Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
It’s hard to believe that we are already halfway through November – but here we are, with the last of the fall leaves clinging to the trees, and a wintry chill in the air. I’m sure you will all agree that this is a busy time of year. I feel as if the wheels that were put in motion at the beginning of the term are now spinning furiously and won’t slow down again until the holiday season (which will be upon us in no time!). I wanted to bring you a few updates about what has been keeping me busy, both on and off campus, in recent weeks.
On Wednesday, I had the great pleasure of hosting my annual Principal’s Community Breakfast. Held this year at the Ambassador Hotel and Conference Centre, the event is an opportunity for me to acknowledge and strengthen the bonds between Queen’s and the greater Kingston community. The event included a couple of excellent collaborative presentations built on the idea of the “community as classroom”.
The first was a presentation from Dr. Brian Frank, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering, who told us about a course he teaches that includes a 12-week community service learning project. Taken by over 700 students ever year, the course sends them out into the community where they work with organizations like Martha’s Table, which provides low-cost meals to people in need. Ronda Candy, managing director at Martha’s Table, and Ramona Neferu, who is studying Engineering Chemistry, both shared their insights and experiences as well. Later, Dr. Anastasia Riehl, Director of the Strathy Language Unit and an adjunct professor in Linguistics, talked about a current project that sees her partnering with the Wolfe Island Historical Society to gather residents’ oral histories; she was followed by the organization’s treasurer and genealogy, Brian MacDonald.
It was an inspiring morning, to say the least. Experiential learning is one way that we can help our students develop skills that will set them up well for the working world. I am hopeful that the event will inspire more community partners to consider collaborating with us.
In other news, I’ve had to be off-campus quite a bit over the last few weeks on university business. In October, I had traveledto Hong Kong – my first trip there on Queen’s business. Consul-general (and Queen’s alumnus) Ian Burchett hosted a wonderful dinner in honour of my visit. I also met a number of key alumni in the area, and visited some regional high schools (including the Canadian International School, whose Head of School is also a Queen’s alumnus). It was a short but busy trip, allowing us to solidify our ties with the Greater China region – a part of the world that currently provides us with nearly 20 per cent of our international student body.
I was also fortunate, recently, to be able to participate in the installation ceremonies for the new leaders of McGill and the University of Toronto. McGill’s 17th Principal, Dr. Suzanne Fortier, is a former Queen’s faculty member in the Department of Chemistry who also served as both vice-principal (academic) and vice-principal (research). Dr. Meric S. Gertler, U of T’s 16th President, is a renowned urban geographer. Both bring a great deal of vision to their new positions. I look forward to working with them both over the next few years on matters of importance to postsecondary education and research in Canada.
Finally, I want to finish off with a few words about Homecoming, which we celebrated last month for the first time in five years. I heard directly from many alumni who told me that they were very happy to be back on campus in the fall. For the most part, I think the two-weekend model worked well. That said, things didn’t go off entirely without incident – particularly on the first Saturday night when too many people gathered in the streets in the near-campus area. We have been engaged in consultations with many community partners since the Homecoming weekends to gather feedback about the events, and those conversations are continuing. I would like to reiterate my thanks to everyone who helped plan and execute Homecoming, as well as to the Kingston Police, who offered invaluable support on both weekends.
I’m in Banff this weekend to celebrate the fact that a record seven Queen’s faculty members are being inducted into the Royal Society of Canada. The Society only admits eighty new fellows every year, so it’s quite an extraordinary feat for a university of our size to have so many inducted at once. It’s truly a testament to the quality of our faculty at Queen’s.
Enjoy the rest of the fall, and good luck to those of you who will soon be preparing for final exams!
I recently returned from two weeks abroad that included several destinations (a visit to silicon valley and San Francisco among them) but which was built around an 8-day, two city trip to China. In that country, I travelled to the campuses of several universities, met with representatives of government bodies (a highlight was the China Scholarship Council, which funds many graduate students at Queen’s and this year will begin to fund select undergraduates for year-long visits), the Canadian consulate in Shanghai, attended two combined alumni/recruitment events (joined by international recruiter Andrea McIntyre and Queen’s School of English Director Elaine Armstrong), and enjoyed a number of meals with senior alumni or Queen’s parents. Owing to internet access restrictions, and an exceedingly busy schedule, it was not possible to blog from China, so I am providing now an overview of the mission and what we learned and achieved.
This was the first visit to China by a principal of Queen’s since 2000 when Bill Leggett travelled there. Ideally, there should not be another such gap. China, much like India, is not a country one can drop into on occasion, leave some business cards and brochures (though in fact we did that) and then tick it off the ‘to-do’ list. Relationships are both institutional and personal, and they require frequent contact and regular, if less frequent, visits.
We have yet to map out the international strategy for Queen’s over the coming years–appropriately, the academic plan needed to come first–but it is in progress. Without prejudging that exercise, I think it hard to imagine that China would not feature prominently in our internationalization plans. For one thing, it is by a substantial margin the biggest source of international students for Queen’s at both the undergraduate and graduate/professional level. For another, it is the fastest growing economy in the world and it is important that our graduates be able to engage meaningfully with it and that, ideally, they learn something about its culture and practices.
