Students give University mixed grades

While the Globe and Mail’s “University Report Card” may make proud Queen’s students cheer, it also underscores some of the University’s shortcomings.

Queen’s scored high for its libraries, reputation and sense of community, but was docked marks in areas of food services, the availability of merit-based scholarships and co-op/internship opportunities.

The annual report, which came out Wednesday, surveyed 26,198 undergraduate students from 37 Canadian post-secondary institutions who are members of the financial aid website studentawards.com.

In the medium-sized school category, Queen’s was rated the second-best school in terms of academic experience, and the top school in terms of university atmosphere but was tied with McGill University for the worst co-op/internship opportunities.

The University received a C- for merit-based scholarships and a C for availability of financial assistance. Jo-Anne Brady, University registrar, said she agreed that Queen’s could be doing more in terms of merit-based scholarships.

“The scholarship program that we have right now was established in 1996,” she said. “I think it does need to be revisited, and that is something that we are going to do this year.

“We want to ensure that the scholarship program is relevant for the needs of students in 2006.”

Brady added that it’s too early to speculate on what form these changes may take, as the review of the merit-based scholarship program is in its preliminary stages.

She said she’s disappointed with the feedback regarding the availability of financial assistance, however.

“We have more need-based assistance on a per capita basis than any other university in Canada,” she said. “We have students who are very satisfied on campus with need-based assistance.”

Brady said she thinks the problem in this instance is that many prospective students are not aware of the need-based options open to them.

“We have a very fine bursary program,” she said. “[But] for some reason we have not been as successful as we would have liked to have been.”

Regarding the issue of co-op and internship programs, Brady said that while the University has a very vibrant professional internship program, some students would prefer a co-op arrangement, which Queen’s does not offer.

Principal Karen Hitchcock, who was out of town, deferred comment on the “report card” to Janice Deakin, acting dean of student affairs. Deakin said the University is pleased with the results of the survey.

“The fact that our students are giving us high marks on a number of important indicators speaks to the quality of education they feel they’re getting here,” she said. “I think that it tells that Queen’s is providing them with an exceptional learning environment, and that that prepares people to make a valuable contribution to the community when they leave here.”

Two categories of the survey in which Queen’s was ranked below average were athletics programs and sports facilities. Deakin said she was confident the University will be able to rectify this problem.

“Clearly, on the survey, our athletic facilities are rated very poorly,” she said. “We have a plan with the Queen’s Centre that we are confident will address that deficiency as that particular component of student life facilities are improved.”

Deakin added that once the problem of inadequate athletics facilities is addressed, the University will be able to assess the issue of athletics programming.

Libraries at Queen’s were rated the best out of all 37 universities in the survey.

Barbara Teatero, associate university librarian, said the success of the libraries can be attributed in part to financial support from the University.

“Even at times of great budget reduction, the acquisitions budget has been protected,” she said. “So over the years that’s allowed us to build some very impressive collections.”

Teatero added that faculty members have also helped by participating in developing library collections. She also said a dedicated library staff and the “fabulous” physical aspects of the libraries have contributed to their success.

“Our library facilities are beautiful spaces,” she said. “They’re comfortable … students enjoy using all of them.”

Teatero said the libraries are also expanding technologically. She said the University currently provides access to more than 25,000 electronic products.

Among other initiatives, Teatero said students may soon be able to send instant messages over the Internet to a librarian.

“Imagine if you were sitting on the fourth floor and the building was packed and you didn’t want to leave your spot—because you were going to give up your spot—but you really needed some help. It’d be cool to be able to [instant message] down to the reference desk, wouldn’t it?” she said, adding that a pilot project of this initiative may start in Bracken Health Sciences Library in second term.

Teatero encouraged students who found something lacking in the library’s collections to let staff know via the library website.

“In terms of resources that they might need that we don’t have, we certainly need to hear about that from students if there are things that they wish we had that we don’t have,” she said. “We’re very open to suggestions.”

Food services is one area in which Queen’s seems to be lagging behind. The University scored a C for the category.

“The issue of food is clearly one [for which] students have indicated a level of being less than satisfied,” Deakin said. “We have a number of initiatives looking at ways in which to improve food service, food quality, as well as the packaging of food in residence.”

Bruce Griffiths, director of residence and hospitality services, said this rating doesn’t vary greatly from last year’s Globe and Mail survey. He said that Residence and Hospitality Services has been using other forms of evaluation to monitor their progress, including a survey called “Educational Benchmark International.” “Over the past two years, we had a meal plan review where we worked with students and we brought in outside expertise,” he said. “We’ve seen, in our other surveys in conjunction with those changes, increased satisfaction.”

Changes made in recent years include more flexible meal plans. Griffiths said that plans to improve food services will include, among other things, a new food facility in the lower Victoria Hall common room.

“Obviously [the University Report Card is] something that we take seriously,” Griffiths said. “Our meal plan review committee will look at this.”

One aspect of Queen’s residence that was given special attention was the Living and Learning communities, in which students can apply to be placed on a themed floor. Lori Rand, coordinator of educational programming for residences, said that Consecutive Education and Concurrent Education communities will be added next year.

Rand said that giving students the opportunity to interact with people with whom they share common interests provides them with a form of holistic learning that is integral to their education.

“They’re their own people as individuals, but it’s nice that there’s something in the community that’s this shared common interest,” she said. “We’re really trying to meet the needs of all the students based on where they are developmentally and where they are with their academic and social needs.”

Rand said she believes the program will continue to grow in popularity, as it has over the past two years.

“Based on where we’re going with the program and based on the needs of students, it appears as though the numbers will continue to increase,” she said.

Queen’s was the highest-ranked university in the categories of “sense of community,” and “extracurricular activities.” Rector Grant Bishop attributed the community atmosphere at Queen’s to the University’s broader learning environment and its tradition of community and leadership that attracts students who will be inspired to contribute to the community.

“Students are therefore compelled to believe in their community, to invest in their community and to have that lasting affinity to Queen’s,” he said.

Deakin said the student feedback in the survey is important, and that the administration will be taking note of categories needing amelioration.

“It’s incumbent on us to improve those [areas] that we don’t score well on,” she said.

Bishop, however, said he’s cautious about taking the survey results too seriously.

“I don’t think we should ever subordinate ourselves to the rankings,” he said. “We can’t make institutional decisions simply for publicity.”

For more on how Queen’s stacks up, see page 12.

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