Hopes for a Red Deer University appear to be dimming.
Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan provided an update on Red Deer College on Wednesday afternoon that is hardly reassuring for those who thought the city was on the brink of becoming a university town.
“Red Deer College is not like the University of Alberta, Calgary or Lethbridge,” says Stephan, adding those institutions do not provide trades and technology education. “In this respect, RDC is more similar to NAIT and SAIT which are not universities, but polytechnic institutions.
“University status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees; NAIT and SAIT are not universities and they offer degrees.”
Stephan said RDC is working with Alberta Advanced Education for approval to grant degrees in the short term. The longer term goal is to “offer more applied, practical degrees and programs to better meet the evolving needs of individuals, families and businesses in our community.”
Asked for comment on Stephan’s update, RDC said president Peter Nunoda has planned an online news conference with local media on Friday at 1 p.m. and referred to a Tuesday statement posted on the college’s website.
That statement, which does not mention a university, says the college does “not anticipate any barriers for our ability to offer degrees and the breadth of other credentials we currently offer, as well as to achieve our other goals, to best serve our students and communities in the future.
“RDC enjoys a close working relationship with the Ministry of Advanced Education. We trust the process the government has established in guiding the future for our province’s post-secondary sector.”
Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides has not yet released the results of a post-secondary institutions review.
But Nicolaides said recently that all options for its future remained on table. He pointed out that the college could offer degrees without becoming a university.
Nicolaides also suggested that graduating to university status might mean closing some of the college’s trades programs.
Should Red Deer’s university’s hopes be dashed it will be a blow to the community, where it appeared 20 years of lobbying had finally paid off when the college’s goal of becoming a university was approved by the NDP government in March 2018.
A search for a new name was launched almost immediately and a year later Red Deer University was unveiled to fanfare.
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer said in an interview on Wednesday that there are “mixed messages” coming from the government.
Up to now, Advanced Education has said it favours polytechnic model for RDC but insisted a decision had not yet been made on whether that will be part of a university.
Stephan’s update “does suggest the government has taken a more definitive position,” said Veer.
It is time for the government to release the results of the post-secondary review so the community knows where RDC stands, she added.
“We need a full briefing and transparency from the provincial government if they have pivoted from what had been announced to the community. They need to fully articulate what that change is and what is driving that change so the public can respond.
Veer said the city wants to meet with local MLAs and further city comment will come later this week.
If a university does not happen many will be disappointed, she acknowledged.
“I think that there was a lot of excitement when the university was announced for Red Deer,” she said. “I do think there would be significant disappointment in the community if that doesn’t come to fruition.”
The community’s biggest priority though is that the college be cleared to grant degrees, while maintaining its trades and applied learning programs, she said.
“In terms of the specifics of programming, it is absolutely essential that they follow through on their commitment that Red Deer College, or whatever future iteration it is, be able to confer degrees.”
Veer said she met with RDC’s president and board chair Guy Pelletier on Tuesday night to get an update.
“They have indicated that they are supportive, in principle, of the proposed direction of Advanced Education.”
Former RDC board chair Morris Flewwelling said on Wednesday that it was “critically important” that Red Deer get a university.
“That was demonstrated by the unification of the community of central Alberta and Red Deer years ago when we made the case that a university would prevent young people from having to leave,” said Flewwelling in an interview before Stephan’s update came out.
“When they do that they very often marry and take jobs that lead them not to come back.”
Flewwelling, former Red Deer mayor, said education is the key if the government is really interested in building a strong province.
“(Government) may float options, but the fundamental principle of being able to service undergraduate degrees in central Alberta cannot be refuted. We made that case very strongly. It’s still a compelling case. Nothing has changed.”
RDC expected to receive final approval for university status last spring, but government decided not to make major decisions until the province’s system review of post-secondary institutions was complete.
The review is to assess how the post-secondary system was meeting current and future needs, review the governance structure, provide comparisons to other post-secondary systems and develop a vision for the future.