Barriers to becoming a university can be overcome, says Yukon College president

Yukon College President Karen Barnes says she's confident the institution can transition into a university within the next five years, despite facing some daunting obstacles.

Yukon College President Karen Barnes says she’s confident the institution can transition into a university within the next five years, despite facing some daunting obstacles.

According to Universities Canada, the association that sets the criteria for colleges to become universities, the majority of the college’s programs would have to be degree-level in order to gain membership.

As it stands, only five of its 50 or so programs qualify.

Moreover, the college would need to have at least 500 full-time equivalent students (FTEs) for at least two years before joining.

A commentary recently published by Alex Usher, president of Higher Education Strategy Associates, noted the college only had 253 FTEs in 2013-2014, about a third of its total 748 students in credit programming.

“One would need some really big increases in student numbers to change this,” he wrote.

From 2007-08 to 2014-15, Usher found the college enrollment numbers have never gone above 850.

But Barnes, who was in Ottawa this week to meet with officials from Universities Canada, said the college is giving itself a five-year timeline to get everything right.

Everyone recognizes that it’ll take a lot of work, she added.

“They told us we’re not atypical from other colleges when they began their journey,” she said.

“They made it very clear they’re not there to be gatekeepers, they’re there to help us.”

Barnes said the college is taking the next 18 months to two years to prepare for a visit from Universities Canada.

That includes expanding its resources at the library, writing new policy and hiring new staff.

But she expects the entire accreditation process can take up to five years.

“What we heard from their vice-president is that a number of steps are required, internally, to make us a member after they visit. That can sometimes take a while, anywhere up to 2020.”

Barnes pointed to increased enrollment at the college since 2008 as an encouraging factor towards meeting the association’s criteria.

The 200 or so extra students have all been in degree programs, she said.

“We believe there’s a market out there and we just haven’t had the programs to attract them (new students) before.”

Another idea raised in Usher’s commentary was to have all three territories join forces to create a “serious University of the North.”

That came close to happening, about five years ago. All three presidents from the territorial colleges met in Edmonton to discuss that possibility, Barnes said.

They looked at different models and there was some appetite to do it, she added, but the changes in governments caused the idea to disappear.

“I think the reality is that the three territories are in different places educationally,” Barnes said.

“Nunavut has a greater need for basic adult education. Yellowknife is closer for sure, but Whitehorse is really developed in one area and that’s research.

“I think that’ll be the difference that will take us along this road quicker.”

But she stopped short of saying a unified university can’t exist in the future.

All three presidents are meeting in January to discuss a variety of projects, Barnes said.

“Who knows? Down the road, that might be what happens.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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