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October 24, 2002 Students organize conference on higher education



Abigail Colby Shorter and Rocci Luppicini

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Melanie Takefman

Rocci Luppicini and Abigail Colby Shorter are not taking the passive approach to education. Instead of simply getting a degree, the two graduate students are creating a forum to maximize the higher learning experience for students, faculty, administrators, and industry.

It is because these diverse players within universities rarely communicate or collaborate on the rapidly changing state of higher education that Luppicini and Colby Shorter will unite them in the Millennium University conference on March 14-15.

“Getting people together who don’t normally associate with each other is a challenge,” said Luppicini, co-chair of the conference and a PhD candidate in educational technology. However, it is necessary given the increasing co-operation of government, industry, academia and administration in higher education.

While researchers have traditionally stayed within educational institutions, practical experience is becoming a valuable asset for students entering the workplace. Also, the proliferation of vocational colleges and co-operative education programs indicates that the delivery of higher education is at a crossroads.

The increase in different university models “suggests that we should be embracing this shift,” said conference co-chair Colby Shorter, a master’s student in public administration and public policy.

The industrial and non-profit sectors (known collectively as the “third sector”) are permeating higher education more than ever before, and shifting the balance between public and private funding that has long sustained Canadian universities. Some disciplines benefit from new resources more than others, and this inequality can cause tension.

To make the most of these changes, Luppicini and Colby Shorter will encourage members of the three sectors to bring their distinct perspectives to bear on their ramifications.

The conference is organized into three panels: policy, research and governance. Each theme will consist of a plenary talk followed by panel speakers and discussions. Intellectual property as well as the idea of technology replacing faculty are among topics to be debated.

Speakers will include Quebec’s Minister of Education Sylvain Simard, Maria Peluso, president of the Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association and a political science professor, and Concordia’s rector, Frederick Lowy.

The conference will also honour sociologist Charles Tilly of Columbia University’s New School for Social Research in New York City.

Despite the prestigious roster of speakers, Luppicini and Colby Shorter are determined to reap concrete benefits for students at the conference. One idea is to develop a mentorship program for all students that would give them access to professional resources like an editing job banks for journalism students, Colby Shorter said. At the moment, she added, “there is a disconnect [between] training and education and their application in the workplace.”

The conference is free for all students and will take place in various venues at Concordia and McGill.

Being that the conference is the first of its kind, Luppicini and Colby Shorter hope that it will draw positive attention to Concordia’s academics, and thereby better job opportunities for graduates.

Because the conference’s organizers worked under the title of a graduate and researcher consortium, the Millennium University Lecture Series could easily be mobile. “It’s an opportunity that’s open. It’s not embedded in any institution,” Colby Shorter said.

She added that she would like to see the conference become a regular forum for the analysis of higher education in the future.

For the conference schedule, visit the Millennium University Web site at http://millennium.concordia.ca.