Queen’s Park says it will fund satellite and expanded campuses to boost numbers of undergrad degree students — and is inviting proposals this spring
By: Louise Brown
Queen's Park will fund new satellite campuses and possibly expand current sites to make room for thousands more undergraduate students in boom areas where space is falling short of demand.
But the province no longer specifies it will fund precisely three such projects — despite the Liberals' pledge for three new satellite campuses during the last election — but rather says now it will fund as many as required to meet the need.
"It could be more than three, it could be less, but the focus is on those high-growth areas that are currently underserved (by higher learning), where Ontario students are waiting to get into undergraduate programs," said Emily Hedges, spokesperson for MPP Brad Duguid, Ontario's minister of training, colleges and universities.
The ministry said it will soon call for proposals for expansion projects that each have space for at least 1,000 new students to start, with room for 5,000 to 10,000 more in the next 20 years. Proposals are expected to provide at least 6,500 new square meters of space (70,000 square feet).
Already several universities have said they hope to be considered for a new satellite campus. Sudbury's Laurentian University has its eye on a campus in Barrie, where it currently offers some programs together with Georgian College, and Wilfrid Laurier University hopes to open a satellite campus in Milton, and there are others.
In recently released guidelines called the Major Capital Expansion Policy, the province said it will favour sites that offer a range of undergraduate degrees as well as student services, something satellite campuses sometimes lack.
"Satellite campuses can sometimes become a two-tier system where students don't have the supports they need, from health counselling and disability services to academic counselling and a writing centre," said Queen's University student Allison Williams, a member of the steering committee of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. "So we're happy to see the province is requiring these services should be in place."
It's also crucial to ensure satellite campuses have some senior, tenured professors who conduct research — not just instructors on short-term contracts with little time to prepare, noted University of Waterloo Professor Kate Lawson, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.
"We're happy there is a policy now on how satellite campuses will work, because we have seen problems before where they haven't had decent libraries or labs, and sometimes even scramble to throw classrooms together," said Lawson. "If you're a student paying good money for an education, you want to make sure the quality is preserved wherever you are."
Alastair Woods of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario warned students at a satellite campus should be able to complete their entire degree at the satellite — which is not always the case.
Emily Hedges said this focus on degrees needn't squeeze out community colleges, noting the province could consider new sites with degree programs offered jointly by a college and university.