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Report recommends greater focus on student learning at Nova Scotia universities

For immediate release

Halifax, Nova Scotia – A report released this morning by Students Nova Scotia argues that universities and the Province must do more to track and improve student learning. Focus on Learning: A Student Vision for Improving Post-Secondary Education in Nova Scotia recommends new initiatives and policies to strengthen quality of instruction, monitor student learning and improve program review. 

“Students, universities, professors and parents deserve to be confident in the ways we measure and report education quality,” said StudentsNS Chair, Amy Brierley. “It’s not good enough for our universities to say they’re delivering good quality education, they must take measures to demonstrate it.”

Across Nova Scotia universities, there is little or no way of objectively assessing whether students are learning what they are expected to learn, because universities do not systematically identify learning goals or assess whether these are being achieved. Little information is collected and made available about the quality of learning environments, faculty training or teaching methods. The processes in place to assess and uphold program quality fail to adequately include students or generate follow-up action.

“The critical first step for achieving top quality education is to determine what quality means and how it can be measured”, said StudentsNS Executive Director, Jonathan Williams. “Students have taken that step with this report and it’s high time universities and the Province did the same.”

The report recommends a comprehensive review of the current state of teaching and learning in Nova Scotia to provide a better picture of students’ classroom experiences and learning, and generate recommendations to more systematically orient universities towards teaching. The review findings would be supported through conditional university funding to develop faculty instructional skills.

“Students are not convinced our universities are placing enough emphasis on quality of instruction, even though they are overwhelmingly funded for that purpose”, said Brierley. “We need to identify concrete steps to improve student learning and make them happen.”

The report also recommends greater orientation towards learning outcomes; i.e. identifying the skills and knowledge that students are expected to learn and evaluating whether they are doing so. Learning outcomes should be assessed at the institutional level through a tool like the Collegiate Learning Assessment, at the program-level, and at the individual level through ePortfolio programs. They should complement current indicators of students’ experiences and perceptions.

“Universities owe it to their students to be clear about what they should expect to learn and to be accountable for whether or not they learn it”, said Williams.

Finally, the report recommends strengthened mechanisms to review and verify program quality. Most notably, the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission must be adequately funded to maintain its quality assurance and data collection activities. The MPHEC could use additional funding to create a centralized tool for tracking credit transferability and a program certifying universities’ quality assurance processes, notably based on student participation. The certification should be required for universities to access their full operating grants and recruit international students.

“The MPHEC must have enough resources and clout to help ensure students and the public are getting the most from our universities”, said Brierley.

The report does not discuss university funding explicitly, but notes that on-going funding cuts do impact on education quality. The Provincial government has announced the fourth consecutive year of real operating funding cuts to universities in 2014-15.

The report was prepared by Danielle Andres, StudentsNS Research Officer, and Executive Director Jonathan Williams. Interviews and student focus groups were conducted over six months between October 2013 and April 2014.

Students Nova Scotia is a not-for-profit and non-partisan advocacy group that represents 37,794 Nova Scotia post-secondary students, including 86% of the university student population. Our members study at Acadia, Cape Breton, Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, and St. Francis Xavier Universities, the Kingstec Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College, and the Atlantic School of Theology.

The full report, a summary of key findings and a quick reference factsheet are available at http://studentsns.ca/focus-on-learning/

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For more information or questions, please contact:

Jonathan Williams, StudentsNS Executive Director

(O) 902.422.4068

(C) 902.483.5480

(E) director@studentsns.ca

or

Amy Brierley, StudentsNS Chair

(C) 905.703.6721

(E) su_userv@stfx.ca

Kate Elliot