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10th Cake (Robyn Mackenzie/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
10th Cake (Robyn Mackenzie/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

University presidents critique our student survey on its 10th birthday Add to ...

STEPHEN TOOPE

University of British Columbia

Students have seen a growth in the number of efforts to evaluate and rank universities both in Canada and internationally. I want to acknowledge the 10th anniversary of the Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report (CUR), which aims to be a resource for university-bound students by offering helpful articles and conveying student experience data.

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CUR offers students one helpful resource among several that t ey can use to make crucial decisions about institutional fit. The process is different for each person and the CUR Campus Navigator tool, which allows students to select their own criteria, is an interesting effort to recognize that complexity. We know that the key to selecting a university is to find a good fit between the student and the institution in all aspects of university life. I see resources such as CUR as one more tool available to prospective students in obtaining as complete a picture as possible, along with campus visits, academic advising, discussion with students, faculty, and staff, and use of the vast resources provided by the universities themselves.

CUR is part of a trend that has helped bring to the fore the importance of the student experience. The University of British Columbia’s strategic plan places considerable emphasis on enriching the undergraduate experience, and draws upon the comprehensive National Survey of Student Engagement, and the associated research on “High Impact Undergraduate Experiences,” to substantially change the nature of undergraduate education. This has been important to me, and it is why UBC has taken steps to improve teaching and learning, and is encouraging the growth of activities like community service learning, co-op education, undergraduate research, study abroad programs and integrated learning. We have set a goal to provide all students with at least two such enriched educational experiences during the course of their studies.

I welcome the Canadian University Report for its part in helping shine a light on Canadian universities.

DANIEL WOOLF

Queen’s University

Over the last 10 years, The Globe and Mail’s university report has become a prominent annual ‘go-to’ for many prospective and current undergraduate university students.

What I like about the survey is that it’s student-based. Most university “rankings” focus primarily or even exclusively on research and apply a one-size-fits-all model. The Globe’s report presents a distinctly student-based perspective, and to its credit, does not attempt an overall ranking. It presents student assessments on an issue-by-issue basis—from classrooms to food services to libraries to athletics and recreation—and gives readers a real glimpse into the life of the university.

The views of students who study, learn, live and grow at Queen’s are essential to us. We strive to be a “balanced academy” that delivers to students the benefits of our extensive research activity, our focus on teaching and our unique learning and living experience.

The Globe’s approach allows our students to talk about many of the important facets of their university experience and presents their views fairly, honestly and openly.

INDIRA SAMARASEKERA

University of Alberta

Understanding student concerns and seeking student input on a number of fronts is key to ensuring our students have a quality experience, so we welcome student surveys. We are, however, hopeful that The Globe and Mail (and others) will broaden the objectivity of student assessments so that it produces results that are truly reflective of the contributions universities make in producing engaged citizens and making prosperous and secure societies locally, nationally and internationally.

Specifically, it would be useful to see student assessment teams travelling to universities across Canada to do comparisons of facilities and services—each student is only able to speak to his or her own experience but a research team would be able to draw comparisons among Canadian universities that would be meaningful and useful for the readers of the Canadian University Report.

AMIT CHAKMA

University of Western Ontario

Over the past decade, the Canadian University Report has become an important source of information for prospective students, parents, university administrators and others who have a stake in the present and future of post-secondary education. In academic research, we consider peer-reviewed studies to be among the most relevant. Similarly, a survey that allows students to review their university experience provides a valuable measure for prospective students contemplating one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

In our information-rich society, simplifying assessments into “Top-10” or “Best of” lists—particularly for organizations as complex as universities—does not always give readers sufficient context when weighing the merits of different institutions. Universities are as unique as the individuals contemplating their post-secondary education and one size does not fit all. However, for the schools being reviewed, the Canadian University Report has indeed helped us define and concentrate our efforts for improving areas of campus life that students appear to value most.

All universities focus on providing highly challenging and rewarding academic programs within an environment that is attractive and enriching to those who place their trust in us to deliver the best educational experience possible. At Western, our students have consistently voiced a very high degree of satisfaction with many of the aspects measured in the Canadian University Report. We take pride in these achievements, but we are not resting on our laurels. Rather, we are building on the reputation we have earned for providing an outstanding student experience to expand the impact and profile of our teaching and research on the global stage.

DAVID NAYLOR

University of Toronto

The past decade has seen an ever-increasing appetite among parents and students for information and analysis related to higher education. Many organizations are responding to this demand, but the Globe’s survey offers insights into areas other organizations do not address. Notable among these are items that matter to students’ on-campus experience, such as food services, residences, and buildings and facilities.

However, our general approach is to look for consistency of responses across related surveys. This year, for example, we participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) for the fourth time since 2004. NSSE surveys every first-year and fourth-year student at the University of Toronto. The response in 2011 was about 40% or almost 27,000 students. (The latest Globe results are based on the opinions of roughly 2,500 students). We are very encouraged that the most recent NSSE results reveal a much better student experience and improvement in the full range of areas measured at U of T.

In short, by combining broad student perceptions from NSSE with the focused feedback on student services from the Globe survey, we are able to allocate our scarce resources more wisely and give students an even better experience in future.

ROBERT CAMPBELL

Mount Allison University

Mount Allison focuses on the individual student by providing an immersive learning community. We strive to provide an environment that encourages students to learn, think and understand their world by engaging with each other, their professors and the wider world. This experience is unique in Canada and the Canadian University Report (CUR) effectively captures our distinct experience by measuring student opinion. Secondly, because CUR reports on a wide range of student experiences—from academic through extracurricular and residence life, the survey reflects the complexity and range of our students’ immersive experiences. As a result, the CUR surveys have provided us with valuable, reflective data that we review in a serious and consequential way. We believe that the survey results project to our existing and prospective students—as well as staff, alumni, parents, and public officials—how we are doing. We look forward to the next decade of Canadian University Reports.

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