Safe to study in Canada?

May was a tumultuous month for Canadian higher education.  The ongoing student protests in Quebec have been gripping to follow and have presented new opportunities for  student-government negotiations. But the recent murder of Jin Lun may have deeper ramifications – on an international scale.  As an international student, his murder has led to the Chinese embassy warning their citizens to take extra cautions in traveling to Canada.  Reponses from local institutions are countering the embassy’s warning saying Canada is a safe and welcoming place.  But this is the second Chinese students this year to be killed and those statements ring a little hollow.

I am reminded of the Canadian tourists who have been killed recently in travels to Mexico.  There may be only a handful in the overall tourist population – but it is not an easy thing to convince the rest of us that Mexico is safe for Canadians.

The bigger questions coming out of China’s cautionary statements need to be addressed – is there something that is making Chinese international students vulnerable?  Perhaps a degree of isolation?  Are these crimes racially motivated?

Jane Ngobia’s study – on the interaction of international and domestic students at UofT’s campuses – suggests that domestic students benefit and learn from their interactions with international students.  However, the category of international students
is perceived as broad and often includes other Canadian minority students who
add diversity to campus.  With growing numbers of Canadian-Chinese students as well as international – it is not just the international students that stand out.  If indeed the recent crimes are racially-motivated, then both visibleminority populations are at risk.  A
warning from the Chinese embassy is not enough – Ngobia calls for concerted policies to build relationship and provide continued supports for all our “diverse” students.

OECD Economic Survey of Canada – discussion at OISE June 14

On Wednesday, June 13th the OECD will be releasing it’s Economic Survey of Canada.  The following day, Glen Jones will be hosting two of the authors (Peter Jarrett and Alexandra Bibbee) to discuss the chapters that relate to post-secondary education and innovation.  The event will pair the authors with OISE scholars to engage on issues related to Canada’s economic future.

EVENT: Thursday, June 14th   9:30 – 11:00 am,  OISE Library (Ground Floor, 252 Bloor Street Toronto)

Grad school is not summer camp!

Last week, at the CIES 2012 conference in Puerto Rico, I hosted two film sessions related to research and teaching in comparative education.  I am particularly thankful to Bob Compton (executive producer of 2 Million Minutes) for joining us on Wednesday to screen and discuss his latest film The Finland Phenomenon.  One of Bob’s final comments to me has really struck a chord – “I’m a retired venture capitalist, so I’m naturally optimistic!”  – this is a pretty stark contrast to the academics who were criticizing the optimism of his film and its praise of Finland’s education system.  

For a while now I’ve been faced with the reality that grad school is not summer camp.  The primary goal is not to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels like a winner.  However – there is certainly a lot more room for optimism…. a lot more room to ask “how can we do this” – rather than listing off the reasons that it will never work.   I’m definitely an  optimist or at least I’m optimistic that I can be one. 


Globe reporters wage war – higher education OR health care?

As much as I find it a little corny when the Globe and Mail has their writers pseudo-spar in their articles, this weekend’s conversation between Bascaramurty  and Wente caught my attention with their unsettled disputes about higher education.

Bascaramurty ‘s first justification for the millennials’ sense of entitlement is the fact that we are the most educated generation in the history of Canada’s labour force.  She gives examples of her friends who have graduate degrees but are working unpaid internships and contract jobs as they try to enter the workforce and pay off their student debt.   Her following argument, however, seems to imply that it is the privileged status of the boomers that is leading to the uncertain work/income of the millennials, not to mention eroding the social welfare state generally. 

I would have liked her to go a bit further in her critique.  She briefly mentions the unmet expectation that we’ll all own homes, but she says nothing of the ideology that claims higher education will solve all.  Clearly it is not the solution for her peers, yet they keep heading for graduate degrees as the solution to unemployment.  Her stories are illuminating a serious contraction (dare I say illusion?) of higher education – it is still seen as the solution, even when the debt is crippling and no one is getting jobs.  When will this belief finally be shattered?     

In terms of the overall point that millennials will pay for the boomers, Wente’s response is pretty limited.  She essentially says, “yes, our privilege is screwing you out of a future.”  Her admission that some boomers won’t be able to afford retirement lacks conviction since she doesn’t seem to have any personal stories like Bascaramurty’s account.    

The reality is that this so-called generational war only applies to the upper middle class of which these writers’ are a part.  It’s a false dichotomy to suggest that these generations are completely separate things.  For us millennials, the boomers are our parents.  The link between the generations will ensure that we pay, not just for our own future, but for our aging parents and the expenses that go with them.  Unless, of course you are privileged to have parents that write for the Globe – in which case they may be able to take care of themselves.

Affordable Graduate School: Profs can make a difference

Great picture of the cost of books from

I have just finished the first week of classes for Winter 2012.  The three courses I’m taking are very cool –  higher education as it relates to nationalism, migrants workers and neo-liberal agenda.  The topics of the course, however, I knew before I attended the first class. What suprised me rather, was that none of these classes (hosted by three different depts at OISE) has an expensive text – or any cost whatsoever associated with the readings.  The profs have arranged it so that we can read all the journals articles through the library (nothing new) but they have also intentionally used books that the library has digitally… in fact I think that they were instrumental in making sure the library had the book digitally.  So here I am at beginning of the semester, looking at the $300 I have budgeted for books and thinking how nice it will be to attend one more conference in April or take the subway instead of ride my bike during snowstorms. I should also add that none of these professors appeared to be dramatically tech-savvy in any way.  The first could not figure out how to eject a DVD from her computer and another did not totally understand the university login system for the library.  BUT – for the sake of their students, they have collaborated with the devils of digital technology and saved me a few hundred dollars. It can be done – and I want to see it done more often.

Grad School Expectations

Inspiring author Anne LamottLast year, Nancy Jackson did a great talk for women in grad school here at UofT.  She talked about writer’s block and how the whole process of grad school is a journey toward realizing you really do have something important to say.  The best part of the talk was a recommendation that we read Anne Lamott – one of my favourite writers. So this week as I hide from the office and write from home, I read a small section of Bird by Bird each morning.

I enjoyed this morning’s read: “But I try to make sure they understand that writing, and even getting good at it, and having books and stories and articles published, will not open the doors that most of them hope for.  It will not make them all well.  It will not give them the feeling that the world has finally validated their parking tickets, that they have in fact finally arrived.”

This quote reminds me of a comment my former boss Thomas Ridington once made – “I’ve realized over the years that the new hire will not solve all your problems.”  So do we set ourselves up for disappointment when we expect grad school or a PhD to change our lives?  Or should we just enjoy the journey and not aim to high?  Personally I suggest striving for the best, but enjoying the unexpected, and perhaps humble, places at which we may arrive.