for all vocations in a society that is organic.
North American society  undervalues the importance of Trade and Technical Schools in the education system. Technical School graduates, although perhaps less prestigious in the eyes of the public, can have an earning capacity as great as, or greater than that of many university trained professionals.

Québec’s natural resources have been the source of much of our wealth. Potentially important oilfields have been reported in recent years in such locations as the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Anticosti Island and, only last week, Gaspésie. These discoveries pose an ethical dilemma for the government which has under various governments maintained a generally environmentally friendly profile. However, the lure of energy independence and energy-related wealth may well overcome the scruples of the present government. As Henry Aubin points out: Oil could also miraculously reduce the province’s colossal debt. And it could ease the public’s worry about the economy of an independent Quebec. [See Henry Aubin Corruption and oil reserves share storyline]
It will be interesting to follow the monetary as well as the sociological effect on the province, considering what has happened in Alberta.

The market
Investors in the stock market witnessed a continuing rise in the four year old bull market, briefly pausing during which time, some investors, erroneously believing it to signal the final high of the cycle, moved to the bond market. It is believed by the resident Wednesday Night technical analyst that the Canadian market has in fact been sleeping for the last few years and can be expected to still be on the rise for the time being.

At the close of the evening, Diana suggested that further thoughts from the participants on how the debate at the Summit on Education might proceed  would be most welcome. In response, Susan Hoecker-Drysdale forwarded a link to The Secret to Fixing Bad Schools, underlining that “it relates to my comments on the necessity to examine and improve educational systems (in any country) holistically and contextually. There is great need to pull the child’s life experience into the learning process to initiate interests, skills, and motivation, and, most importantly, the pure joy of learning; and, not insignificantly, to begin at the pre-school level. Note the two years of pre-school in Union City, NJ. It’s an example that addresses some of the issues discussed last Wednesday Night. Surely we cannot evaluate and change university education in the absence of addressing pre-school, primary and secondary educational philosophies and practices.”
Margaret Duthie also forwarded her reflections on the topic:

There is a need to understand what is at the root of the confrontations we have seen between the government and students.  The Occupy Movement which so captured the imaginations of young people across the world over a year ago now, showed a desire for a fundamental change in societal values and it would seem that in Quebec, the student movement has been in some ways an extension of this.
Perhaps a starting point for debate would be for each side to present their definitions of the value and purpose of education in our society both as a whole and in relation to both Higher education and job training in general.
All societies need to raise their young to be ready to take over managing their society as adults and are we in Quebec doing a as good a job as we might in this respect and in how we allocate educational funding?
How much are young people encouraged from pre-school onwards to find and take their place in the wider world?  Do they have role models and training from their earliest years, or have video games and TV usurped this role? Is it helpful that many young people leave school with no idea of how they want to live their lives and the expectation of obtaining a low-cost higher education that may not necessarily give them any training for a fulfilling job and a way to take their place in society?
Do we want a society of unemployed graduates, or a society of well-trained, well-functioning adults who feel they have an expertise to contribute?
Perhaps a comparative study of education in of the well-functioning societies such as in some European countries could provide a helpful comparison?


We could, of course, lead off with the Super Bowl, Beyonce and the great New Orleans power failure, but far more intriguing is the disinterring of King Richard III’s skeleton from the Leicester car park – and the DNA track leading to Canadian-born Michael Ibsen. We are enjoying not only the detailed account of what led to the discovery, but also the revisionist history that is emerging, although the Globe & Mail holds a somewhat more jaundiced view. See also: The High-Tech Miracle That Found King Richard III

The story highlights the value of persistent scholarly work, which in turn leads us to the current burning question of the cost – and quality – of higher education in Quebec. As the February 25-26 Summit approaches, the chances of amicable resolution of the funding issue grow slimmer and slimmer, especially since Quebec Minister, Pierre Duchesne, has declared that free tuition is not on the table and the ASSÉ representatives have reacted as might be expected, prompting Beryl Wajsman to ask Rule by ballot or by bully? :
Put aside what anyone may think of the cost of education. Put aside the policy debates about whether university education should be free. Put aside all the pros and cons of what is best for the economy in the long-term. The most important question that will be faced at the upcoming education summit is whether Quebec will be ruled by the ballot or the bully.
Meantime, at today’s Forum organized by the Montreal universities and business community the conclusion was not surprisingly University underfunding threatens city’s status: Forum
In the heat of the debate – if only we could bottle the hot air and recycle it to counter the frigid temperatures – there are revolutionary changes to higher education in the form of massive open online course, [MOOC] platforms sweeping the globe, as Thomas Friedman (Revolution Hits the Universities and Henry Aubin (Summit on universities is bypassing big issues affecting the future of higher education point out.
But excellent education does not lead to relevant employment as last Thursday’s Doc Zone points out in Generation Jobless
We are looking forward to exploring some or all of these thoughts in the stimulating company of educators and sociologists, Susan Hoecker-Drysdale and John Drysdale of American University and Concordia along with WN educators and economists.

There is of course much more happening on the global stage – the shifting political sands of Mali where French army victories have not solved the underlying problems among the diverse ethnic groups; the dilemma of whether or not to intervene in Syria – and if so with whom to ally (Kyle Matthews and Paul Heinbecker discussed Does the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine mean Canada is obligated to intervene militarily in Syria? on The Current Monday morning); the travails of Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy ; the amazing resurrection of Silvio Berlusconi ; the news that the PLA trains to fight Asian enemy allied with English-speaking ‘third force’ which does not bode well for the ongoing disputes over the China Seas – and then for entertainment, there is Mme Marois’ (ill advised?) trip to Scotland, about which Céline Cooper has thoughts; while a related flap concerns the add-on title of Quebec Minister Alexandre Cloutier who is not only Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, but also of Sovereignist Governance – so far we can measure his success in the portfolio by the success of Mme Marois’ trip to Scotland.
A few more items you may have missed from the Good … and the Ugly in Medicine: Michel Kelly-Gagnon writing in HuffPost: New Prescription Drugs Are Worth the Cost Dr Eric Topol on NBC News’ Rock Center: iPhone is the future of medicine and continuing the saga of Dr. Arthur Porter — Porter’s Way: The rise and fall of Arthur Porter
For your calendars:  The CIC presents Hélène Laverdière  who will speak on Canada’s Declining Role on the International Stage, Tuesday, February 19 at the Atwater Club from 6-8 pm – more information on the speaker and the event, and to reserve  ; also a heads-up for David Kilgour at the CIC on February 13 (5 to 7 pm) – more info. David will be speaking on Canada and China: A Difficult Relationship.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1614"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson February 5, 2013 at 10:36 pm ·

    The discovery of Richard III’s body is all very well, but the battle site where it all happened is still not certain – there is a tourist site and welcome centre to the west of Leicester, but archeological evidence points to green fields several miles further south…

    Tom Haslam-Jones and Margaret Duthie

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