WATERLOO (CUP) — Ontario’s universities will soon be competing for more than just students — they’ll be fighting for more space to put them. In December, the province released its Major Capacity Expansion Policy Framework, which provides guidelines for interested universities to put forth proposals for satellite campuses.
“We made a commitment to engage in capacity expansion to meet the needs of future growth in our system and a number of institutions … have expressed interest in putting project proposals together. And there was a need to provide them with a level of stability and certainty going forward in determining timing,” said training, colleges and universities minister Brad Duguid.
Duguid said that a call for proposals will likely go out in early 2014. The policy document outlines a number of characteristics it is looking for from applicants. This includes the ability for a new campus to accommodate growth of 5,000 to 10,000 students over the next twenty years, provide additional facilities of at least 70,000 square feet and address geographic gaps in capacity.
“So we want to make sure these expansions take place in the areas where growth is taking place in the province and where there’s the greatest need for students in the province for post-secondary institutions,” Duguid continued. “And we also want to make sure that the growth occurs in a way that’s reflective of our principles regarding differentiation, that it meets the needs of our students and our economy.”
Differentiation, he explained, does not necessarily mean that a university must offer something different, but must fill a gap. Cost-effectiveness and benefit to the local economy were also highlighted as advantages. Dugid said that while universities appear to be the focus of growth needs, colleges could also put forth proposals. He also noted that the main purpose is to accommodate growth, so funding expansions on current campuses is a possibility.
“These ultimately have potential to be substantial expansions, but if there are projects on existing campuses that accommodate this, that would be open for consideration within the competitive process as well,” he said.
A number of post-secondary institutions have expressed interest in campus expansions and have been waiting for more direction from the Ontario government. Laurentian University, in Sudbury, is one, hoping to expand into Barrie. Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo is another university whose administration has been pushing for a satellite campus, which it recently outlined in a draft Strategic Mandate Agreement submitted to the province in accordance with its new differentiation policy.
“We were pleased that the guidelines were released,” commented Brian Rosborough, senior executive officer for the WLU Brantford campus. “We were anxious to see what the government’s process would be for applying for new campuses.”
Rosborough said he believes a Milton campus would align well with the government’s stipulations, as there is no university in the Halton Region, of which Milton is a part, and it is undergoing substantial population growth.
“The fact that we based our proposal on sort of good public policy ideas around growth and addressing the infrastructure gap that exists there, I think our chances are pretty good,” he said.
Rosborough added that the presence of a university campus would also help Milton transition to a more knowledge-based industry. While a specific timeline has not been announced for proposals to be examined and construction would certainly be a ways off, Duguid assured that the turnaround would be quick.
“We wanted to make sure that those institutions that were considering projects had an idea ahead of time so they can start preparing and the institutions are aware that—we don’t have a date yet—sometime in 2014 we expect to put out a request for proposals,” he said. “We look forward to seeing what comes about.”