Major enrolment pressures seen for Toronto universities

Landing a spot at one of Toronto’s three universities will become increasingly difficult over the next two decades unless major actions are taken to respond to the increase in demand and population growth forecast for Canada’s largest city, reported The Globe and Mail May 5. Immigration trends, demographics and a rising appetite for higher education are expected to drive up applications from Toronto-area students by as much as 50 per cent in the next 15 years, according to some estimates. This at a time when other parts of the province and most of the country are expecting a drop in their university-age population.

"This is a big public-policy issue for government," said outgoing York University President & Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden. How the system responds to the demand will have implications for the provincial economy as well as the postsecondary system, she said. Marsden, whose campus sits at the edge of suburban York Region, an area with the fastest-growing population of university-age students in the country, said solving the problem will require some politically delicate decisions about funding expansion. "If universities are going to grow, which universities are going to grow? We all have our own views about that." 

Marsden said that given the role universities play in driving local economies, it is unrealistic to expect the government to address the issue until after this fall’s election, by which point her tenure at York will have ended. But she said there are precedents, such as the government’s aid to the auto industry, of providing support in special circumstances. "We have said, ‘there is an issue here, folks,’" she said. "But we are just one part of a big economic story for the province. My assumption is that after the election the government will have some policy about this and will have a goal."  

Student U-pass a tough sell

So-called U-passes are proving a tough sell on Toronto campuses, where the Toronto Transit Commission has been trying to work out a joint, discounted-fare deal with eight student governments since 2005, reported the Toronto Star May 7. Typically, the cost of a U-pass is included in annual student fees – no opting out. That means students who walk, bike or drive to classes resent the higher fees. Now, as the TTC begins talks with the latest slate of student politicians, it is ready to negotiate with individual schools, said Michael Anders, TTC market research director. At York University, where about 500 of the 1,660 buses that come and go on campus each day are operated by the TTC, price remains the issue. "A U-pass is definitely quite high on our list of priorities as we are trying to create a campus that is affordable," said Ben Keen of the York Federation of Students.

Canadian Arctic know-how bound for Mars

The next US spacecraft to Mars will take along Canadian-built instruments that will provide the first daily weather measurements from the surface of another planet, reported The Globe and Mail May 7. This week, the Phoenix lander, along with its Canadian components, will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final preparations before launch in early August.

Phoenix is the first in a series of relatively low-cost "scout" missions that are preparing the way for future human landings. The main body of the spacecraft was cobbled together from the spare or unused parts of two previous ill-fated missions. Along with cutting costs, using spare parts saved time for the US scientists and technicians assembling the born-again probe.

The compressed schedule, however, was a huge disadvantage for the Canadian scientists offering to create new weather instruments for the US spacecraft. "We had to design and build a lot of it from scratch," said Jim Whiteway, the lead Canadian scientist and a space engineer in the Faculty of Science & Engineering at York University. He said there were times when the Canadians weren’t sure they would meet the deadline. The biggest challenge was the lidar, an instrument that analyzes clouds and dust in the atmosphere. Canadian scientists have a long tradition of assembling these sophisticated instruments. However, for this mission, the equipment had to be compact, lightweight and energy efficient while still sturdy enough to operate in the hostile Martian environment.

Does it snow on Mars? Whiteway said scientists can only speculate. And unfortunately, Phoenix, with its Canadian-built weather station, is unlikely to answer the riddle. That’s because the solar-powered lander will probably cease functioning before the long, dark Martian winter season settles in and Phoenix is buried beneath the expanding polar ice cap.  

Jumpstarting young go-getters

Grade 11 math wizard Satyam Merja was exactly the kind of young entrepreneur Lawrence Krimker was looking for, reported the Toronto Star May 7. Krimker was in his second-year at York University’s Schulich School of Business. He had joined the school’s inaugural Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship team, a group competing in the national Students In Free Enterprise competition. For the national competition against other universities, the students had to create an entrepreneurial concept that would benefit the community. Krimker, who lives in Richmond Hill, came up with the idea of JumpStart!, a program to help youth – mostly from the Jane-Finch neighbourhood – launch their own summer businesses.

Biologist was a pioneer in stem-cell research

Charles-Philippe Leblond died on April 10 at his home in Westmount in Montreal of complications from cancer, reported The Globe and Mail May 7 in an obituary about the 1986 York honorary-degree recipient. He was 97. A pioneer in the fields of stem-cell research and molecular and reproductive cell biology, Leblond worked on the cutting edge of science throughout his career, much of it from a two-storey office in the anatomy department at McGill University. Rigorous and seemingly tireless, his myriad accomplishments included showing how cells continuously renew themselves no matter one’s age, and developing autoradiography, a technique that is used to track how cells adapt, grow and change.

Footballer to be inducted in York’s Sports Hall of Fame

Nobby Wirkowski, former Argos Grey Cup-winning quarterback and founder of York University’s football program, will be inducted into the University’s Sports Hall of Fame May 31, reported The Toronto Sun May 6.

Record labels rarely gave credit to session musicians

Getting credits on albums is much easier today than it was with early Motown recordings in the early 1960s, when record labels were "notorious" for leaving musicians’ names off album jackets, reported the Ottawa Citizen May 6. Then record producer Berry Gordy wanted to keep his session players working for him in Detroit, not creating the Motown sound for other producers, says Rob Bowman, professor of ethnomusicology and popular music at York University. If the musicians got credit, they’d get a name, and likely work outside the Gordy corral. "Into the ’70s, in the world of pop and country, very rarely did any session musicians get credit," notes Bowman. "That begins to change when rock musicians, largely singer/songwriters such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan do hire different session musicians for each project and do give them credit."

Songbirds threatened but not endangered

"A disproportionate number of birds are on the decline," Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology at York University and an internationally recognized birding expert, told Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin. In Vancouver to promote her new book, Silence of the Songbirds, she said the data from breeding bird surveys, which have been taken annually from the mid-1960s on, show at least 28 species of migratory songbirds are in significant decline. But the good news is, none are actually endangered species yet, though they may be in 40 to 50 years. "There may still be time to save them," Stutchbury said.

On air

  • Eve Haque, an expert on English as a second language at York, discussed whether Canada’s Official Languages Act could be coming in the way of multiculturalism, at a symposium dedicated to the issue Friday at the Ontario Institute for the Study of Education, reported "OMNI News" in Toronto May 4.