(BLACK PRESS file image)

Opinion: Red Deer needs a university

Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides says he leans against a university for Red Deer, claiming it would jeopardize trades programs.

As quoted in the Advocate on Jan. 23, he prefers a polytechnic – he didn’t say polytechnic university, but no final decision has been made. However, only university degrees admit to law, medicine, dentistry and grad school. SAIT and NAIT degrees do not.

SAIT and NAIT are polytechnic institutes that focus on trades and technology. They also grant a handful, mainly applied degrees. Standards for trades are set externally by Alberta’s Apprenticeship Board in province-wide exams. Red Deer University would need that for trades, so talk of trade programs being at risk seems backtracking by a government in debt. A university with basic science, social science, humanities, education and nursing degrees is not cheap, nor do SAIT or NAIT offer any of these.

Unlike trades, standards in degree-granting are set internally. Universities do this by vesting academic decisions with academics: a faculty majority general council; degree programs with faculty councils, headed by deans who come from and return to faculty; within programs, departments with balanced discipline clusters also headed by faculty; professors with academic freedom, most having a PhD degree. Presidents also have the PhD. Without these, offerings may get watered down.

DeVry Institute in Calgary had granted business diplomas. When degrees were added, administrators reduced academic content to cut costs. Seller and buyer both seemed to win, but over time employers found grads less qualified and passed them over. Enrollment fell and DeVry closed.

SAIT now goes beyond “applied degrees” to offer what only universities did: a “Bachelor of Science.” SAIT calls it Bachelor of Science in Construction Project Management. It has less science than a university B.Sc. in Civil Engineering.

Trades and technology, university degrees and certificate-diploma areas can thrive together. One way is with differing academic governance for different areas, a joint council for the shared matters and economies of scale from one bookstore, registrar and so forth. State University of New York has high quality university degrees; within SUNY is the technology institute with different high quality controls.

Alberta’s system review may create a polytechnic university, but what kind?

In 2018, NDP approved a real university, having rejected a polytechnic university plan that had less control by academics than a university. Will Conservatives again disadvantage Red Deer?

Dave Baugh is a retired political science professor at Red Deer College.

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