Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Book: Campus Confidential by Ken S. Coates and Bill Morrison

(Picture from Amazon.ca)

Score: 4/5

This book, written by professor Coates, the University of Waterloo’s Dean of Arts, and professor Morrison, caught my interest as it demystifies and reveals many things about the Canadian university system.  I recommend this book to prospective university students, parents, employers, and even policy makers.

Below are some of my favourites:

  • All Canadian universities are public institutions.  As such, available funding is smaller and they are obliged to adhere to political priorities, such as focusing on accessibility of education to all Canadians.  One consequence of this focus is low cost education and lower admission standards.
  • Traditional core disciplines from the 19th century, including literature, history, social, natural, and physical sciences are slowly giving way to other more lucrative, applied, or newer fields such as commerce, accounting, law, to name a few.  There is a tug of war between professors who advocates for the traditional disciplines (who dominate the decision committees) and professors, students, and employers who want a more interdisciplinary and flexible education.
  • Universities are incentivized to see students as customers and cater to their needs.  This sometimes run counter to the need of the workplace and national competitiveness.
  • Aboriginal students tend to put the need of their communities first and pursue areas of study that will directly benefit their communities.
  • The authors argue that the Internet with its abundance of piracy, is lowering the moral barrier to stealing intellectual properties, thus undermining intellectual integrity in universities.
  • Quebec universities are working closely with provincial government to transform the provincial economy with some success already.  An example is Montreal’s emergence as a Canadian leader in pharmaceuticals and aerospace.
  • Of the 10 provinces in Canada, Ontario ranks last in the amount of provincial funding to universities.  Of the 50 states and 10 provinces in North America, Ontario ranks 59th.  In Stats Canada’s ‘07 – ‘08 report, public funding for Alberta per student was $22,469.  Ontario?  $9,718.
  • The resources dedicated to research in technology and scientific innovation far exceeds resources for innovation research from the field of social sciences and humanities.  This leaves many important questions such as “how are innovation societies created and maintained?  Which forms of education best support industrial and economic innovation?  What impact do community structure, multiculturalism, and local heritage have on innovation” unanswered.
  • Harvard’s endowment fund per student is 100 times greater than that of U of Toronto’s.  This impacts the quality of research and professor to student ratio.
  • Canada’s quality of high school education is quite high.  According to OECD rankings, Canada ranks 3rd in science (US ranks 29th), 7th in math (per ‘06 ranking.  US ranks 35th), 4th in reading.  Canada isn’t doing as well in funding research, and especially in commercializing research efforts from private sectors.  Patents and commercialized products are examples of what Canada doesn’t have enough of.  With great education and somewhat lackluster basic research, and lacking commercialization, this hurts Canada’s national competitiveness.

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