Thousands of Saudi students are choosing Canadian universities

In a small classroom at York University, a handful of students gather each morning to practise their English, wrote The Globe and Mail March 6. In fact, all the students in this intensive language class are Saudis, here thanks to a decision by their government to pump billions of petrodollars into higher education.

At York, the York University English Language Institute (YUELI) can’t keep up with demand and has capped Saudi enrolment at 94 to comply with a policy that no single group should account for more than one-third of students, said the Globe. “It’s tempting, because you could make lots of money,” said the school’s director, Calum MacKechnie, during a morning tour.

The scene at York is being duplicated across Canada as universities make the most of Saudi Arabia’s massive scholarship program, which is footing the bill for about 62,000 students to attend foreign universities. In the space of two years, this country has become the third most popular destination for students from the oil-rich nation, behind Britain and the United States.

The Saudi government does place restrictions on participants. Students must study in approved fields – mainly sciences, technology and business – maintain high grades, and come home when they finish. Women can only come with a male chaperone, usually a husband or brother who is also allowed to study on scholarship.

At York, police officer Ahmad Alhijili is in Canada under just such an arrangement. The 30-year-old is taking English language classes with his wife, who is hoping to enter a graduate program in biochemistry. “I was just lucky,” he said.

Of course, there are also exceptions. In a hallway at York’s language school, Turki Al Sabbar, 21, lingers while other students return to class, to voice his outrage at the misconceptions Canadians have of his country. “They think we are all big criminals,” he said. “Some people have asked me if we have TV. They think we ride camels. We are an educated people. The bad image makes me very frustrated.”

GO poised to cancel local bus routes

Aurora’s Edward Fenner is upset with GO Transit for what he describes as a misguided proposal to cancel the Route 64 York University GO bus service , wrote the Aurora Banner March 6 .

For the most part, the York staff member at York International and mature student uses GO Transit’s train service to get to and from school, but he also uses the bus a few times a week when his classes run later. The loss of Route 64 would hamper the ability of many to travel both quickly and safely, Fenner said. “We’re being asked to pay more on top of it taking longer,” he said. “It’s causing a lot of stress among the faculty and students at York.’“

If GO Transit is concerned about the number of riders on Route 64 and, it may make sense to reduce the frequency of the buses, Fenner said. However, cutting it all together isn’t the answer, he added.

The concerns of frustrated GO riders have also reached Newmarket-Aurora MPP Frank Klees, who is holding a public meeting on the issue at the Aurora Town Hall Tuesday.

Literacy gets a new job emphasis

Canada’s economy may be picking up, but experts say there’s still one challenge that could stand in the way of the county’s long-term economic success: workplace literacy, wrote The Globe and Mail March 6.

“Literacy rates haven’t improved much in the past decade, but the trouble is the workplace is more complex, more competitive, and there’s more mobility,” says Alan Middleton, executive director of the Schulich Executive Education Centre at York University.

And many firms aren’t stepping up to the challenge of increasing literacy skills. “There’s a ‘that’s not my job’ mentality. Plus, it’s [literacy issues are] not supposed to happen in Canada, so they have difficulty accepting it as a problem,” Middleton says.

That head-in-the-sand thinking is costing business big time, Middleton says. Indeed, experts estimate that low literacy skills cost organizations about $2.5-million annually in lost productivity alone.

When their home is no safe haven

In November, Justice James Russell rejected a refugee board decision in the case of Erasmo Lopez Villicana, a gay man, and his family, who fled Mexico after allegedly being threatened by a homophobic group, wrote the Toronto Star March 7 in a story about laws regarding governments’ obligations to protect their citizens. The judge deferred to the expertise of York political and social science Professor Judith Adler Hellman of the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, who has done 40 years of fieldwork and research in Mexico:

“(Hellman) addressed the prevalent notion that countries that have stable political institutions and open elections automatically enjoy a guaranteed rule of law and the services of an honest and professional police force, a notion which lies behind the presumption of state protection in our own jurisprudence,” the justice wrote in ordering a new hearing for the rejected claimants. In other words, state protection cannot be automatically assumed in a democratic country.

Ottawa to consult Canadians on pension reform

Pension policy experts say the coming weeks are a rare window of opportunity for historic improvements while the hard lessons of the recession are still fresh, wrote The Globe and Mail March 6 in a story about government plans for pension reform.

“We’re still in a sweet spot in terms of being able to galvanize people to do something about this,” said Moshe Milevsky, a finance professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, who contributed to the March issue of the public policy magazine Policy Options, devoted almost entirely to debating the proposals at hand.

“The financial crisis has taught us a very, very important lesson that’s related to pensions and that lesson is that an RRSP (registered retirement savings plan), as large as it is, is not a pension, because from one year to the next, it can lose a quarter of its value,” he said.

Learning how to hedge yourself

The notion of human capital has become more immediate in light of the high unemployment rate, wrote The New York Times March 6. The loss of your job is often not up to you. But you do have control over not allowing your job and investments to be correlated.