China is not India, the other very fast growing Asian economy. Things can occur quite slowly in India, especially where government is involved. In China they move with lightning speed. At one university in Shanghai we toured a brand new library, about four times the size of Stauffer, that was built from shovel-in-ground to opening in barely a year. New universities are being created all the time, and there appears to be a limitless, or at least a very large amount of money to fund them: though, be it noted, the Chinese have decided on a very clear differentiation among their universities, ranging from ‘small’ (by Chinese standards) local ones through several higher gradations leading to the top tier of a very small number of institutions. These are Beijing’s Tsinghua (science and engineering mainly, though now with a medical school recently re-merged with it); Peking University, also in Beijing (very strong in humanities and social sciences, but with a polymer chemist as its current president); and Fudan in Shanghai, our long-standing anchor partner. There is a ’985′ group (this is not an area code, but refers to a particular party speech on a given date, articulating an ambitious vision for China’s universities) and a ’211′ group (same idea). Differentiation is a policy that in China, with a national, rather than state, jurisdiction over education (though in fact there are PSE institutions described as regional and even municipal) it is much easier to enforce than in Canada, with our provincial jurisdictions and, by and large, political reluctance to date, to enforce differentiation.
There are also specialist institutions, three of which we visited. CELAP in Shanghai, a training ground for senior civil servants, is a government sponsored institution with which Queen’s already enjoys a relationship, one that will be strengthened by our recent visit. We had the opportunity to visit the China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing (a school with which I have a personal connection having, in my last job, negotiated a ’1 plus 3′ degree arrangement between it and my former university/faculty. In addition, its dean of international studies was in Kingston quite recently, as her son graduated from Queen’s last year and is now working in Moscow).
All of the visits were productive, some exploring possible new relationships, others advancing existing ones. A few schools have specific bilateral exchange arrangements with Queen’s faculties (in particular, Queen’s School of Business), which we would like to broaden. Memoranda of Understanding were signed to facilitate such discussions. Expanded relationships would include exchange opportunities for students in other faculties, and enhanced research linkages. Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and Vice-Provost (International) John Dixon, both of whom travelled with me, were able to open doors for our researchers by raising awareness, at the universities we visited, of our areas of expertise.
The wisdom of Principal Emeritus Leggett and of Dr. Dixon (who will be leaving his international role later this spring after 12 years and 7 visits to China), of starting slowly in China, with a single major partner, Fudan, has I think paid off, as that relationship is especially strong. It can now provide the base from which to expand to other universities.
Fudan hosts our China office, staffed by Queen’s Political Science part-time PhD candidate Dr. Zhiyao Zhang (he already has a PhD from a Chinese university). Dr. Zhang, as our full time representative in China, helps students seeking admission to Queen’s, visits with other universities, and keeps Queen’s ‘on the radar’ in China. He has done a remarkable job of this in just five years (in 2007, Queen’s became the first Canadian university to open a China office, a pattern now being emulated by others, and a very good initiative on the part of Dr. Dixon).
Our delegation (one does not visit Chinese institutions, officially, as individuals, as I’ve learned over 4 different trips since 2005) also included Jonathan Kong (Arts ’11), who spent time in our Fudan Global Development Studies semester abroad program (a real jewel, which puts our students in the same class as Fudan students, not merely swapping places with them). Jonathan, now working for Queen’s Advancement office, was also a ‘Castle Kid’, who spent his first year at Herstmonceux, and we were struck at many of our meetings by the enormous interest in Queen’s presence in the southern UK, something that truly does set us apart from most other North American institutions. Fortunately we also had with us Dr. Bruce Stanley, the newly appointed Director of the Bader International Study Centre. Bruce’s vision for the BISC is to include many more international students and, eventually, international faculty members, who may wish to come for short periods or for conferences.
Was the trip worthwhile? Unquestionably. Its ultimate worth will be demonstrable down the road when we see more widespread recognition of Queen’s degrees and of the Queen’s name abroad, when there are greater opportunities for our students to spend time at a Chinese institution, and in an increased number of Chinese students choosing to come here either on exchange or for their full degrees. The ones that come have a good experience. We hosted two public events, in Shanghai and Beijing, for alumni and prospective students and their parents. At the Beijing event, a student from Tsinghua who had spent a term at Queen’s School of Business here in Kingston indicated enthusiastically that her term at Queen’s had been the best experience of her academic career. So we are off to a good start. But there is scope for much much more engagement between Queen’s and China.
One of the most interesting facets of my job as principal is exploring the myriad different kinds of research and scholarship that occurs on our campus–or off it. To start an intermittent series of blogs on some of these activities, I’ve chosen one of our best known (at least in scientific communities), SNOLAB. Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the various institutional partners, and other provincial and federal granting agencies, it is among the most ambitious ‘Big Science’ projects undertaken in Canada.
