Higher designation 

Will Capilano University deliver?

A couple weeks after the province retooled the University Act and granted that esteemed designation to a number of colleges in B.C., there are those who may be tempted to invoke Vancouver’s Trooper. Three Dressed Up as a Nine came out in 1979, and it laments the existence of those seemingly glamorous women who, on closer inspection, are not so attractive.

And so, in that vein, NDP advanced education critic Rob Fleming wonders if the applause surrounding the legislation — which includes Capilano College — is as deserved as it could be.

“It seems to me they want to attract students from other countries instead of supporting students in existing communities,” he said. “I’m not opposed to international students being attracted to our institutions, but if the main reason for renaming your college to a university is to attract international students, I just don’t think that’s good public policy.”

According to Capilano College President Greg Lee, international allure is certainly part of the purpose. Currently, Capilano College has about 4,500 full time equivalency students, said Lee, saying that number jumps by another few thousand if you shake in the international students. Attracting more international fare may not be the main reason Cap College sought the augmented designation, but it’s a contributing factor.

“We think we’ll be able to attract more international students,” Lee said, adding that the economic dividends for the hosting community are substantial. “For every 40 students we bring into the community, we bring in $1 million — someone buying beer and pizza and paying rent.”

The economic implications don’t end there. With a campus located in Squamish, a Capilano University could produce a workforce equipped to propel the knowledge based industry (KBI) that economic planners are trying to establish in the downtown and industrial park. Cap has core competency in tourism and recreation, both of which are fields with KBI implications that have caught the attention of the Squamish Sustainability Corporation (SSC).

“There’s synergies, for sure,” said Brent Leigh, director of the SCC. “As they develop sports groups and libraries and academic capacity, there’ll be infinitely more opportunities for sharing and collaborating than if you didn’t have Cap move to a higher accreditation level.”

“And we anticipate that’s going to happen,” said Lee. “And we’re looking forward to working in that area. Specific plans? Not at this point. It all depends on what resources we can put together.”

As a backdrop to all this, government funding for post-secondary institutions has been ailing, according to Fleming. The Ministry of Advanced Education supports 19 universities and six colleges with a coffer some $2.2 billion in size. Fleming said a $115 million increase was pledged over a three-year service period, but it was suddenly scaled back to $50 million just around the time institutions were tooling their budgets.

“They don’t have a lot of money to absorb that,” he continued, “and they had only two weeks notice. And most places were in the final stages of finalizing their budgets when the ministry did this to them.”

The re-designation spree comes one year after the release of Campus 2020 , a report on the province’s post-secondary education landscape. Of the 52 recommendations, greater access to university educations was a priority.

Premier Gordon Campbell’s sister, Catherine Vertesi, works for Capilano College as VP of education-management and international programs. According to an August 2007 report in The Georgia Straight , she was instrumental in the push for Cap’s re-designation.

Meanwhile, Fleming isn’t quite sure the designation is warranted. “Most of the students at Cap College are from the North Shore. It would be hard to argue that they’re underserved.”

But, said Lee, Cap has no intention of competing with Simon Fraser University or the University of British Columbia.

“That’s silly,” he said, adding that a renewed Cap would be more of a launch pad for students to seek greater specialization with SFU or UBC.

At the moment, it’s too early to tell if Cap will be a target of Trooper’s lilting ire. The details are still quite vaporous.

“Well, immediately, on the ground, (the new designation) doesn’t mean very much at all,” Lee said. “Any expansion of our program depends on money and those other things.”


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