Online Tutoring: Education Trend to Watch in 2015

One of the new trends in higher education that is likely to become mainstream in 2015 is online tutoring. The year that just ended saw the launch of several tutoring start-ups, across the world – including Canada. The interest in this type of online service will undoubtedly increase, given the disruptive nature of these new Web 2.0 businesses, their technologically savvy customers, along with the ease of access to and affordability of online tutoring.

There are several business models, and the market will decide in the end which ones are most viable. They range from a pay-per-minute service to monthly subscriptions, although most involve connecting live with an actual person via phone, video conference or other on-screen interface (interactive whiteboard).

Some of the larger – and more significant – differences in terms of the quality of service received by clients are due to the location of the tutoring firm or independent tutor. Several service providers have outsourced the work to Asia (e.g., India), given significantly lower labour costs and potentially higher profit margins. If you’re to choose, do your research and select the firm/tutor that makes most sense for you; remember though the old saying, usually you get what you pay for.

Online tutoring services to consider – particularly for American and Canadian students – include:

https://www.firsttutors.com/, Twitter: @firsttutors (EduNation LTD, Morecambe, Lancashire, UK)

https://helphub.me/, Twitter: @HelpHubHQ (HelpHub, Vancouver, BC)

https://instaedu.com/, Twitter: @InstaEDU (InstaEDU, Inc., San Francisco, CA)

http://www.nettutor.com/, Twitter: @nettutor (Link-Systems International, Inc., Tampa, FL)

http://www.tutor.com/, Twitter: @tutordotcomHE (Tutor.com, Inc., New York, NY)

http://www.tutoruniverse.com/, Twitter: @TutorUniverse (Tutor Universe, Inc., Iowa City, IA)

http://www.universitytutor.com/ (Johnson Educational Technologies LLC, Dover, DE)

Campus Visit: Université Laval, Quebec City

Spring is a great time to visit Université Laval, North America`s oldest French-language post-secondary institution. A short drive or bus ride west from Vieux Québec – the city`s renowned historic neighbourhood – Laval is welcoming you with its dozens of modern buildings, large green spaces, botanical gardens, sports fields – and a multi-cultural student population. (In Quebec`s typically cold winters, students can walk between campus buildings through a complex network of underground pedestrian tunnels, over five km long).

Flag of Laval University, Quebec City. Françai...

Flag of Laval University, Quebec City. Français : Drapeau de l’Université Laval, Québec. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students call Laval their university. With its 18 faculties and schools – ranging from dentistry to forestry to theology – U. Laval is an appealing and relatively accessible choice for many French-speaking persons from the Province of Quebec (the vast majority of them), the rest of Canada, and around the world.

Well-known for its Rouge-et-Or varsity sports, Laval`s football team (men) is particularly celebrated for having won the most Vanier Cups (the championship of Canadian Interuniversity Sport football): six times, a tie with U. of Western Ontario Mustangs. Laval has one of Canada`s largest sports complexes and students participate in various sporting and non-athletic competitions, such as Concrete Canoe, International Tractor and Force Avenir.

400+ academic programs (roughly half undergraduate and half graduate), hundreds of distance learning courses, and three education profiles (entrepreneurial, cooperative, and international) make U. Laval an institution catering to a wide range of student needs. This is one of its strongest features – and perhaps its Achilles’ heel as well.

In the latest (2012) Maclean`s ranking Laval takes the 12th spot in Canadian “medical and doctoral” universities (a category of post-secondary institutions offering a broad range of research and doctoral programs, including medical schools). In the national reputational ranking Laval places 18th (this ranking combines all medical doctoral, comprehensive, and primarily undergraduate universities in Canada). In its category, Laval scores 8th on total research dollars (a plus repeatedly emphasized by university officials) and 10th on student awards.

Laval`s vision is “to become one of the best universities in the world.” Its model, however, to “[give] all members of its community the chance to grow, develop their potential, and establish themselves in an […] institutional setting” may prevent it from achieving that very worthy goal. Laval is one of Quebec`s better and larger post-secondary institutions – notable alumni include three Prime Ministers of Canada and seven provincial Premiers – but its all-encompassing community mandate is what seems to be holding it back.

To truly become a top Canadian and world university, Laval will need to revisit fundamental principles – to move away from a Quebec-centred mission and promote more forcefully its many strengths on the national and international post-secondary education market. It will also need to focus more strategically on a fewer number of academic specializations, closely coordinated with its research programs.

Until this transformation happens, Laval may not be one of the world`s leading universities – a Caltech, Harvard or Stanford – but it definitely continues to be an attractive choice for Québécois and international Francophone students. In its French-speaking niche, Laval offers rich educational options in a lovely (albeit somewhat cold) city. Tip: enjoy the sun and the warm weather while it lasts – you`ll notice, the locals follow this rule religiously.

