On March 15, 2012, the University of Alberta was lucky to have a unique opportunity; several international delegates from the European Commission-funded Tuning Project came to the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy to present on “student attributes.” As many of you might be aware, I’ve been working consistently this year on developing a Student Attributes Plan, which outlines four sets of qualities that, if all goes well, will become staples of a University of Alberta undergraduate education. Over the last decade, there has been a worldwide movement to see universities establish clearer benchmarks for quality undergraduate educations.
But what do I mean, when I talk about “attributes” and “clearer benchmarks”? Simply put, as universities begin to compete more intensely to both attract and produce the best undergraduate students possible, it is important that we stand out from the rest of the crowd. For instance, what makes a U of A alumni better than a U of T or UBC alumni? What is it that makes the U of A unique, compared to other universities in Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia, China and so on? These are big questions, and they certainly affect our opportunities for employment in the future.
Therefore, when I talk about “attributes,” I really mean qualities of U of A students that make us stand out in society from our friends (or rivals, if you’re competing for jobs against them) at Dalhousie, McGill, Calgary, and so on. But what are these qualities? Is there really something that separates U of A students from the rest of the pack? What makes us better? Over the last year, I’ve interviewed nearly every member of Students’ Council, spoken with most student faculty associations (the ISSS, NSSA, etc.) and reviewed responses to an attributes-related question posed to all U of A students on our annual SU Student Survey (we received around 5,000 responses to this question). The results? U of A students feel passionate about four attributes in particular: Engaged Citizenship; Global Awareness; Resilience and Adaptability; Creativity and Imagination.
So now what? We have four attributes, but where do we go? This is partly where the Tuning Project comes in. One thing that Tuning does is work with universities to aid them in creating authentic undergraduate educations. Furthermore, Tuning views professors as being integral to making these student attributes work. Professors are the major piece of the puzzle in terms of ensuring that students become better people through their university courses. Professors design and teach those Biology 499, Anglais 328 and Community Service Learning 100 courses that have the potential to alter the way that you and I think and act.
There is much left to go with this student attributes project, but with VPA-elect Dustin Chelen at the helm next year, the future is bright. As the Student Attributes Plan goes public, I intend on taking this to every student faculty association for another round of consultations. Moreover, it is paramount that U of A professors provide meaningful input into the Plan. Without a doubt, I’m ecstatic about the progress made on this project over the last twelve months. There is a long road ahead, no doubt shaped by winding turns, gradual climbs and the odd speed bump. But one thing is certain: there are miles and miles of freeway.