Michaels: What should the university do to engage more local students?

University gets close examination from one of its profs

The news that UBC would have an Okanagan campus pretty much delighted prospective post secondary students across the valley when it was announced.

As one of my co-workers said, reflecting on her post high school options, if university was in your future, “it was either SFU or UBC. There was nothing else. Unless you wanted to take a career program.” (Insert wrinkled nose, here.)

She was a mainlander, so her options were a bit different than those of us in the valley. But as wonderful as the university colleges available to us were, they didn’t have the same oomph as the big name schools from urban centres so the view was similar.


The other difference was that us valley people tended to look farther and wider than just UBC and SFU. Our view extended from UBC to McGill. All of us who graduated from high school in the valley and considered university a possibility knew we had to move away from our families and, unless financially blessed, incur double the debt of our urban counterparts. We had to factor in rent and food, not just buses and tuition, so why not consider a larger leap?

That wasn’t great for the valley.

The whole brain drain concept isn’t a myth. Among the people who graduated from my high school class are the creator of HootSuite, an Emmy winning TV producer, an Oxford professor and so on.

These folks are all Vernonites and, in case you didn’t already know, they don’t live here. Their beautiful minds enrich communities elsewhere. There’s a strong possibility that would have been the case, regardless of whether or not a larger university was available to them back in the day. It’s also possible that they may have more seriously considered staying had the opportunity been made available.

So, like I said, it was a big deal.

Knowing that is why a little paper from Professor Peter Wylie called Memorandum of Misunderstanding? Public Accountability and the University of British Columbia, piqued my interest.

The local population, he argued, isn’t being served in the way that was initially pitched to area residents.

Following the numbers, however, Wylie found that by 2015-16, UBCO was admitting fewer Okanagan students into degree programs than the former Okanagan University College had admitted in its last year of operation, from 2004 to 2005.

In 2015-16, Wylie found that many more UBCO students came from the rest of Canada than from the Okanagan. Most of those students were from Alberta.

Only 18 per cent of new undergraduate direct-entry students entering UBCO were from the Okanagan region in that year. Moreover, more students came from outside of Canada than from the Okanagan, and about the same number came from Metro Vancouver as from the Okanagan.

All 4,500 of the new university spaces provided by UBCO since 2005, over and above the 3,000 that already existed at the OUC, have gone to students from outside the Okanagan region.

In response UBC issued a statement saying it, “firmly believes not only that international engagement benefits both domestic and international participants in post-secondary education, but also that the diversity of our campuses has a positive and lasting impact on the economic and social fabric of our communities.”

Diversity is very important. There’s no doubt about that.

The question that remains is whether the university is doing the job of providing local students an opportunity to greater education as it was pitched. Wylie says no. The university, he implies, has been built to be an economic engine for the region.

Goodness knows when the mills and call centres left that was pretty important, but should that be the role of a university? Did we get what we bargained for or lose something when Okanagan College lost its university designation?

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