SNO stands for ‘Sudbury Neutrino Observatory’ and is the name of a particular experiment, years in the making, the purpose of which was to detect and study neutrinos. These subatomic particles are emitted by the sun, and further away, by super-novas. And, according to Prof Tony Noble of Queen’s Physics Department, they come in 3 ‘flavours’. A burst from a supernova will actually precede optical sighting of the supernova, so a detection will, we were told on our visit, immediately cause lots and lots of telescopes around the world to be trained in that direction to observe the event of which the neutrinos are the herald. Neutrinos are not caught like butterflies or herring. In order to filter out all the background radiation that they are surrounded with, it is necessary to be either inside a mountain, or far underground, since the other forms of radiation do not travel as well or efficiently. The earth provides a filter and the detector itself, a big round ball full of heavy water, provided the sieve to catch the neutrinos. SNO was the brainchild of Dr Art McDonald, also of the Physics Dept. It was constructed nearly 2 km down a vertical mineshaft. This is located just outside of Sudbury, on the site of Vale Mines (formerly Inco) local operation. Queen’s owns the land on which the new surface building (which houses offices and rooms for prepping those going to the lab proper, but the project as a whole is a shared initiative between five universities: Queen’s, Carleton, Laurentian, U de Montreal, and the University of Alberta. It is affiliated with other major particle physics endeavours in Canada, notably the Perimeter Institute, and TRIUMF (the national particle research facility based at UBC but also involving several university partners, Queen’s among them). The success of the original SNO led to the idea of expanding the facility (both literally in size and also in scope of inquiry) into SNOLAB, which is bigger by several orders of magnitude than the space occupied by the original SNO. The original experiment has now been concluded (though it is being succeeded by a ‘SNO Plus’). It has a complicated governance structure atop which sits the SNOLAB Institute, which provides more or less the same level of oversight to the SNOLAB management and scientific teams that the Queen’s Board of Trustees provides the administration. Vice-Principal (Research) Steven Liss and I, along with Director of Public and Government Affairs Sheilagh Dunn, paid a visit to SNOLAB on August 24. The lab isn’t quite complete but already has some new experiments going. Just getting to the lab is an adventure. As a kid (and even more recently) I always enjoyed science fiction films; the depth of SNOLAB and the stages one goes through reminds me of the 1971 film The Andromeda Strain and its ‘Wildfire’ facility (based on Michael Crichton’s first novel). In a nutshell, here are the steps: First, you have to arrive the day before in Sudbury. We did so, and had a dinner meeting with my friend and colleague Laurentian University President Dominic Giroux and a number of his administrative team, in conjunction with Prof Noble, who commutes between Kingston and Sudbury. The next morning we had to be out of the hotel by 615. We were driven to the surface building of SNO where we deposited wallets, cellphones (not allowed in the mine!) etc and donned mining gear–rough coveralls, socks, rubber boots and a miner’s helmet complete with headlamp. Then we were marched over to the minehead, signed in and were each given a tag, which we then hung on a pegboard to indicate we would be down the shaft.
At 740 we were called to the ‘cage’ as the elevator that takes people up and down the various levels of the mine is called. It’s a tight squeeze on one of the cage’s two decks. A series of buzzes signalling to the cage operator, and we were on our way down at a pretty brisk rate of descent not unlike landing in an airplane. At the bottom, we were disgorged from the cage. But at that point we were still 2 km horizontally from SNOLAB which is right at the end of a long tunnel known as the drift. Our helmets now lit, we proceeded through the mud and water down the tracks to the lab door. (Because the cage and drift are Vale property, we couldn’t take photos of this part of the adventure). There our boots were washed off and we went through the first of several doors.
Once inside, everyone was separated into male and female change rooms. We discarded our mining outfits (hanging them up for exit later in the day) and took a shower. We then put on clean gear including finer coveralls, new inside boots, a hairnet, and another hardhat for walking through the internal tunnels. The whole process from getting to the cage to being fully clean and inside the lab took about an hour. We had a number of excellent guides on our tour. Samantha Kuula is a fulltime SNOLab staffer charged with outreach and communications. She makes the trip down at least a couple of times a week either with groups or to reconnect with the science going on so she can write about it. Tony Noble, Director of the SNOLAB Institute (and a former director of the facility itself) was of course with us, and Dr Nigel Smith, a British physicist who is the SNOLAB Facility Director and Dr Fraser Duncan Associate Director. Nigel, Tony and Fraser took it in turns describing the innards of the original SNO site and the expanded SNOLAB, while Samantha was responsible for getting us in and out. I was also pleased to see on the trip down a 3rd year Engineering Physics student, Kira, who has spent the summer building a cooling unit for one of the experiments. She was there to try it out.
After a brief rest period for some coffee and fruit and muffins (which has to come in double bagged to be clean, and can’t go out again except in special garbage containers), we were ready to begin the walk around the facility. We saw first the site of the original SNO experiment, in one of several big holes carved out for the purpose. The SNO site is a bit cramped, with low ceilings and tight corners (needless to say just about everything that comes down the shaft has to fit in the cage and often be reassembled underground). Once done there, and after another break (the air pressure is higher down underground and one can tire easily), we were off to see the new facility. Well, if getting into the lab reminded me of the Andromeda Strain, the lab itself seems more like one of Ernst Blofeld’s hideaways in an early James Bond film, minus the armed henchmen. I almost expected to see a white cat. The internal tunnels (there are no square walls or ceilings) have been trowelled down to a flat finish in order to reduce the dust (one or two service lines have a rougher, stucco finish). Everywhere are uniformed workers with hardhats, either on one of the experiments, or completing some of the infrastructure. Crews work 4 10 hour shifts a week. Our tour was there for a little less time as we were scheduled to go back up on the 2 pm cage.
The facility, as mentioned, isn’t quite complete, but it already has ‘tenants’. SNOLAB is, if you like, a kind of hotel for big science projects requiring underground siting. Several of these, such as SNOPlus and DEAP (an experiment to search for ‘dark matter’ using liquid argon–the acronym stands for “Dark Matter Experiment using Argon Pulse-shape discrimination”) have Queen’s faculty as the principal investigators, others involve two or more of the partner institutions. But SNOLAB is an open facility in the sense that scientists elsewhere can apply to set up their experiment within SNOLAB for a period of years, and then vacate when their research has run its course. They bring their own funding (some of it American for instance), but there is a huge advantage in not having to replicate the clean rooms and basic infrastructure that the lab as a whole can provide. Some of the experiments are looking at very similar problems, but using different methods.
