New mandate agreement highlights strengths

University and province sign three-year strategic mandate agreement towards differentiation

A new strategic mandate agreement was signed by the province and the University on Aug. 7, highlighting the University’s strengths in student retention, research and outreach, among others.

The mandate agreement, which doesn’t stipulate any additional revenue for post-secondary institutes, is based on a differentiation framework developed by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO). The different elements in the framework are jobs, teaching and learning, student population, research and graduate education, program offerings and support for student mobility.

In addition to student retention, research and outreach, the agreement identifies the University’s major strengths as student learning outcomes and experience, technology-enabled learning and experiential learning.

Areas of institutional strength are discussed in the agreement, including initiatives such as the Town-Gown Strategic Plan between Kingston and Queen’s that promotes the development of the local economy and retention of student talent within the city.

The mandate showcases the 10,000 students enrolled in Faculty of Arts and Science blended courses, which reflects quality usage of technology in the teaching environment; the University’s graduation rate of 89 per cent; and the first- and second-year retention of 95 per cent in 2013-14 — the highest in the province.

Another aim of the mandate is to bring out innovative ideas and reforms that would support higher quality learning, with the eventual goal of transforming Ontario’s public post-secondary system, according to HEQCO.

According to the framework, the University has demonstrated an ability to improve outreach by offering programs that appeal to Aboriginal students, while also increasing Aboriginal enrolment by 81 per cent from last year. The University has retained 84 per cent of Aboriginal students from first to second year.

Other universities, like the University of Toronto and Western University, were noted for entrepreneurship, global research, student enrolment demographics, student engagement and high entering grade averages from secondary students, respectively.

Queen’s has also been granted $1.4 million by the provincial Mental Health Innovation Fund to provide support systems for students struggling with their mental health, a positive highlighted in the agreement.

Despite the mandate showcasing the University’s strengths, Colin Zarzour, the AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner, is concerned about whether or not the SMA system is incentivized well enough to be effective.

Zarzour, ArtSci ’15, worked to provide recommendations for the SMA while it was in its developing stages.

Zarzour doesn’t believe that the SMA will reach its potential as a guiding document unless there is funding tied to it in a meaningful way.

“It is a legitimate concern that the SMA will not be as effective as it could until funding, policy and a commitment from students and university staff align,” he told the Journal via email.

The Ontario Ministry of Education won’t approve any requests for capital funding or new program approvals, for example, through the SMA process.

However, the Ministry has committed to updating the college and university program funding approval process to improve communication and connect with institutional strengths as outlined in the SMAs.

“I think that using the SMA — essentially asking universities, are you reaching a base level of quality and then exceeding expectations in specific, unique areas — a method to measure funding to universities is a far superior method to simply scaling funding based on how many students you enroll each year,” Zarzour said.

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