Quality issues remain at U of C

Despite increased base operating grants and recent capital funding announcements, campus stakeholders agree quality issues remain at the University of Calgary.

“I don’t think people in the next five years will see substantial changes–and they will only see them if we get more funding,” said Students’ Union Vice-President Academic Paige Forsyth. “The government has to put more money into this or we won’t be able to grow. If they want the U of C to be a top ranked school, there’s going to have to be a large sum.”

According to SU President Bryan West, the provincial government’s six per cent increase in base operating grants over the next three years means the university is no longer in the deficit position it faced last year. With administration committed to reallocating funds from each department, the U of C has a pool of about $19 million to invest into new initiatives. Eight million dollars was budgeted to improve the student experience.

“I think putting that much money, in terms of reinvestment into undergraduates, is great,” said West. “For many years we’ve heard about graduates getting all the glory, and research getting all the money.”

Some budget priorities have been implemented already, including increased wireless space on campus, an expanded U of C 101, a streamlined administrative process and an academic merit scholarship for first year students. Long term projects, such as reduced class sizes and more inquiry-based programs, are ongoing.

“This is part of a larger initiative to show students that having them here is important to us and we are listening to what students feel makes a quality experience,” said U of C VP External Relations Roman Cooney.

While the SU lauds efforts to improve the campus life for students, issues like teaching quality remain inadequately addressed.

“Projects such as a wireless cafe are being done to show that the school is student friendly,” remarked Forsyth. “However, I don’t think it improves the undergraduate experience at all. I think improving the undergraduate experience involves doing it in the classroom.”

The University Teaching Certificate program was created last year to help professors and graduate students learn how to teach. According to West, while the university is investing into the Learning Commons, there is currently no incentive to encourage professors with poor Universal Student Ratings of Instruction to take the course.

“No one’s seriously looked at teachers who don’t know how to teach,” said West. “It’s never really been latched onto.”

Resistance from academic staff is inevitable when discussing an expanded enrollment in the program.

“Can you really force teachers to take a retraining program?” West asked.

U of C Faculty Association President Anton Colijn said increases in funding are a good thing, but other issues remain.

“I never look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Colijn, noting the six per cent increase in base operating funds over the next three years. “That said we are still not back where we were before the big cuts came.”

Colijn noted the U of C’s commitment to a budget reallocation pool is good in principal, but may hurt smaller faculties forced to make cuts. He pointed to large class-sizes, antiquated lab equipment and low faculty morale as some of the U of C’s biggest challenges.

“Most of the challenges revolve around money,” noted Colijn. “People aren’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel yet.”

Cooney maintained it was too early in the budget cycle to fully realize the scope of new quality initiatives, noting there are still proposals to be put forward and gain approval.

“It’s certain the university will expand its quality initiatives,” said Cooney. “The commitment is long term and it’s not something we’re going to put the brakes on.”

“I think we’re doing a lot of things right and I think the experience at the U of C is a pretty good one overall,” commented West. “We’re getting there.”

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