Quebec Government Tables Emergency Law to End Student Strikes

In the aftermath of student protesters storming the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), on May 16, 2012, the Quebec Government announced emergency legislation to restore order. This follows over three months of protests over proposed tuition hikes,

Français : Jean Charest après la cérémonie du ...

Français : Jean Charest après la cérémonie du jour du souvenir 2010 à Québec (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

affecting the activity of many Quebec colleges and universities. The Charest government will suspend classes in institutions that are on strike; students will be able to return in August in order to complete their school year.

“Nobody can pretend to defend access to education and then block the doors of a CEGEP or university […] I expect all those in a position of leadership to assume that responsibility, whether they are students, teachers or union activists […] There is no reason for anyone to use violence and intimidation,” Charest said.

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Mind the Gap: Quebec’s Post-Secondary Education Woes

As this post is written while Quebec students’ “strikes” are still occurring – disrupting not only regular education processes but also the province’s already tumultuous political life – I may be tempted to weigh in and provide my views on the protest itself. I won’t and I will not address here issues of morality, social justice, agency, the role of universities (and CEGEPs) in society, taxation and representation. There are countless voices out there, at this moment, doing precisely that – from the militant student group CLASSE to Globe and Mail and National Post editorialists.

The trigger for this sudden interest in Quebec’s higher education is Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s decision to raise tuition fees over the next five years by about 75 per cent. The reaction from a sizable section of the provincial student population has been swift and, in some cases, violent – student “strikes” led to courses being cancelled, institutions being shut down, hundreds of arrests and confrontations with police, for the past three months. Except for op-ed pieces in national newspapers and brief TV reports, the reaction has been muted in ROC (the rest of Canada).

What I will attempt to provide however are some facts and observations about university tuition in Canada’s overwhelmingly francophone province. This is the main point of contention, which pitted the government against students. Largely frozen for decades, university tuition in Quebec is the lowest in Canada (and, arguably, in the whole of Canada and the United States). While tuition fees vary from university to university and from program to program, as a rough guide they are half what students in the rest of Canada pay for their post-secondary education.

The provincial government (as other governments as well, elsewhere) is heavily subsidizing university studies. For example, currently, tuition can be as low as $2,701 at Université de Sherbrooke and $2,781 at Université Laval in Quebec City, for provincial students. At McGill University in Montreal, one of Canada’s best schools, the tuition fees are $3,727, slightly more than half what students in neighbouring Ontario pay for their studies.

Why this does not lead to a huge influx of students from ROC is unsurprising: the provincial government only subsidizes education at this rate for Quebec residents (and a few other selected categories). Out-of-province students pay higher tuition, similar to (or higher than) what they would pay in their home province – e.g., $6,391 at Sherbrooke, $6,471 at Laval and $7,417 at McGill.

Tuition fees for out-of-country (international) students, everywhere in Canada, are higher than for Canadian students. For arts and science programs in 2011-2012, international student tuition averaged $16,426 at Sherbrooke, $16,728 at Laval and $20,420 at McGill. To put things in context, international student tuition can be as low as $9,006 at Moncton U. (New Brunswick), $9,010 at Memorial U. (Newfoundland) or $11,726 at University of Lethbridge (Alberta).

The tuition fees for Quebec residents haven’t even been indexed for inflation for several decades. Even with the proposed 75% increase, the fees would still be some of the lowest in Canada (an argument that proponents of “free” education may not be willing to entertain). A recent analysis in Maclean’s magazine indicated that “[h]aving been in effect for 32 of the past 43 years, the tuition freeze has been as enduring as it is economical. As a result, students today are getting an even better bargain than their forebears.”

Of course, whenever money is involved, especially when that translates into tuition hikes, changes are bound to lead to political disagreements. As long as the confrontation takes places in the appropriate fora – legislatures, university boards or negotiation committees – healthy debates are beneficial to the overall state of the education system.

Whatever the outcome of the current student protests will be – and one hopes a compromise will be reached soon – this crisis highlights the existence of a different paradigm on access to post-secondary education. Quebec’s multi-layered approach to charging tuition fees if being tested in 2012 and early indications point to developments that will slowly close the gap between the Quebec model and practices in the rest of Canada.

Time will tell if Quebec will maintain a distinct post-secondary system and if the gap in this sector will gradually diminish between “la belle province” and its Canadian counterparts. Either way, the current status quo will likely prove to be unsustainable.

Building Bridges Between British Columbia and Brazil

A very informative piece in The Vancouver Sun (May 3, 2012), signed by Stephen Toope, President of the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Chairman of the Board of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), and Arvind Gupta, Professor of Computer Science at UBC and Scientific Director for Mitacs, a Canadian research and training network.

They note that Canadian higher education institutions will sign many agreements with Brazilian universities “to advance research collaborations and student exchange,” but “the true bedrock from which these bridges will be built is authentic people-to-people relationships.” The link to the full article can be found here.