A few thoughts on university rankings

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

November is the month of the year when Maclean’s, the Globe and Mail and Research Infosource release their various university rankings. As promised in my last blog posting, I would like to comment this year’s results.

First, a little context:  these rankings are far from perfect.  

The methodologies used can be inconsistent and the results can be debatable. So much so that some people completely ignore what these surveys and rankings say about their institutions.

Although I acknowledge the imperfections, I still prefer to leverage the information to inform authentic internal conversations with students, faculty and staff on our strengths, the opportunities ahead, what we aspire to be and the results we want to achieve together.

I encourage you to review the information contained in these rankings in context, looking at the fulsome perspectives offered by all the rankings and tools combined, to consider multi-year trends (since there can be positive and negative “blips” in any given year), and where possible, to compare with universities with similar circumstances.

The highlights:

  • Laurentian’s position in Maclean’s ranking of primarily undergraduate universities went up 4 places this year, the highest increase of any Canadian university this year.  This improvement is attributable to three factors: 1) relative to other universities, our operating budget per student has increased, 2) our proportion of students winning national awards has increased and, 3) the proportion of our operating budget allocated to bursaries and scholarships has increased.

 

  • Maclean’s highlights this year three Canadian universities “on the radar”, and Laurentian is one of them.

 

  • Maclean’s university rankings edition reveals that Laurentian has the second highest operating budget per student in the country, next only to Queen’s, and that Laurentian’s tuition fees and compulsory ancillary fees are the lowest among Ontario universities.

 

  • On Research Infosource’s annual ranking, Laurentian went up one place to #28 overall in Canada for total sponsored research income.  Our total of $21.983 million was a 10.1% increase over the previous year and a 41.7% increase over two years.  Total sponsored research income per full-time faculty member increased last year by 18% to $51,900, which is a 44.6% increase over two years.

 

  • Laurentian did not take part in the 2009 NSSE survey as we have decided, like many universities, to participate every two years.

 

  • Overall student satisfaction as measured by the Globe and Mail went down unfortunately one mark (from B to B-).  Among the Canadian universities of similar size, no university saw an increase in overall student satisfaction, two universities stayed at the same level as last year, 13 went one down one rank and two went down two ranks. 

 

  • Laurentian gets “A”s from students for class size, the sense of personal safety and security, the availability of faculty to students outside of class, the level of interaction with faculty and physical fitness/sports/recreational facilities.  Laurentian gets “D”s for food services and the availability and affordability of off-campus housing.  The report highlights Laurentian’s programs in Outdoor Adventure Leadership, Forensic Science and Midwifery.  You can review the aggregate results of all universities on 17 broad categories here, as well as Laurentian’s specific results per field of study on 37 indicators here compared with the average of Canada’s similar-sized universities. 

One of my performance goals set by the Board is to continue improving student satisfaction relative to other universities.  In August, we took time during a full-day meeting of the 35 member University Leadership Group to walk through the indicators of the Globe and Mail student satisfaction survey to get a better understanding of where do we well and where we could do better, identify the indicators where there was already priority attention planned for the coming year and which other colleagues were also planning to focus on the same indicator in the coming year.  I have encouraged the deans and directors to ask their respective faculty, staff and students:

1)      What do we know that students want on a given indicator?  (If we don’t know, how are we going to find out?)

2)      What are the effective practices in other postsecondary institutions which either have outstanding results year after year on a given indicator or have improved significantly and steadily over time? (Keeping in mind in that some areas, we are the university that others look up to).

3)      What are we going to do about it?

4)      How are we going to make sure that students know that we have done something about it?

Some examples of recent improvements aimed at enhancing student satisfaction include the expansion of the role of the First Year Experience Office to become a broader Student Success Office, the organization of 10 orientation sessions during the summer for first year students, the optimization of the timetable to level out the course offerings throughout the week to increase the course selection to students, the introduction of the new on-line learning management system, and the approval of a $20 million new residence to accommodate 236 more students on the Sudbury campus starting in 2012.