And some of them are small pilots for bigger experiments to come–smaller scale machinery are set up to demonstrate that the experiment can in practice work before a major outlay for larger scale facilities is needed. Thus DEAP will soon be moving to its full-scale version from the working pilot. As a historian, I have very limited knowledge of the science behind all these experiments, so it was great to have Tony, Nigel and Fraser explain them in lay terms. What most impresses one is the sheer scope of the planning that has to go into simply setting up any of these experiments, never mind executing them, and also the long term investment of time–these are not experiments that generate an instant return of published papers.
Such productivity can take several years (though a relatively short span compared to the length of time that the neutrinos and other particles have been travelling to our part of the galaxy!)
At 1 o’clock we wrapped up, went back to the kitchen for a final rest period, then reversed our steps, abandoning our labwear for our mining togs once again, back along the drift and up the cage. Once back at the top of the shaft, we removed our tags from the pegboard and signed out of the mine. Then, back in the SNOLAB surface building, we reshowered to get the mine grime off again, and got back into our street clothes. It was an extraordinary experience, but amazing as the facility is, the experiments that will live in it for the next 3 or 4 decades (or until the mine closes) promise to be even more fascinating. And it all takes place right here in Canada, with Queen’s University as a leader.
All photos by S. Liss and S. Dunn
Some relevant links: SNOLAB home page http://www.snolab.ca/ Queen’s Particle Astrophysics projects http://www.sno.phy.queensu.ca/group/projects.html
There have been a couple of travel days and evening events since we checked out of our Melbourne hotel on Tuesday morning, but also a lot of activity, which I’ve saved for this post.
We arrived in Canberra on Tuesday evening.
I was domiciled at University House, a residence especially for visiting scholars and their families on the grounds of the Australian National University. The grounds are quite lovely, as is most of the ANU campus though there was a fair bit of construction occurring here and there.
Wednesday, our only full day in Canberra was very busy indeed. I began it by having breakfast with Prof Anthony Reid, one of the world’s foremost authorities on Southeast Asian history. Tony had helped out as an advisory editor on one of my historiographic projects in the 90s but we’d never met before. As it turned out, he has been to Kingston several times as his cousin is Prof Emeritus of Mathematics Malcolm Griffin. Small world. Academically it was definitely a Southeast Asian day, as my lunch was spent with one of his colleagues, Prof Ann Kumar, who is also an Indonesia specialist, and a current contributor to the Oxford History of Historical Writing project based at Queen’s.
Much of the rest of the day was taken up with visits with several ANU administrators including Darren Brown, the chief international officer,
and outgoing Vice-chancellor Ian Chubb who in fact leaves his position next week. We had especially useful chats with Mandy Thomas, the Pro- VC for graduate education and research, and with Lawrence Cram, the DVP (= our provost). Lawrence and I swapped views on the relationship between teaching and research, and I heard a good deal about how ANU works, and about the funding model in particular.
ANU is unusual in that it is federally legislated. All Australian universities as noted in earlier blogs are funded by the national government, but report to a state government on their activities and financials. ANU, located in Canberra (which isn’t in a state but in the ‘Australian Capital Territory’ or ACT) actually answers to no state, and moreover gets a block grant from the national government not unlike an endowment. This has facilitated much of its enormous success and reputation in research. Prof Cram is an astronomer, so I also got some handy tips on what to look for in a new set of binoculars!
In the afternoon we had a meeting with Canada’s High Commissioner to Australia, Michael Small, and his staff, including Deputy HC David Mackinnon, a Queen’s MBA grad. (David joined us in Sydney the following night for the alumni reception on which more a bit further down). The discussion mainly concerned how Canada in general can raise its profile as a brand internationally–my November trip to India was used as an example of a concerted effort in this regard by Canadian executive heads. The similarities between Canada and Australia constitutionally and culturally were also discussed, with a particular reference to public policy issues.
Our last campus meeting of the day was at the ANU’s Centre for Mental Health Research. We met with Prof Helen Christensen, the Director, and her associate Prof Kathy Griffiths (an undergraduate chum of my colleague and travel companion this week Dr Sally Rigden). I informed them about mental health initiatives on our campus, about our work over the past year raising mental health awareness and introducing the Mental Health First Aid program, which was developed initially at ANU, and then exported to Canada. Queen’s imported it last year from the province of Alberta, where my wife Julie was able to use her connections with her former colleagues at the Alberta Mental Health Board to connect our Student Affairs Team with the First Aid program. So it was very nice to close the circle by visiting the unit that began this important program.
The evening was a pleasant, relaxed one at a Thai restaurant with a recent Queen’s grad Mike Roger (now starting a Masters at ANU–Mike’s two younger brothers are currently at Queen’s), with history MA alumnus David Akers (till recently exec officer to VC Ian Chubb at ANU) who had been at Queen’s in the history department during my postdoctoral stint there, and with Jack and Judy Jeswiet. Judy is a retired nurse and Jack is a Queen’s Professor of Mechanical Engineering, in Canberra on sabbatical. I’ve known them for a VERY long time–they were the wardens (as head dons were then called) of Gordon House when I was a resident of Gordon-Brockington in 76-77!
