B.C. grants full university status to three university colleges, critics concerned lack of funding will hinder transformation
While the changes are pending amendments to the province’s University Act, it appears that the institutions will be required to maintain their non-degree programs, and it seems it will be expected that the regional focus of the institutions will also stay put.
“Vancouver Island University will build on its international reputation for its Aboriginal-focused programs, leading-edge Coastal Resource Management programs, and trades and technology programs,” premier Gordon Cambell said Wednesday.
There has long been a concern that as B.C.’s colleges evolve, that they will eventually drift away from their mandate to offer technical and vocational training. Kwantlen president Skip Triplett agrees that it is a valid concern but points out that “when you go back to 1989 when the university colleges first happened, that drift has not occurred.”
Triplett also offered some speculation as to what the new legislation will look like.
“We haven’t seen the legislation yet but we expect that the legislation will require us, because we asked the government to require us, to maintain the comprehensive mix of programming that we have, so internally we’re not concerned and we have no intention of moving away from that comprehensive mix,” he said.
While the institutions have claimed for years that they are a “university in all but name” others are skeptical. Robert Clift, executive director for the Confederation of University Faculty Associations says to call these institutions a “university” is a “bit of a stretch.” Acknowledging that faculty at the institutions do engage in research, Clift says that they lack the “culture of inquiry” typically characteristic of universities.
Similarly, Cindy Oliver of the Council of Post-Secondary Educators has criticized the government for making these announcements mere weeks after a series of budget cuts to the province’s post-secondary system. “Without proper funding, these changes may ring a bit hollow. To fulfill their new mandates as universities will require more money. Yet the province has already cut 2.6 per cent from their operating grants,” she said.
Triplett disagrees arguing that all that was left for the transformation to university was the name. He says that while his institution is indeed teaching focused “We do research and we do it very well, in fact at least one department at UBC has told us that our graduates are in some ways better prepared than their own because our undergraduates are involved with research with their faculty members,” he said.
The naming of the institutions appears to be a point of departure from the Campus 2020 report which recommended using the name “Regional University,” and Kwantlen has been given what on the surface appears to be a different designation with the inclusion of the word “polytechnic.”
However, Triplett welcomes the name and says it best reflects the “special purpose” of the institutions, adding that while Malaspina and the University College of the Fraser Valley serve distinct regions, Kwantlen does not need the full range of programs because it is so close to Simon Fraser University.
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