Can we do better?  Absolutely, and we will.  The Vice-President, Academic and Provost, Dr Robert Kerr, and the Associate Vice-President, Student Affairs, Denis Mayer, have already planned regular discussions with student associations to continue working towards an enhanced student experience.  Our future Vice-President, Administration, Carol McAulay (herself a former president of the University of Guelph’s Central Student Association and former treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Students) will join them upon her arrival on February 14th.

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is: dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca  I would particularly welcome your suggestions on specific ways by which the University could improve student satisfaction.

You can also join the 1,200 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Merci/Thank you/Miigwech

Lots of Excitement as the Countdown Begins Towards the Holiday Season

Dear members of the University community / Boozhoo / Aanii / Kwe kwe,

I know that many of you attended the Santa Claus parade in downtown Sudbury on Saturday.  I had the pleasure to meet many of our students from SPAD, Concurrent Education and Biochemistry, among several programs.  It was definitely a great way to put us in the spirit of the holiday season.  Please mark Sunday, December 12th on your calendar.  Barbara and I are inviting all members of the university community and the external community to our second annual Open House from 1:30-4:30 at 179 John Street.  Daycare service will be provided on site.

As you ponder what to offer to a loved-one for the holidays, you may want to consider purchasing a copy of the new book “Laurentian University, a History” now available for advanced sales at the bookstore.  I want to congratulate Dr Linda Ambrose, Dr Matt Bray, Dr Sara Burke, Dr Donald Dennie and Dr Guy Gaudreau for this major accomplishment.  Apart from introductory chapters that trace Laurentian’s historical roots in Northern Ontario and examine the immediate circumstances of its founding, this history is structured around six principal themes – university governance, academic evolution, bilingualism and biculturalism, students, the faculty association, and the role of women.  The first comprehensive history of Laurentian, this analysis contributes also to a fuller understanding of the post-secondary educational developments, particularly in Ontario, of which the university was the product.  A formal book launch is planned for December.  Stay tuned!

I am pleased that the OPSEU Staff Unit and NOSM have reached a first collective agreement.  Staff were returning to work as of Monday.  I sincerely appreciate the patience shown by Laurentian students, faculty, staff and guests during the labour dispute. Negotiating a first collective agreement is never easy, even more so at a time when the federal and provincial governments are facing record deficits, and any cost increases (compensation increases etc) result either in higher tuition fees or spending reductions.  NOSM management, faculty and staff will now have to re-energize and refocus their efforts, as a whole school, to implement the school’s new strategic plan.

We had several important celebrations since my last blog posting.  On October 23rd, the University held its 50th anniversary Gala honoring 50 graduates (I invite you to read their profiles here).  These awards were not intended to identify Laurentian’s “top 50 alumni” by one particular measure, but rather display the diversity of Laurentian University and showcase the outstanding ambassadors who exemplify Laurentian’s core values and who are reflective of the history of the institution.  You may view here the photos of this beautiful event. The event generated $119,000 for student athletes and graduate bursaries.  I want to thank the many sponsors and volunteers who ensured this success, under the leadership of Organizing Committee Chair Laurie Bissonette, partner with KPMG, and all staff from across campus that worked above and beyond led by the Alumni Relations team.  I look forward to thanking all our volunteers during a reception planned for November 24th at 3pm in the Brenda Wallace room.

On October 30th, Aline Chrétien was installed as our first-ever Chancellor.  During our two convocation ceremonies, she awarded 492 degrees plus an honorary degree to Mukhtar (Mai) Bibi.  The French daily newspaper La Presse published a story in its Saturday’s edition on Madame Chrétien’s installation.  Dr Dana Wilkinson attended convocation to accept the Angus Gilbert Award given posthumously to his father, Dr Derek Wilkinson.  I invite you to read this column written about Derek in November 2009 by the Vice Chair of our Board of Governors, Michael Atkins.  We were honoured to also welcome the former Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honorable Jean Chrétien, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, the Honorable John Milloy, as well as the Associate Secretary of Cabinet of Ontario and Deputy Minister of Intergovernmental and Francophone Affairs (and former President of the Council of Ontario Universities), Paul Genest.  Both Dr Milloy and Dr Genest are former assistants to Mr Chrétien.  I would like to thank Dr Henri Pallard and students from Law & Justice who helped significantly organizing Ms. Bibi’s visit, including book signature events at Chapter’s and la Librarie du Grand Ciel Bleu, media interviews and meetings with local organizations.