After this at was back to the residence to sleep for a few hours before a very early trip to Sydney where we arrived at 930 on Thursday morning. We had two sets of meetings, one at the University of New South Wales (where we met among others Queen’s alumnus David Cohen, a scientist in charge of UNSW’s equivalent of our Bio Sci department–David joined us for the alumni reception later that day). UNSW is our largest exchange partner, with about 150 students from each partner having gone back and forth over the years. In the afternoon we wrestled with Sydney traffic
and visited the campus of the rapidly expanding MacQuarie University just outside Sydney. It is like a small town, with its own train station, and will be expanding to about 50,000 students in the next couple of years. Talks at both schools involved increasing our level of faculty and graduate exchange activity.
The business part of the trip concluded Thursday night at the offices of the Consul-General of Canada in Sydney, Tom McDonald. Tom is another Queen’s History grad, class of 1972, and has been in his current post for 3 years. The view from his rooftop terrace is stunning. Apart from Tom and his wife Susan, an early resident of Victoria Hall, several of his staff are Queen’s grads, including Sharon Pinney and Elaine Callagan.
This was a terrific event during which I met most of the nearly 100 alumni and guests who turned up, about a quarter of all the alumni in Sydney. After some remarks by Tom and by me, and a door prize draw, we conducted what may well have been the first ever mass Oil Thigh on a Sydney rooftop. Attending the reception among others was Prof. Harold Messel, Queen’s 1948, one of Australia’s most distinguished nuclear scientists, who came in all the way from his home in Tasmania for the function. Prof Missel is 88 and still going strong. Other guests with whom I chatted included a PhD grad from the 70s who had lived in a Science 44 co-op house on Earl St. Within a few minutes we realized that the house he was talking about was one that became a private residence in the 1980s–and which Julie and I currently live in!
I was especially pleased at the reception that we were joined by four current Queen’s students here on exchange at various Australian universities. Chaz Legge, Courtney de Cosimo, Lindsay Fisher and Steffi Regpala mixed with our alumni and helped reinforce my message to them that Queen’s welcomes and needs their continued support.
The reception was to end at 730, but at 830, when I left, there were still people in attendance. It was a great way to end the trip. There is no organized alumni branch in Sydney, but as the evening went on, several different people indicated that they would be very interested in rectifying that.
As I write this, it is Friday morning in Sydney. I fly home tomorrow after a busy but very productive week with lots learned about higher education in a country very similar to Canada, and some very useful contacts either made or strengthened. Back home late Saturday night to the Kingston winter!
It was a short day today owing to the travel in the afternoon to Canberra, where I am now sitting in the University House residence at the Australian National University. This is my 2nd trip to Canberra, but first to ANU. More on the visit here in the next day or so.
Still in Melbourne this morning, we went a slight distance out of town to the Clayton campus of Monash University. Monash is Australia’s largest university, and has multiple campuses both in Australia and abroad. It was an early pioneer of the international campus idea and has campuses in Kuala Lumpur, Johannesburg and elsewhere. We spent some time with the Vice-Chancellor, neuroscientist Ed Byrne, who gave us a great deal of information about the pros and cons of Monash’s offshore experiments. Apart from being an accomplished scientist and administrator, Prof Byrne is a published poet who kindly presented us with a copy of his verse.
Two of the other meetings were with old friends. One, Ian Copland, is a historian of colonial India with whom I have had some collaboration in the past and occasional contact over the years, though this is the first time we have met in person. He has a Queen’s connection insofar as his partner, a law professor, has spent a a couple of months in our Law School on a visiting lectureship.
The second of these, at lunch, was with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Adam Shoemaker. Roughly the equivalent of our provost, Adam is a very old acquaintance. We recalled that we first met in September 1976 when he was 2nd year student and I was a frosh newly elected as treasurer of the Arts ’80 year society; it was he who gave the new executive a sense of what it was we were supposed to do. Adam went off to Australia on exchange in 3rd year, returned to Queen’s and graduated with a medial degree in History and English. Australia obviously suited him, because after some time in Ottawa he returned there for a PhD and, while he has been elsewhere during the intervening time, has spent much of his career here, having become DVC at Monash 3 years ago. It was great to catch up on the various people we knew in common.
Among other things, Adam told us about the Monash Passport, a co-curricular initiative which he has steadfastly promoted here and which I think may well be worth looking into at Queen’s.
After that, it was off to the airport, and Canberra, but more on that in the next day or so.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
After a 3 hour plane ride on Friday and a quiet weekend in Melbourne mainly working on some history work I had brought with me, it was down to business again today, with a visit to the University of Melbourne. I’ve been joined over the weekend by Dr Sally Rigden from the Principal’s Office, who is an Australian herself (from Perth via Canberra). We took the tram down Swanston street the 15 minutes to the University. One of my favourite things in any new city is to try out the local transport and the trams are great.
Melbourne is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in Australia, regularly placing at or near the top of research rankings, including quite a spectacular recent climb up the Shangai Jiao Tong rankings. There are, apparently, very few week departments and 52 of them scored perfect ’5s’ on the national research assessment exercise (ERA). It is twice the size or more that of Queen’s, at about 47,000 studentsWe were met at the International Centre, right out on Swanston St by the tram stops, by a staff member who squired us to our first meeting, with the university’s provost (roughly equivalent to our provost), John Dewar. I was particularly keen to find out about the famous ‘Melbourne model’ which over the past few years has quite considerably changed the curriculum structure, making formerly undergraduate professional programs into graduate or 2nd entry programs. We have done some of these things ourselves at Queen’s, for instance the conversion of the LLB into a JD, but the process has been much more extensive at Melbourne and much more of a radical departure from the ‘direct entry’ approach (borrowed from Britain) whereby students can get into medicine, law etc direct from high school.
