Hey look! Another university fell off a truck - Macleans.ca

Hey look! Another university fell off a truck

Maybe we should just convert high school diplomas to degrees


One way to create more university spaces is to build classrooms, or erect new universities. Another is to just rename an existing institution a “university.” While Dalton McGuinty is not adverse to creating more classroom space, largely by shifting the classroom to the internet, his Open Ontario plan also includes a rebranding of the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), as a university. Well sort of. Judging from the proposed name change–the Ontario College of Art and Design University–suggests that OCAD will still just be a lowly college but also a swanky new university.

(editor’s note: OCAD received independent degree granting status in 2002)

This bipolar approach to naming institutions is something of a fetish in Canada. As is the presumption that renaming every college a university will somehow improve educational quality. For years, British Columbia designated several schools as “university colleges” before renaming them universities in 2008. The name change, of course, didn’t bring with it any new expectations for the institutions.

More weirdly, last spring the Manitoba government gave William and Catherine Booth College, the right to market itself as “A Christian University College” despite the fact that the school has no plans to include the word “university” into its title. Advanced education minister, Diane McGifford, defended the decision by dismissing concerns that Booth College has been granted amnesty for lying. “They’re using the term university college solely for the purpose of advertising,” she said at the time.

We use to take universities to be institutions that offered a broad range of degree programs and research in at least the core arts and science disciplines. Now we take the term to mean any institution that offers a degree in anything. I don’t intend to diminish OCAD, but is a specialized school that only offers degrees in fine arts and design. If it were an American institution, it would be a college, and it would not feel too bad about it.

To be clear, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a college education. Colleges are not inferior to universities, but they do have different goals, and this name game is little more than a gimmick designed to confuse.

Sometimes schools evolve and become legitimate universities (Ryerson for instance) but the problem isn’t so much with what we call schools, but with the fact that all you have to do to elevate your institution is lobby the province. The same way one might lobby city council to change the name of a street.

Rebranding allows the government to say it is creating more university spaces, without actually having to do anything. So I have a suggestion for McGuinty, if you think the proportion of Ontarians who are university educated is too low, why not just convert high school diplomas to degrees?  No good?


Hey look! Another university fell off a truck

  1. Here at Kwantlen (lately a polytechinic university), I can assure you that there are new expectations. It’s just that nobody knows what they are. My reading of a recent president’s newsletter suggests the ministry of advanced ed.’s position is “Do something more than before. Whatever. But no, you don’t get more money to do it with. And yes, you are stuck with “Polytechnic”. And no, we don’t know what it means either.”

    Check it out: http://www.kwantlen.ca/president/newsletters/issue9.html

  2. Has anyone considered OCAD a “lowly college” recently? It offers Bachelor’s and terminal Master’s degrees, and it’s an AUCC member. Does that not constitute university status in Canada? I get that you think this is a cynical ploy by the Ontario government to trick people into thinking they’re expanding university spaces (though I disagree). But I think your utter lack of research (i.e., really low-level research, like going to wikipedia or the AUCC website) seems to have led you to confuse a university in practice, if not in name, with, say, a community college.

    To put it another way, I doubt anyone in the Ontario government would “say it is creating more university spaces.” My hunch is they would claim to be nominally recognizing one of the GTA’s universities. Now I understand OCAD ins’t as comprehensive as, say, Ryerson, York or U of T, but is it really that much less diverse than the small Atlantic liberal arts universities?

  3. I agree I think the issue is the perception of the word “college” in Canada, because for the most part that term is only used in reference to Community Colleges. Historically it seems that’s the way it’s been perceived anyways.

    I also agree there’s nothing wrong with colleges – especially since a good number of them have really improved recently. However that image of College v. University does remain, and as long as it does institutions will try and brand themselves differently.

    So what this tells me here is that we need to change the popular opinion of “college” in Canada. OCAD is a very good school for what it does and shouldn’t have to alter its name in order to improve its reputation.

  4. The Brits attempted this ‘opening up’ of Universities under Blair, and have now realized that it was fundamentally flawed. The majority of the population just doesn’t belong in University. Instead of universities making the overall population smarter, it just dumbs-down the whole system, reducing the value of a degree altogether.

    Canada needs to carefully examine what happened in the UK in the last 10 years with this plan before going down this road to nowhere.

  5. I don’t know why he renamed the college, but I don’t think it matters much what it’s named: we all know what each entails. If even one person makes the mistake of applying to a college because they thought it was a university, or vice versa, they SO deserve it.

    Besides, in America most university grads say they went to “college,” not “university.” And no one really cares or is confused.

  6. “Now I understand OCAD ins’t as comprehensive as, say, Ryerson, York or U of T, but is it really that much less diverse than the small Atlantic liberal arts universities?”

    OCAD is a highly specialized visual arts school which is not remotely comparable to Acadia, Mount Allison, or St FX, all of which offer a full range of undergraduate programs in the humanities, social sciences, pure and applied science, and professions. It is, however, very similar to NSCAD, which also calls itself “NSCAD University” for whatever reason. The actual designations are largely irrelevant, however – consider that several of UofT’s federated colleges call themselves “universities”.

  7. @Beeg,

    Yes I am well aware that OCAD offers degree programs.

    The “lowly college” was just a riff on the fact that the word college is seen as somehow poisonous that needs to be changed.

  8. Also, beeg, whatever we think constitutes “university status” the government is responsible for granting official university status, and the McGuinty government has not, until now, formally recognized OCAD as a university.

  9. Actually, OCAD has been recognized as having “university status” for many years. The usage in government communications of the term “Ontario’s nineteen public universities” (prior to AlgomaU) and now “Ontario’s twenty public universities” includes OCAD as a university.