It was a pleasure to meet with the Executive of the Laurentian University Staff Union (LUSU) on October 7th, to attend the Department Chairs’ session on October 8th, the Annual General Meeting of the Laurentian University Alumni Association on October 14th, as well as convocations of Thorneloe University on October 15th and University of Sudbury on November 5th, where Barbara Bolton was installed as Chancellor of Thorneloe and David Caley received an honorary degree from Thorneloe, while former radio host of Radio-Canada Denis St-Jules received an honorary degree from the University of Sudbury.

On October 25th, I had a very productive discussion with over 20 faculty members on how Laurentian could leverage its expertise to inform the significant policy and research needs associated with the Ring of Fire (McFauld’s Lake) project, engaging proactively with First Nations. 

Later that week, I met with the Ontario Deputy Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry and seized the opportunity with our new Director of Mining Initiatives, Dr Michael Lesher, and colleagues from the Advancement team, to meet with the board of directors of the Ontario Mining Association.  This was a great opportunity to seek feedback on industry’s emerging lifelong learning needs – looking at the broader technical, commercial and social skill set required from our graduates to be successful throughout their careers.

I would like to congratulate Samantha Pitzel and the Student’s General Association for their successful efforts in securing a new University/Four Corners bus route from Sudbury’s Transit, which was launched on November 6th and will run on Saturdays every half hour between 10 am and noon, and then again from 2 to 4 pm. 

Thanks to the many people who came for breakfast last Thursday to help launch the United Way Campaign on the Sudbury campus, and those who attended the touching Remembrance Day ceremony in the Student Centre.  Thank you to the many volunteers involved in the success of both events.  Last year, Laurentian achieved a record both in terms of total pledges to the United Way and the total number of donors.  Let’s keep it up this year!

On Monday, I was pleased to help launch International Education Week, yesterday we celebrated Louis-Riel Day, today we are welcoming once again Margaret Atwood for her 6th Annual Birthday Dinner with the screening of Ron Mann’s documentary on “In the Wake of the Flood”.  The coming days will be very busy as well.  Tomorrow, we are hosting the Cuvée vins et fromages de la fondation franco-ontarienne, on Saturday it’s our Open House for potential 2011 applicants whom the Liaison team met in high schools in the past few months.  Greater Sudbury’s francophone community is also holding its Sommet 2010 on the 20th. On November 25th, LUAPSA is holding a full-day training session, “Managing Through the Though Times”.  We will have Laurentian’s Got Talent for Easter Seals on November 27th in the Fraser. 

As you can see, there is definitely no shortage of opportunities for students, faculty and staff to be engaged within the university community.  That’s what makes it such a vibrant environment to learn and work.  And that’s partly why in the latest 2010 University Rankings released by Maclean’s last week, Laurentian is featured as one of three Canadian universities “on the radar”.  In my next blog posting, I will comment on the several university rankings released in the past few weeks, as well on the report released by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario  calling for greater differentiation among Ontario universities.

I wish you well as you prepare to complete the Fall term, and start to plan for the holiday season.  Simon and Amélie have reminded me this morning that Santa will come by in 38 days …  Mind you, they assume that they behaved throughout the year and that Santa will leave something under the tree …

As usual, I welcome comments and questions on the topics discussed in my blog postings, or any other matter that may be of concern to you. My email is: dominicgiroux@laurentian.ca.

You can also join the close to 1,200 people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

 Merci/Thank you/Miigwech