Melbourne has taken an interestingly interdisciplinary approach to research, with much of it clustered around Institutes with a problem-focus, such as ‘Sustainable Communities’ or ‘Broadband Enabled Society’. Its annual consolidated budget is about 1.5 million $AU.
The campus is an interesting mix of old and new.
On one side, the buildings are very old, but have in many cases been redeveloped or repurposed. On the other side, it is almost all new or recent, including a very interesting Business school building known as ‘The Spot’.
Our second meeting was a rapid tour through some of the university’s innovative teaching spots. With a new teaching building being planned at Queen’s, I was particularly curious to see what they had done here. Our guide, Prof Peter Jamieson, is an Education specialist who was hired here specifically to reform the teaching spaces. He is an ‘Energizer Bunny’ of an enthusiast who whipped us around campus in less than an hour to some of the most interesting teaching spaces I have seen for a long while.
We saw the social spaces in the library, including restaurant-like circular booths where students gather, often working individually on different projects but much more likely to sit together than at conventional long tables. At least a couple of the classrooms had school-like tables for 4 or 5 students, with space for the instructor in the centre of the room rather than at the front. Instead of blackboards or whiteboards, many of the rooms have glassboards, often brightly coloured.
In the library, where much of the book stock has been out-housed to make room for student learning commons, we were quite struck by a set of old wooden tables. These appeared NOT to be wired for computers. This as Peter explained was quite deliberate—so many places ARE wired that he wanted a spot for students to sit for no longer than their batteries would allow, and to do other things than compute. There was only one lone laptop on the table we looked at.
Elsewhere, there was a quiet room, formerly a faculty lounge but now a student lounge. Soothing music at a low volume was piped in. The room was clearly a space for quiet contemplation. (We called it the Zen Lounge.)
After this rapid tour, which also included two brand new ‘pavilions’ or gathering spots, one indoors and one outdoors, it was time for lunch.
We went to the University House, a club or restaurant where we met Douglas Proctor, from the U’s International Relations office (Douglas, a French and linguistics grad, was in Kingston last November for a day, so knows our campus), our host,Susan Elliott, a Prof of Gastroenterology and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Global Engagement), and Lesleyanne Hawthorne, Associate Dean in the Dentistry and Health Sciences Faculty. Lesleyanne also knows Queen’s and does work with Prof Keith Banting of our School of Policy Studies and Dept of Political Science. I had read a couple of articles by her last year on the Australian experience in internationalization as compared with Canada and other jurisdictions, so was very glad to be able to put a face to the email address!
During the lunch, in which we compared notes on internationalization initiatives, we were surprised by one statistic, which is that Canada is the single biggest supplier of international students to Australian medical and dental schools–a function of the excess of highly qualified students over places at Canadian medical and dental schools.
Following lunch we had one last meeting, at the university’s advancement office. Here, we had a fascinating discussion with several central and faculty advancement team members. Philanthropy is relatively new to Australia, as like Britain it has moved rather sharply from a fully-state supported system to one in which private support and tuition are increasingly filling the gap. Melbourne is embarking on its first full campaign in 70 years (by comparison there have been 3 or 4 at Queen’s since I was a student, and we are in the run-up to another right now). We were able to swap some good experiences and lessons learned. My parting gift from our hosts at this meeting was a history of the University coauthored by one of its most distinguishd historians, Prof Stuart Macintyre. By coincidence, I am dining with Stuart this evening, whom I first met on my last trip when we were both deans of arts; since then he has been a major collaborator in the Oxford History of Historical Writing (OHHW) project of which I am general editor. (I mentioned above that I had spent lots of the weekend working on ‘history’ stuff–it was in fact mainly on his volume in the OHHW which is now moving through the press process.
We had a pleasant dinner with Stuart and another historian involved in the Oxford History, Bain Attwood, from Monash University, where I am headed for meetings tomorrow.
Some more pix of today’s meetings below:
As I write this, I have a few hours down time after the conclusion of the Matariki Network meetings and before our alumni event later this evening.
At this morning’s Matariki meetings we continued yesterday’s discussions and agreed on some initiatives to follow up on with respect to future research conferences (using the inaugural one in Kingston last November as the example). It is likely that the next conference, to be hosted in Tubingen, will be on Bioethics and Policy issues. More details to be worked out in the coming months. The main criteria for having a research workshop under the Matariki ‘brand’ are that they be very oriented to pressing social problems, be interdisciplinary, draw on strengths at most or a majority of the member universities, and generate some concrete outcomes in publications and research applications. All the conferences are also to involve graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty.
The rest of the morning was taken up with the annual business meeting.
With the Network now firmly established (though three of the current executive heads will be stepping down at their institutions within the next several months), the need for meetings of this kind every year is somewhat reduced, so the next one, to be held at Dartmouth College (the US member) will not occur till mid to late 2012. As one of the four executive heads whose term runs past that date, I was acclaimed as chair of the Network (the secretariat, ably run by Otago Deputy Vice-Chancellor Sarah Todd, will remain at Otago, making my duties as chair not terribly onerous!). We bade goodbye to our colleagues after lunch. John Dixon and I will have a good deal to follow up on from these meetings when we return to Kingston.
