From college to university -

From college to university

B.C. grants full university status to three university colleges, critics concerned lack of funding will hinder transformation


British Columbia’s three university colleges are in a jubilant mood this week as the provincial government announced that they would be granted full university status.

The move comes after a major review of the province’s post-secondary education system last spring, titled Campus 2020. The report, authored by former attorney general Geoff Plant, recommended that B.C.’s university colleges be renamed “Regional Universities” to better reflect the role they play in offering a range of certificate, diploma and degree programs.

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On Monday, University College of the Fraser Valley was renamed University of the Fraser Valley. Tuesday, it was announced that Kwantlen University College will now be known as Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and today it was announced that Malaspina University College will be called Vancouver Island University.

The university colleges have long coveted the designation of university, claiming that the inclusion of the word “college” has made it difficult for their degree programs to be fully recognized, which has hindered, they say, their ability to recruit abroad, and for their graduates to have their degrees accepted by both employers and graduate programs in other Canadian universities.

“University status will bring enormous benefits to our students and communities, while retaining our local focus and our emphasis, above all, on excellent teaching,” said Malaspina University College president Ralph Nilson.

The institutions began as colleges responsible for providing vocational and diploma programs along with two year associate degrees. The two year associate degrees have for the most part been fully transferable into full degree programs and have been a popular option for B.C. students.

Beginning in 1989 five of the province’s colleges were given degree granting status, first in association with other major universities, and then on their own. Okanagan University College has since split into two parts: Okanagan College and the University of British Columbia-Okanagan. University College of the Cariboo has since become Thompson Rivers University.

As of this week, the three remaining university colleges have become full fledged universities, simplifying to some extent what is often seen by outsiders as an overly convoluted system. Provincially recognized institutions will now be either a college or a university.

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.


From college to university

  1. One correction and one amplification:

    Correction – Cindy Oliver is the President of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia.

    Amplification – While I did indeed say that these institutions are not at present universities as CUFA BC defines them because they don’t have a culture of inquiry, I did also say that such a culture could develop. Particularly if these institutions are properly funded.

    No slight intended to Carson. He had to do a story quickly and the way this matter has developed in BC over the past few years is fraught with complexities and difficulties.

  2. Robert, you’re digging yourself a deeper hole, chum. All of the university-colleges (including the now-vanished OUC and UCC) have a thriving culture of inquiry. With the exception of Kwantlen, they all have/had CAUT recognition and Tri-Council eligibility. I know that most — possibly all — host at least one Canada Research Chair. As a former UCC/TRU hand, I can tell you that SSHRC-funded research and CURA grants were a considerable part of our lives. There is, to be sure, a vital culture of community-based and collarborative research which might be seen to matter more at the U-C’s than at the older, larger universities, but curiousity-driven enquiry has been a part of their culture for years.

  3. Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment.

    These types of issues are difficult to deal with in a few short sentences and consequently when things get boiled down to a quote in an article, the richness is lost.

    Carson indicated to me that a university-college president (I don’t recall that he attributed to the Kwantlen president, but my memory may be wrong) had said that the U-Cs were “universities in all but name”. As reported, I said that was a “bit of stretch”. I said that the traditional universities were had a culture with a bedrock foundation in the spirit of research and inquiry and that the U-Cs were institutions based primarily in a culture of teaching and instruction.

    I went on to say that the U-Cs had many faculty members who were excellent researchers and had received competitive grants from the national granting councils, but that the institutions were still predominantly driven by a teaching mission (and by this I meant the whole institution and not just the academic part of it). I added, as mentioned in my comment above, that it was certainly possible that the U-Cs could develop that culture of inquiry (meaning a predominant culture) but that they would certainly need the funding support to do so.

    I added that with the announcements this week that the definition of “university” has now changed in British Columbia and that perhaps CUFA BC’s position was too traditional in light of these changes and changes elsewhere in the world.

    The comments also need to be understood in the context of CUFA BC’s efforts since 2002 — when the government passed the Degree Authorization Act allowing private degree providers in British Columbia — to hold government to a high standard when it allows a private institution to call itself a university. Work that was done, in part, to protect the U-Cs and the colleges from unfair competition from private providers getting an easy ride.

    While we had some success in that direction, since the adoption of the Degree Authorization Act government has twice, with the agreement of the NDP opposition, overrode its own legislation to allow private institutions to call themselves universities without going through the formal review process. Mistakes that have already bit government on the butt.

    So all of this is part of a much larger and longer discussion and debate about what is a degree? what is degree-level education? and what is a university? These are important issues to all academics and should be important issues to government, which is why we continue to raise them. We would be ill serving our members if we didn’t. Now that government has taken its decision about these institutions, these debate on these questions takes a different turn in British Columbia.

    By the way, CUFA BC was part of the governance reform effort in the 1990s that lead to the creation of Education Councils at the U-Cs, colleges and institutes (an effort initiated and led by then CIEA, now FPSE). Among other things we did to assist that effort was to pressure government to ensure that the U-Cs had a mandate for community-centered scholarly activity.

    Moreover, we facilitated CIEA’s original provisional membership in CAUT and then fought on the floor of CAUT Council to create the category of membership that allowed CIEA to become a full member of CAUT. We also took a leadership role this past fall in amending the CAUT membership bylaws to keep CAUT focused on predominantly academic institutions (a move that was unpopular with our FPSE colleagues).

    So, as I said in the beginning, there is a history and richness to all of this that is impossible to convey in the confines of a newspaper or magazine article. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, because these are important issues.

    In any event, as I noted above, the decisions have been made for BC and so it’s time to move on and focus on ensuring that the new universities get the resources they need to achieve their full potential. Just today at a faculty association meeting at UVic I was talking about the interesting approach TRU has taken to facilitate scholarly activity across all programs — academic, technology and career alike.

    I hope all this helps you to better understand where we are coming from.



  4. It’s good to see that this discussion has come around to acknowledge the vibrant research culture that has developed in B.C.’s (now former)university-colleges.

    The importance of learning in these institutions has shaped the research undertaken, but not at the expense of the quality of the work, nor its ability to compete nationally. For example, Kwantlen has had notable success with federal(including SSHRC and CFI), provincial (including BCKDF and LEEF)and private funders. There is great potential, with the new designations announced last week, to grow this capacity, and to thereby further innovation and vibrant learning at Kwantlen and at other universities.



  5. I don’t see why the university- colleges needed to be granted university status. They say because the name “university-college”, it is hard for their under grads to get accepted to grad programs. I don’t think the solution is in the name. They should work harder at making a name in the academic world for themselves. Perfect example is BCIT, at the graduate school fair at UBC most US universities new of BCIT and their amazing reputation. Even three Ivy league universities were well-aware of BCIT. And BCIT has no university name close to it. It is up to the school and the students to create awareness and rep of the school– not the government tax payers money.

    Jade M