NAIT's promise to students throughout change

March 11, 2020

Published on March 11, 2020

Dear students, 

I want to reassure you that, as we manage through budget reductions, we are committed to providing you with high-quality education that prepares you for a successful career. 

Most of you have never met me, so allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sue Fitzsimmons, and I’m NAIT’s vice-president academic and provost. In a nutshell, my job is to ensure students are well served by their NAIT education. Thankfully, I don’t have to do this alone because there are hundreds of talented and committed people who work every day at NAIT to help students succeed in their studies, including your instructors. 

Recently, we’ve been contemplating changes we need to make at NAIT. These changes are necessary as we adapt to a few realities. First, we’ll see reduced government funding in the next 4 years. Second, the needs of our students and industry continue to evolve. And third, the field of education is changing rapidly. 

While our approach needs to be voted on by NAIT’s Board of Governors in April, we anticipate the possibility of losing somewhere between 7 and 9 per cent of our staff, including full-time, part-time and casual employees. Any time job loss is contemplated, it’s difficult for everyone. I’m saddened by this, as is our entire NAIT community. 

At the same time, I’m also hearing concerns about what changes might mean for the quality of education at NAIT. On this count, I’m unafraid. One of the critical things we took into account in contemplating change for the future was your educational success. In fact, this is the very first theme we shared with our Board of Governors when we met with them at the end of February. 

What does student educational success mean at NAIT? As a former educator (I have taught everything from elementary school to university teacher education) and as NAIT’s senior academic officer, it’s about ensuring a positive, supportive, polytechnic learning environment that will prepare you for a successful career. No matter what changes are ahead, these are the things that we intend to continue. 

We’ll continue to ensure class sizes support the achievement of learning outcomes. 

We know the relationship between students and their instructors matters. Over the past few years, we have been thinking a lot about how to ensure class sizes support student learning. In our business school, for example, we analyzed each course to determine what the appropriate student to instructor ratio should be to balance the need for efficiency with our knowledge of teaching and learning. Based on this assessment, some courses saw increased class sizes (still small by post-secondary standards), some courses stayed the same, and some courses saw smaller numbers of students. 

As we contemplate the changes ahead, we need to do similar work within our other schools. In this work, we need to ensure the decisions we make will not impact your learning. Research tells us that small changes (for example, going from 10 to 15 in a shop or lab, or 24 to 32 in a classroom) do not impact students’ ability to successfully achieve learning outcomes. We also know from talking with our 

instructors (and from best practice in teaching and learning) that some courses require reductions in student to instructor ratios to support both instructor and student success. 

We’ll continue to use our unique approach to polytechnic education. 

We believe deeply in the model we use to teach our students, which includes 

  • hands-on curriculum that meets industry needs 
  • equipment and technology in shops, labs and classrooms that mirrors what you will see in industry when you graduate, and 
  • instructors who are experts in their fields, and who come from industry 

We’ll continue to provide you with learning supports. 

We care deeply about supporting the success of our students. While these supports will evolve over time, we will continue to offer those that are most critical to your success. We will continue to provide robust mental health and well-being supports. We will continue to support our most vulnerable populations, including students with learning disabilities, international students, and students of Aboriginal descent. And we will continue to create a learning environment that supports diversity and inclusion. 

Along with the critical supports described above, we know there are other, less critical supports that students still value - supports that are difficult to provide for free given NAIT’s budget reductions. We have put forward proposals to NAITSA (NAIT’s student association) that ask students to share the cost of these kinds of supports with NAIT through 2 new mandatory non-instructional fees. 

We’ll continue to support you in gaining industry experience. 

Industry experience matters to our students, and it helps them solidify their learning in important ways. Whether through work integrated learning, practicums, co-ops, business case competitions, or industry-partnered capstone learning projects, we’ll continue to grow our ability to provide real-world experience as part of your learning at NAIT. 

As a NAIT student, you learn “in here” what you need to do “out there” in the world of work. This won’t change. I know things are not always perfect, so, in addition to the list above, I commit to the continuous improvement that’s required for us to keep learning and improving on our ability to deliver the high-quality education you came to NAIT for. To keep this promise, we will continue to innovate, whether in relation to the programs and credentials we offer or the ways we deliver education and support students. I’m confident we can continue to provide exceptional polytechnic education, despite any changes ahead. 

Thank you, truly, for choosing NAIT. Our future is bright, and yours is too. 

Sincerely, 

Sue Fitzsimmons, Ph.D.