Two final notes on the meeting. This morning we signed the MOU for the network, making it a legal entity among the institutions. At the same time, I also signed a separate bilateral MOU with Durham Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins,
dealing with particular programs between our institutions, especially on the graduate studies side.
I will update on the alumni reception a bit later on today.
Queen’s alumni in Perth
We had a good turnout at St George’s College, close to 30 alumni and their guests. Several were Australians who had done graduate work at Queen’s, before returning home (some as far back as the 70s), a few were Canadians who ended up here for ‘short periods’ and decided to prolong them. The youngest alum were two Science 04 grads, who brought along his parents, also alumni.
We had some really good questions from the group, including curiosity about the academic planning process, about town-gown relations, and about alumni giving. This last gave me my opening to make the pitch for support. It was a good event and splendid to meet some of our most far flung alumni (it was pointed out that you cannot find a city in the world further away from Kingston than Perth–if you drilled a hole though Grant Hall you would emerge in the Indian Ocean not far from its UWA duplicate, Winthrop Hall!)
Friday is a travel day to Melbourne followed by the weekend, so I will next update the blog on Monday.
It’s 5:15 in Perth and we have just wrapped up the first day of meetings after last night’s introductory BBQ (of which a highlight for me was my first taste of kangaroo–this got a lot of attention on twitter). This was probably useful as today the agenda was very wide-ranging and had us hopping from one item to the next at a brisk pace. Our meetings occurred in the Senate Chamber,
a round-tabled room near the Vice-Chancellor’s office. We also got a look at the inside of Winthrop Hall, a larger version of our own Grant Hall, and built by the same architect. (The president of Engsoc, Victoria Pleavin, tweeted in response to my posting a picture of the hall, below, that it would make a great location for the Science Formal).
Last year, at the Matariki Network’s inaugural meeting, in Durham, England,
we worked out the basic terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between our seven universities. (Recap: the network is a group of seven mid-sized research-intensive universities, each with a commitment to a strong educational experience within the research environment, and with an outward, international perspective; there can be only one member per country. Queen’s is Canada’s member. The others are: University of Tubingen (Germany); Uppsala University (Sweden); Durham (UK); Otago (New Zealand); Dartmouth College (USA); and our host institution this year, the University of Western Australia. The universities vary in age, with Queen’s being one of the younger ones (Uppsala and Tubingen date from the late fifteenth century; UWA marks its centenary this coming Monday, making it a week younger than Ronald Reagan. There is some variety in size also, but none of us is either tiny or enormous.
Having launched the network this past year, we today reviewed some of the key issues, challenges and events at our institutions since we met in Durham. There was a considerable confluence of issues, in particular those of funding from our respective governments (Germany is the closest to Canada in the sense of having a strong provincial/state involvement; the US is quite different from others in having a private as well as public or state system for PSE).
The UK and Australia are experiencing some very significant changes, with those in the UK (moving from government support supplemented by tuition to a system of income-contingent loans, with tuition capped at 9000 pounds annually).
Highlights of the afternoon discussion included: the finalizing of the MOU (after a year of activities, leading to some refinement of the language) which we plan to sign tomorrow; a discussion of how best to share practices and information among the seven institutions. We had a productive discussion on the use of metrics in research assessment (the UK and both Australia and New Zealand have long-established regular ‘research-assessment exercises’, largely dreaded in all countries but which have nonetheless generated some reasonably solid data about research performance which are–and this is crucial–discipline specific (that is historians compared with historians; biologists with biologists, musicians with musicians, and so on). We have been spared this exercise in Canada, largely because of the divided jurisdiction over PSE, but we did have a spirited exchange on how we might share the data that we have to mutual benefit, and especially to match up research strengths and complementary activities among Network members.
The Network takes its commitment to other aspects of university life, in particular the student experience, seriously, and some thought was given to how we can work together on some key issues. One interesting initiative, of Uppsala University, is to invite a representative from each of our institutions to Uppsala in September to review Uppsala’s teaching and learning innovation activities, and learn both from these and from other attending members. I should have more to report on next year’s agenda tomorrow when we have concluded our meetings. Tomorrow we will also be considering how to improve both faculty and staff mobility among the members, and we will review outcomes from the first of the Matariki research workshops, on renewable energy and society, which we hosted at Queen’s in November.For a summary of this workshop see
More tomorrow on Day 2 of the meeting.
Correction, it is Curtin University of Technology no more–since July they have dropped the ‘Of Technology’ bit from the university’s name. A very new university (established 1987 after a previous 20 year existence as a polytechnic), it has 47,000 students total, of which a staggering 1/3 are international students. The buildings on the main campus that we visited all seem very new. On a tour of the campus in the afternoon, we ducked inside a brand new engineering building which has not quite opened; another one is in the early stages of construction.
Our tour guide, Tania, a Curtin grad from 2003 in Business Law who now works in the international office at Curtin, mentioned that the university has increased enormously in scale and size even in the 8 years since she graduated. We actually arrived at Curtin on the day of a graduate ceremony (it is Australian summer, and a few weeks before term starts–here grad ceremonies occur a few months after the end of the academic year, rather like the US model). Everywhere students were around in regalia waiting for the ceremony, outdoors, to start this evening when it would be a bit cooler.
