The University of Alberta is currently in the consultation phase of developing its Institutional Strategic Plan — and the first long-term plan under the leadership of President David Turpin. In its Discussion Paper, the U of A made a call for feedback from its community, to which the Students’ Union has responded with a list of recommendations.
Students’ Council, the presidents of undergraduate student associations and the Council of Faculty Associations were consulted by the SU to determine its recommendations in the following four areas, which are as follows:
- Increase the use of open educational resources (OERs).
- Increase the amount of funding for scholarships and bursaries of full and part-time students.
In-class teaching and learning
- Encourage teaching excellence.
- Recognize teaching quality by rewarding quality instructors.
- Outline a multi-year plan for tenure-track positions.
- Create an office that will centralize experiential learning, like Community Service Learning and Study Abroad.
- Provide more outreach for non-traditional and low-income students to be a part of student leadership.
- Investigate ways students are prevented from becoming involved on campus.
- Add to the mental health resources already available on campus.
- Adopt the Student Participation Protocol into campus decision-making processes.
Student leaders have been emphasizing the importance of experiential learning and giving students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom, SU Vice-President (Academic) Rahman said. One of the SU’s recommendation is to create a central office for more hands-on learning. At the moment, the university has a number of experiential learning initiatives, such as Community Service Learning (CSL), Study Abroad and the Undergraduate Research Initiative. But students face financial and awareness when it comes to accessing these programs, Rahman said.
A centralized office would also help the students of Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) connect with work experience opportunities, Rahman said. Currently, CSJ students gain experiential learning through the Faculty of Arts’ CSL program, but CSL can’t guarantee resources to accommodate students of another faculty.
Textbook costs can exist as a financial barrier to student success, so the SU is proposing a greater emphasis on courses using open educational resources (OERs). These are free materials students can use, such as websites, that can save students from using expensive textbooks. Other universities, such as the University of Toronto and have been reportedly successful. Using OERs would be advantageous in standardizing high-enrolment undergraduate courses, Rahman said.
In consultation, student leaders emphasized the need for greater mental health support. Though the U of A currently funds mental health, at times the resources on campus are “too much like a one-size-fits-all solution,” Rahman said.
“(Some students) will go to a mental health service but then are told that they’re not in as dire a condition as other students,” he said. “That can be really discouraging.”
Regarding communication with administration, the SU is encouraging the university to adopt the Student Participation Protocol — an agreement between the SU, the Graduate Students’ Association and the Provost’s office. The proposed protocol outlines principles the university should use in consulting student groups for major projects. This protocol would work at all levels of governance, and ensure students would be given more information and more time to make decisions. Right now, there are times where student consultation is inadequate, Rahman said.
“(In some situations) either students aren’t actively able to contribute to discussions because they aren’t given all the information up front, or sometimes information is given to a student in the middle of a meeting,” he said. “That makes it tougher for them to process the information.”
The SU has proposed the university introduce a teaching tenureship, which student associations have communicated a need. The university’s response has been “a little numb” in their discussions of a teaching tenureship as they are in negotiation with the Association of Academic Staff, but the sentiment is that rewarding teaching excellence would benefit the university.
University administration is currently reviewing feedback from the SU and other campus groups. Feedback will contribute the Institutional Strategic Plan, which will be under revision until its finalization date in June.