Mandate agreement stresses student success

Students take centre stage in the strategic mandate proposal, which Western delivered to Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities today. The proposal is part of the minister’s review of the postsecondary education system that began with a discussion paper, Strengthening Ontario’s Centres of Creative, Innovation and Knowledge, released in late June.

“The document puts the needs of our students first, something Western is renowned for and which we have done for decades,” said Western’s Provost Janice Deakin, who stressed the proposal reinforces the university’s reputation for providing Canada’s best student experience.

“That experience is grounded in the provision of quality undergraduate, graduate and professional education, and is measured by having entrance, retention and graduation rates among the best in North America.”

In preparing the proposed mandate, Western’s administration consulted with members of the campus community including students, faculty and staff. Letters from the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) and University Students’ Council (USC) were among those that accompanied the draft mandate sent to the minister’s office.

In their letter, USC President Adam Fearnall and Vice-President Alysha Li wrote: “We felt Western went beyond traditional mechanisms to gather student feedback into the document. … During the process, undergraduate students provided concrete examples of student priorities within Western’s top three objectives.”

The three key priorities listed in the eight-page mandate are: 1. Strengthening the best student experience; 2. Providing a learning environment that fosters creativity through exploration, discovery, invention and innovation; and 3. Transforming lives through knowledge transfer.

A number of factors go into strengthening the best student experience. Key among them is a plan to increase student mobility.

To that end, the university has reached an agreement with six other institutions to make it easier for Western students to transfer credits. Under the agreement the institutions – Western, University of Toronto, Queens University, Ottawa University, McMaster University, Waterloo University and Guelph University – have all agreed to accept general credit transfers from one another, so long as the student has achieved a minimum course grade of 60 per cent.

The universities have also agreed to a specific equivalency for a set of 20 high-enrolment credit courses. Although the agreement currently applies only to first- and second-year students, the seven universities are committed to expanding to undergraduate professional programs and upper-year courses over the coming year.

“This is a very good thing for students,” Deakin said.

Another key factor in providing the best student experience is a greater investment in the number of faculty appointments to enable more interaction between students and faculty.

“That is why Western is dedicating a major proportion of its current fundraising campaign to increase the number of faculty chairs, with a goal of having 20 new chairs by 2015,” she said.

Another major initiative is the transformation of the exiting Faculty Associates Program in the Teaching Support Centre from five associates to a minimum of one per faculty, which will double the time commitment of the associates. This new initiative will see faculty associates re-designated as teaching fellows.

Deakin said the program will cost $600,000 annually and require a $15 million endowment. She said it will respond to the teaching and learning needs of individual instructors assisting them with innovation in curriculum development, the latest in technology assisted learning and accessing courses locally and online.

Deakin said Western will also be expanding experiential learning opportunities with a goal to have 10 per cent of students gain international experience through study abroad, experiential learning and exchange programs. Western also wants to create more opportunities for students to participate in co-op and internships, as well as community service learning programs.

Beginning next year, the university will introduce Western’s Co-Curricular Record, providing formal recognition of these experiential learning opportunities.

“Whether locally or abroad, these experiential learning opportunities will help develop the leadership skills of our students, positioning them to thrive in a global economy,” she said.

Western also plans an expansion of professional graduate program enrolment in response to demand and career opportunities. Western currently has more than 20 professional masters programs; several new professional masters programs are being developed to prepare students for careers in communications, biotechnology, education and public health.

When it comes to fostering creativity through exploration, discovery, invention and innovation, Deakin said Western continues to push the envelope. For example, new industrial partnerships enable students to be engaged in discovering solutions in environments where they are working on real-world research challenges.

In developing the proposed mandate for the Ministry, Deakin said “we have attempted to capture the essence of not only what Western is, but what we aspire to be as a university, and that is one where our students will continue to be the focus of all that we do, as we create knowledge and work to improve our society.”