Curtin has several satellite campuses in other parts of Western Australia and elsewhere in the country, but it was principally their international campuses we were curious about. As Queen’s considers its own international initiatives, learning from those with much more experience will be helpful. Curtin has 20 years of history in engaging especially with Asia, and it has both branch campuses in Sarawak and Singapore, and ‘partner’ campuses with other Asian universities where Curtin degrees are offered using other institutions facilities.
John Dixon and I had a lengthy meeting with his counterpart, David Wood, an urban planner who is currently Deputy Vice-Chancellor International. We noted that Queen’s has several existing relationships with Curtin, in the areas of applied sustainability and planning among others (SURP professor David Gordon was out here a year ago). We had a lot of questions about lessons learned during Curtin’s expansion internationally, and discussed possible further collaboration opportunities. Subsequently we met with my counterpart, Vice-Chancellor Jeanette Hacket, a very engaging and enthusiastic woman keen to embrace international partnerships in Canada as well as Asia. Her colleague, Deputy VC (Research and Development) Linda Kristjanson had a Canadian connection–a nurse by training she has spent time at Queen’s and knows the Canadian system well having lived for a while in my home town, Winnipeg. (There are a lot of Canadian ex-patriates in Australia. Could it be the weather?). Finally, Deputy VC (Teaching and Learning) Robyn Quin is responsible for all academic programming at the main campus and for quality control over all programs or ‘courses’ in the Curtin system. Quality control is very high, but has traditionally been done by retrospective means, as an audit of performance metrics such as retention, rather than as the ‘gatekeeping’ system (where new programs must be approved in advance) that prevails in most Canadian provinces, including Ontario (recently modified at Queen’s through the QCAPS process approved at Senate to meet provincial requirements).
While the Australians are a decade or so ahead of us on the international front, we have progressed further in one key area that is of growing importance in both countries, namely fund-raising from philanthropic sources. While the US is way ahead of both Australia and Canada, we have a more developed (no pun intended) system, and a significantly greater portion of our operating budget comes from private fundraising. This is going to increase in urgency for Australian universities in the coming years.
So, a productive day of fact-finding and quite a few questions answered. But as my colleague John Dixon said as we left one of the meetings, we also have a very clear idea of how much we actually don’t know and need still to learn about in the area of internationalization.
Now, on to the two day meeting of the Matariki network, starting with the U of Western Australia Vice-Chancellor’s BBQ this evening.
It’s day 4 of the trip (well actually day 5 counting the travel, but Friday disappeared somewhere over the Pacific). After a long flight, a day’s stopover in Sydney and arrival on Sunday in Perth, I am nearly de-jetlagged. The weather here is very very hot as it is the height of summer in the southern hemisphere.
Yesterday, Monday, I met with Prof Denise Chalmers of Western Australia University. Prof Chalmers is a leading figure in Australian higher education pedagogical scholarship and is Director of UWA’s Centre for Advancement of Teaching and Learning. We had a good chat over a ‘flat white’ (Australian term for a coffee with milk, in a short cup) about some of UWA’s innovations in teaching, and Australian higher education policy generally.
A key difference between Australia and Canada is that here, PSE is a federal matter, governed from the national government in Canberra. The states (=our provinces) have a much smaller role than do their Canadian counterparts (one of these roles is to ‘audit’ the universities financial management notwithstanding that the money itself originates federally). This has led to a certain levelling of the playing field from one end of the country to another, and permitted a national PSE policy in a way that we cannot imagine in Canada, with 10 different provincial jurisdictions. The down side is that when cuts happen, they affect everyone–the national council on teaching and learning set up a few years ago has just been announced as dissolving by the end of the year. On the other hand, the government in bestowing grant funding has traditionally differentiated among its institutions and not simply spread all the money out evenly. For example, a recent block of funding for teaching innovation invited applications from institutions, and a few got a lot of the funding, and others got none, depending on the proposal. What is fascinating is that the research-intensive schools in the ‘Group of 8′ (=our ‘G15′) did very well out of the competition, suggesting that in Australia, as in Canadian universities such as Queen’s, it is possible to find a commitment to strong and innovative teaching within a research-intensive environment.
The other interesting fact I gleaned from my chat with Denise Chalmers: as they are in internationalization (for which see more later this week), the Australians are way ahead of the rest of the world on issues of distance learning and especially blended learning. They in fact patented some major software for lecture-capture, Lectopia, which has been bought out and commercialized by Echo360, a private firm which deals with educational software.
Denise was careful to point out a couple of things about UWA’s well advanced experiment in blended learning (the term ‘virtualization’ did not arise):
1. This was not a cost-saving measure, and indeed the up-front costs of it are not inconsiderable. The real cost-saving is in instructor time as once done a lecture doesn’t need to be repeated for a few years (apart from routine updating of material).
2. Lectures are best done in small chunks of time–not as one might think, filling a whole hour as if emulating the classroom timetable.
3. While powerpoint etc can be integrated into a streamed lecture, video is rarely used–no ‘talking heads’ of professors. Rather, students hear the prof’s voice and see the material being projected simultaneously. All of this can be downloaded on to ipods.
4. The students who use the streamed lectures tend to be the ones who go to class (it’s not clear whether the same pattern would apply in Canada as we are so new at this that we don’t have many data yet), and use it as a supplement to what they are reading and hearing in the classroom. It does allow the classroom to be much more about discussion, even in a large room and less about the ‘sage on the stage’.
Tomorrow I will write about my experiences at Curtin University of Technology, also here in Perth.
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