“People have learned in the last few years that their human capital is much more sensitive to the financial markets than they thought,” said Moshe Milevsky, a professor of finance at the Schulich School of Business at York University and the author of the book, Are You a Stock or a Bond? (FT Press, 2008).

The key is to make sure your human and financial capital are not correlated. Milevsky said he viewed himself as a bond, because as a tenured professor his salary did not fluctuate. So he can take on more risk in his investment portfolio.

But he pointed to a midlevel employee at Lehman Brothers as a stark example of a person who would have been a true stock: her earnings were tied to the company, which went bankrupt, and her investments were probably also tied up in Lehman Brothers stock.

How to reduce our carbon footprint the other 23 hours of the day

With a full-time job and graduate school on her plate, one could excuse Lindsay Bunce for finding it hard to unplug at night, wrote the Toronto Star March 6. But before she mentally tunes out and gets ready for bed, she takes the time to disconnect in another important way.

“There’s not much to it,” says the master’s in education student at York University. “I’m usually doing work at night on the computer before I go to sleep after 11. “It starts in the living room. I unplug the TV and the computer and all the peripherals – modems, routers, they’re all unplugged. Then the lamps and anything else plugged into power bars, to minimize phantom load.”

Endorsements’ unsavoury history

Advertisers and the celebrities they endorse have not always had ideal marriages, according to Testimonial Advertising in the American Marketplace, wrote the Toronto Star March 6. And co-editor Marlis Schweitzer, theatre professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, says that could be a cautionary tale. Could big companies like Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s and Gatorade ever grow weary of the whole endorsement dance?

It happened before, about 100 years ago.

In the 1890s, she explains, medicine makers hired burlesque and opera stars to endorse their various cure-alls. But a problem was revealed when female stage actors were called out for hawking too many competing brands. Consumers became skeptical about the whole concept and the practice was dropped, for a while.

In its place, she says, advertisers used illustrations of wholesome, trustworthy characters whose public image they could control. Enter the era of the Campbell Soup Kids and Aunt Jemima. “They were not real people who made real mistakes,” Schweitzer says.

Though it had been sullied, the endorsement phenomenon re-emerged in the early part of the last century – particularly around cosmetics. “Women were looking for role models,” Schweitzer says.

Once again, advertisers sought stage and film stars they felt consumers would want to emulate. By then, she says, stage and screen actors “were no longer associated with immorality.”

Uppal writes an ode to hockey

Priscila Uppal, English and humanities professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and Olympics/Paralympics poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes, now offers this ode to Canada’s gold medal men’s hockey team, wrote in the Vancouver Sun March 6:

Canada is the Hockey Ward
(with nods to Ron MacLean)
Crosby your fingers.
Every Sea, brook and mountain cheers
Go Canada Go.
Turn up the Heatley.
We need to be Thorntons in their sides.
Every other country green with envy,
we Boyle with excitement. Our boys will Perry in every corner.

Canada Basketball faces tall order in keeping the best from going south

You can have a brilliant basketball experience and still sleep in your own bed, wrote The Globe and Mail March 8. That’s the message Bill Pangos says often gets missed in the rush to the United States. His son Kevin is a highly regarded point guard in the Steve Nash mould, yet he can’t understand why people keep asking him when he’s going to leave his friends at Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School in Newmarket, for one of the traditional basketball powers in the city of Toronto or for a prep school in the United States.

“I say why?” says the elder Pangos, head coach of the York University women’s team. “He’s with his friends, he’s having fun, he’s doing well in school, he’s learning to be a leader. Why should he leave?”

Kevin has been a fixture in provincial programs and will be the starting point guard on Canada’s under-17 team at the world championship in Germany this summer.

Son of Jack Layton launches bid for seat on city council

York grad Michael Layton (MES ’06), son of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, launched his campaign for Toronto City Council with a bike ride, wrote The Globe and Mail March 6.

The 31-year-old environmentalist’s choice of photo-op reflected one of the few positions he was willing to take in the maiden speech and scrum of his bid to replace mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone in Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina.

He said it was too early to say whether he’ll win the all-important endorsement of Pantalone, the area’s councillor for three decades. Layton, a deputy director for Environmental Defence, has lived in Trinity-Spadina for years. He holds a master’s degree in environmental studies from York University.

On air

  • Andrea O’Reilly, founding director and president of the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) and a professor in York’s School of Women’s Studies in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, spoke about the threatened closure of ARM’s research centre at York. Keith Marnoch, York’s associate director of media relations, also commented on the issue, on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” and in CBC programs in Ottawa and Windsor March 5.
  • Fred Lazar, economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about funding for diabetes clinics for Aboriginal peoples in Canada, on APTN-TV, Winnipeg, March 5.
  • Peter Timmerman, professor in Yiork’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, took part in a panel discussion about the film Avatar and its environmental moralism, on TVO’s “The Agenda” March 5.
  • Robert Latham, professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and director of the York Centre for International & Security Studies, spoke about the elections in Iraq, on CTV News.