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78th SLC discuss future academic research plans

By Enobong Ukpong, March 29 2021—

The 78th Student Legislative Council (SLC) held their 34th meeting on March 23. The meeting began with the presentation of Growth Through Focus, a plan to support the University of Calgary’s academic and research plans as well as its Indigenous, mental health and sustainability strategies.

“It really is about a plan for the future,” said Dr. Edward McCauley, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Calgary. “A plan to build an institution that can take on some of society’s toughest challenges and some of the big problems that the world faces.”

Dr. Janaka Ruwanpura, chair of the Deeper Community Partnerships working group, as well as vice provost and associate vice-president research and international discussed the development of purposeful mega-partnerships. 

“Mega-partnerships,” Ruwanpura said, “represents the incredible potential for academic, industry and community to work together on a shared mission and to rapidly advance practical, real-world solutions addressing wicked global problems and inspiring transformation for the benefit of society and the future of humanity.” 

The framework of mega-partnerships is built on what Ruwanpura calls “the fundamental concept of trusted partnerships.” He emphasized that it was critical to commit to mutual benefit, reciprocity, reliability, diversity and equity and to ensure that there was an opportunity to maximize their impact on society.

Dr. Robert Thompson, associate vice-president research and chair of transdisciplinary scholarship and areas of focus working group discussed the importance of transdisciplinary scholarship in a major comprehensive research university.  

“We are committed to being a fully comprehensive major university, which means covering the areas of disciplinary work,” said Thompson. “The key point being here that we look to value the contributions of all of our scholars and to preserve and strengthen this pride-based community with specific initiatives.”

To support the work of scholars, researchers and students, the university is considering the addition of a transdisciplinary services unit to the Research Services Offices to address their specific transdisciplinary needs.

Thompson said the benefits of transdisciplinary scholarship for students will be the creation of new learning opportunities, increased research opportunities, increased engagement with students in and outside of their disciplines and a broader range of valuable skills.

Manpreet Sahota, Faculty of Science representative, emphasized that while it is good that there would be an increase in the amount of research opportunities, these studentships often pay below minimum wage, decreasing the amount of students who can access them. 

“Oftentimes students that are able to do these research studentships come from a background that has some level of privilege involved,” said Sahota. She asked if the university has any commitment to increase the studentship amount.

McCauley said that the university will look into it, and stated the Tri-Council, made up of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), continually pushes for recognition of the cost of highly qualified personnel and EDI.

Next was a discussion of future-focused program delivery by Chairs of the Future Focused Program Delivery working group, Dr. Florentine Strzelczyk, deputy provost, and Dr. Leslie Reid, vice-provost teaching and learning. Strzelczyk started the discussion by emphasizing the importance of meeting the needs and wants of students in the future, especially as the student body becomes more diverse. Strzelczyk says this can be achieved by unbundling traditional credentials and re-bundling credentials in a different way to offer students flexible, personalized and customized options for their education.

“We called them stacked, packed or standalone,” Strzelczyk said, “and they will create what we consider and hope will be responding to the future of learner needs and learner wants.”

Strzelczyk said that they were building a program innovation hub to help faculties and programs to understand if there is market demand for certain programs and what that should look like to ensure that the university builds programs that would help students launch their careers. 

“We want to make sure that we are responding to the needs and wants of new learners,” said Strzelczyk. “And understanding very much where the needs of future and current students are is an important part of that.”

Chaten Jessel, Faculty of Science representative, asked if there were any plans to support transdisciplinary programs that the university already has, such as the Psychology program, which has two streams in Arts and in Science. McCauley said that they want to make sure those programs are nurtured and incentivize the faculty to teach in different programs.

Strzelczyk added that they have made great strides in interdisciplinary programs, but they want to take them further. “We have these pockets of expertise where we have good practice, and being systematic about it is what part of the Future Focus program is really about.” Reid agreed, adding that they want to bring the principles of transdisciplinary programs and apply them as experiential learning in curricular and cocurricular spaces.

Justin Gotta, Faculty of Arts representative, asked what the plan was to get micro-credentials accredited and ensuring that they meet high standards. Strzelczyk noted that provincial governments have become interested in micro-credentials, mentioning that the Ontario government just announced that micro-credentials could be part of student loan applications. She said it was very important that micro-credentials are high-quality and pass scrutiny inside the university and towards the government, otherwise they don’t provide pathways towards undergraduate and graduate degrees. Reid emphasized that this is why we need a micro-credential framework. McCauley said that quality has to be paramount, but the process to complete a micro-credential should be easy to do, so as not to create barriers to obtaining one.

Gotta followed up by asking about micro-credentials in the international sphere, asking if there are similar programs abroad, and how this would work for international and study abroad students. Strzelczyk said that the idea of transferability was very important, and she noted that other countries are looking into micro-credentials as well, and it is important that any future programs are able to be transferred across borders. McCauley noted that they are trying to think nationally so that each province doesn’t have wildly different standards. 

Agendas, minutes and upcoming meetings for SLC can be found online.

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