On Campus

The birth of Capilano University

Critics question whether Capilano will truly be a university

The British Columbia government has named yet another university with the rebranding of North Vancouver’s Capilano College as Capilano University.

The move comes on the heels of three other major announcements this week with Kwantlen University College, Malaspina University College and the University College of the Fraser Valley all being granted full university status. The earlier announcements followed a major review of the province’s post-secondary system titled Campus 2020.

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Former attorney general Geoff Plant, who authored the report, recommended that the province’s three university colleges be renamed “regional universities” to better reflect the fact that the institutions, though teaching-focused, have an extensive array of university-level programming in addition to vocational and other traditional college programs.

As with the other institutions premier Gordon Campbell stressed the regional focus of Capilano as well as placing emphasis on the college’s non-degree programs. “The creation of Capilano University will mean thousands of students throughout the Howe Sound Corridor will have access to degree granting programs and be able to reach their educational goals close to home,” said Campbell. “Capilano University will build on its already first-rate international reputation for programs like animation, tourism, and the arts, including the largest film program in Western Canada.”

Capilano is unique from the other institutions rebranded as universities this week in that it has never been designated a university college, and only offers a handful of bachelor degree programs in jazz studies, business administration, music therapy and tourism.

In fact, the Campus 2020 report recommended that the province’s community colleges be stripped of their independent degree granting status, and instead revert back to offering degrees in association with major universities. Capilano offered its degrees through the Open Learning Institute, now Thompson Rivers University, until 2003.

“I get that Cap College reaches way up — its region goes up to Pemberton — but the core audience of Cap College is the North Shore of Vancouver, which is within very easy reach of UBC and SFU. I don’t think it’s the right place to create a regional university today,” Plant told the Georgia Straight last August.

The B.C. government distanced itself from the recommendation that the province’s colleges be stripped of their independent degree granting authority.

Despite the fact that the Campus 2020 report excluded Capilano, the college launched an extensive marketing and lobbying campaign to convince the government to grant it university status. Media reports have noted that Capilano’s vice-president of education management Catherine Vertesi is premier Gordon Campbell’s sister and was also involved in the Capilano U campaign.

Capilano president Greg Lee is confident that the new designation will make it easier to recruit students from abroad. “International students don’t distinguish between institutions from abroad, so anybody can call themselves a college, so it’s very difficult to separate yourself from institutions that aren’t as reputable,” he said.

University degree granting status and quality controls are regulated by provincial governments, and there is no national accreditation agency. In the absence of such a body, Canadian universities have largely come to see the lobby group, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) as a de-facto accreditation body.

Capilano graduates have had problems in the past with their degrees not being recognized by institutions outside British Columbia. In the most famous case, Dave Cryderman graduated from Capilano two years ago with a bachelor’s degree, but his application to teacher’s college was rejected by five Ontario universities, in essence because they did not recognize his Capilano credentials.

Lee says this problem “will be ameliorated by the fact that we are a university.”

Capilano has not yet decided if it will seek AUCC membership, saying that the heavily teaching-focused nature of the college could preclude membership.

“The criteria for AUCC membership involves a stronger research mandate than we see actually being given to us by the provincial government, and it is certainly not our direction to be a research institution,” he said.

Malaspina University College and the University College of the Fraser Valley are already AUCC members, but though they are teaching focus they have stated research mandates. Kwantlen is currently in the process of seeking AUCC membership.

In 2004, however, Capilano began seeking accreditation south of the border with the Washington state-based North West Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), and the college expects to be accredited as a college that offers degrees.

Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of British Columbia, questioned whether the government is acting responsibly when designating new universities mere weeks after millions of dollars was siphoned out of post-secondary education. “There’s no new funding. It seems to me if this was a serious commitment to providing educational opportunities to [these] communities . . . that there would be some funding that would come along with that,” he said.

Clift says that he is puzzled with the choice of Capilano because with only four degree programs, their offerings are limited. “They have a few good degree programs there, but they are nowhere near the level of academic programs of the other the institutions [renamed this week],” he said. “The question has been as with all the other institutions, is how we are defining universities. Obviously the government of B.C. has decided that the definition of a university is broader than the one we used to use.”

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