    Referring to Toronto’s “three comprehensive universities” is to distinguish them from Toronto’s fourth university.

    The legislative changes proposed here are merely to amend the act to rename OCAD – it in no way changes the mission or focus of OCAD.

    The present Act (Ontario College of Art & Design Act, 2002) states very clearly “The objects of the College are to provide the opportunity and environment for advanced, studio-based education in art and design at the undergraduate and graduate levels and to support teaching, research and professional practice in these fields.”

    The changes proposed are as follows (Bill 43 Post-secondary Education Statute Law Amendment Act, 2010:

    Changing the name of the Act and the College to add the word university. Changing of the word “College” to “University” in all sections of the existing 2002 Act.

    The creation of a recognized Chancellor, Senate and the provision of tenure to faculty.

    There isn’t much change here. Interestingly, the Act does not set the number of students to seat on Senate. The Act leaves this to the First Senate (senior administrators) to decide.

    I do note that you added information to this opinion after recieving the above comments.

  10. Settle down Joey.

    From the government’s press release:

    “The government is today proposing amendments to the Ontario College of Art and Design Act, which, if passed will give official university status to OCAD.”

    Note the phrase: “official university status.”

    And yes I added a quick note to point out that they had been offering degrees since 2002, but the only change is that I noted the year. I had originally noted that OCAD offers degrees and pointed out it was only in art and design, in contrast to how we would normally view a university which would offer at least a range of science and liberal arts courses.

    And if there isn’t much change here, that is precisely my point. It is not about creating universities, it is about naming things.

  11. Carson,

    How I miss our debates. It was your decision to include comparisons to B.C. and Manitoba that spiked my disagreement. The situations are not comparable. OCAD is established and offering traditional university programming. While we can debate the merits of having a deparment/school of Fine Arts as a standalone university, the fact is that the Canadian liberal arts (in this case fine arts) degree does not involve the study of subject matter outside of the major/minor faculty of choice.

    To me, this is much ado about nothing.

  12. the comparisons to B.C. and Manitoba are entirely valid.

    The new proposed name for OCAD is “Ontario College of Art and Design University”

    Both the word college and university in the same name? Weird for a stand alone institution, no?

    They did the same thing in B.C. for years with the “university colleges”

  13. Yes, however, the quality and nature of programming is very different. The “University-College” was a hybrid between a college and a university. OCAD is not. (There is an argument to be made about the place of music and fine arts in the academic)

    Ontario’s recent choice of institutional names does leave something to be desired. “University of Ontario Institute of Technology” was a horrible choice of name as well.

    – Joey

  14. The tone of your article is slighting towards OCAD (which is absolutely a university). Dalton McGuinty isn’t responsible for bringing forward the name change, the OCAD community is responsible for asking the governmetn to bring the legislation forward. There is absolutely a difference between a university and a college in Ontario. One isn’t better than the other, but they do serve different educational objectives. Also, recognizing a university as a university in name is important in the context of funding, recruitment of students, staff and faculty, and correcting the public misperceptions (like yours).

  15. Jen,

    What misperception have I displayed? I noted that OCAD offers degrees, but questioned whether such a specialized institution should fall into the university category. This is not a slight against OCAD, but a point about how much currency the word “university” seems to have, that we want to apply it to any institution that we possibly can.

    • The article reads as though you are being very condescending to an institute that has contributed greatly to the Canadian art world since the 1930s and has placed immense importance on critical issues, and history for quite a while. The same professors from U of T teach the same courses within OCAD. With a title like, “Hey look! Another university fell off a truck” I feel as though you have completely made a very respectable school sound as though it is a joke, college or not. I think you need to rethink what your writing, especially for Maclean’s, a trusted source for informed and accurate articles.

  16. The example of the UK change is a much better one in terms of a wholesale conversion of “lower-level” institutions into universities. Conflating this kind of superficial change with something like “[converting] high school diplomas to degrees” is not an accurate representation of what’s going on.

  17. I’ve always wondered if the business school cash cows like Schulich, Rotman and Ivey should be apart of a “university”.

  18. Here in Alberta, we’ve had the lowest numbers for participation in University in the entire country. I bet that someone smirked when Mount Royal College (in Calgary) and Grant McEwan Community College (in Edmonton) both became Universities this fall. Now our numbers are better, even if it’s just a re-brand, and not actually reflecting higher participation in post-secondary education within our population.

    Though I dont mind the idea of following an American model for my own personal re-branding – after all, in the US, my Canadian diploma (2 yrs at the then University College of the Fraser Valley, now just Fraser Valley University) would be an “associates’ degree”. Think I could make more money at my job for having two degrees?

  19. Hi editor: That’s Diane McGifford, not Dianne.

  20. In New York, all public colleges and universities are part of the larger State University of New York, so while institutions may chose to brand themselves as “Stony Brook University”, “Old Westbury College” or “the University at Buffalo”, their actual names are “SUNY University Center at Stony Brook” for universities or “SUNY University College at Old Westbury” for liberal arts colleges.

  21. I agree the gov is looking to make itself look better without putting in the effort, they always have always will.

    But I do not respect how you are discrediting the institution. OCAD has been offering 4-year Undergrad degrees and Masters, and thus has been classified as a University for some time now , but is not reflected in the institution’s name. Even the education they provide is not what you would get from a college institution which largely teaches technical skills rather than lecture, ideation, research as well as hands-on studio work offered at OCAD.

    So I really do not think OCAD has ‘fallen off a truck’. That is just complete ignorance. the name change is less of ploy then you think, and is simply just letting everyone (including prospective student) know what the institution has to offer.