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Athabasca University behind the Times

Once again, it seems Athabasca University (AU), supposedly the premiere home of distance education, is caught having to play catch-up in the very field it supposedly specializes in.

Early in December, the provincial government of Alberta announced that NAIT was training welder and electrician apprentices through videoconferencing — something that AU has not yet managed to make work effectively in its own meetings as of yet (Alberta Advanced Education, 2005).

Surprisingly, NAIT received no additional support to do this program beyond its usual funding, other than access to the Alberta SuperNet. Considering that AU is the only school to be offering a Master’s in Distance Education, the fact that this technology is not routinely employed by Athabasca should be of great concern to everybody in that program.

To be fair, the videoconferencing will be followed-up by the professors or the “NAIT in Motion” trailer visiting the communities after the completion of the course, another area that AU seems to lag behind in. Currently, AU students are expected to travel to one of a very few places (Athabasca, Calgary, Edmonton, or Hamilton) in order to complete their labs for some of AU’s science courses. This baffles me because if we can have invigilated exams anywhere on the globe, why not invigilated labs?

The good news is that AU finally seems to recognize this problem and some slow steps are being taken to overcome it. Since we now have both a Masters of Distance Education and a Masters of Computing Sciences, it seems only natural that AU should be able to develop some sort of solution to this problem fairly quickly. At least before NAIT beats us to the punch again.

Alberta Advanced Education (2005, December 2). NAIT using SuperNet to train apprentices in their communities. Retrieved from

Ontario Improves Aboriginal Post-Secondary Access — by a Committee?

The Ontario government has decided that it wants to improve the access to post-secondary education for Aboriginal students across Ontario. In order to do this, they’ve established an advisory committee to tell them how to spend part of the 6.2 billion dollars they’ve budgeted for post-secondary education advancement over the next five years (Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2005).

Unfortunately, the advisory committee membership is almost entirely made up of people already responsible for Aboriginal programs in various universities across the province. This means that solutions that might pull students out of their programs, such as Athabasca University’s own offerings in the field, and are thus unlikely to be looked upon with much favour. Even so, if AU could establish meetings with some of the “higher ups” in the committee, they might be able to swing the discussion to simply providing grants for Aboriginal students to be able to decide their own course of education. If those grants were unrestricted in the choice of institution, AU stands to benefit from those students using distance education to get their post-secondary education while staying involved in their own culture.

Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (2005, December 8). Government plan helps Aboriginal students reach higher: Advisory group to improve access to higher education. Retrieved from

Statistics Canada Confirms Research Spending Increased

Research spending at the post-secondary level increased 9 percent from 2002/03 to 2003/04 coming to a total of 8.1 billion for that year (Statistics Canada, 2005).

The interesting part is that statistic is that most of the increase in research spending actually occurred in the social sciences and humanities fields of study, which increased 13 percent, followed by natural sciences and engineering, which increased 12 percent. Meanwhile, health related research only increased by about 4 percent. You would think that in a country that is consistently complaining about how far behind we are in advanced health care, that we’d see larger research expenditures in this area.

In any event, if you’re going for a graduate degree this might help determine which fields you consider.

Statistics Canada (2005, December 7). Spending on research and development in the higher education sector. Retrieved from