UBC Okanagan responds to report saying it’s not serving area residents

“UBCO continues to be a net contributor to the talented and entrepreneurial nature of the region.”

Has UBC Okanagan morphed into a polytech school with little opportunity for local students?

That’s the argument made by an associate professor at UBCO in BC Studies, an academic journal focused on this province.

In Memorandum of Misunderstanding? Public Accountability and the University of British Columbia, Peter Wylie looks at the controversial establishment of UBC’s Okanagan campus in 2005 and compares it to its current state, highlighting that few of the institution’s original goals have been realized.

Wylie said he was on the committee looking at bringing the university to the Okanagan and at the time the intention was that it would become a hub of liberal art studies, drawing from a pool of local students, he said.

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“It’s more of a polytechnic school now, with a lot of applied degrees,” said Wylie, pointing out that career and business programs have taken the spotlight and local high school grads are no more engaged there today than they were in 2005.

Perhaps more importantly to local residents, however, is that it’s not become more accessible to Okanagan students, which is one of the main arguments the province made for its arrival in the valley.

Wylie said that in press releases from the time, BC Liberals claimed the development of the university would “improve access to post-secondary education for local students.”

Brad Bennett, who was appointed to the UBCO advisory committee before being appointed chair of the UBC Board of Governors, also said the school would ” be developed by the people in this region, for the people in this region.”

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.

“UBCO has reduced rather than increased the transition to university-level education for Okanagan students; UBCO admissions standards are much higher than they were for OUC,” Wylie wrote.

“Small class sizes, as announced at the beginning, have also not been a priority. In 2016 UBCO had the largest average class sizes of all university campuses in BC at the first- and second-year levels; the second largest at the third-and fourth-year levels; and was the only university campus to have had a significant increase in average class size at the third- and fourth-year levels between 2010 and 2016.”

It’s not the most glowing report on the university, and considering Wylie works there it’s not without risk. But it’s commentary that needs to be made, he said, adding that as a professor he’s doing his job by looking critically at the world around him.

And, he said, if concerns are raised than there is a chance for change.

“I was in a senate meeting, and UBC president Santa J. Ono said he met with the NDP education minister and they had said they want to see more linkages between UBC and Okanagan College,” said Wylie, adding there is little cooperation between the two organizations now.

“The BC Liberals are pro business and pro growth … but the NDP has different desires for the system.”

UBC deputy vice-chancellor and principal of the Okanagan campus Deborah Buszard released a statement in response to the report, highlighting that the university has greatly benefited the region.

“UBC 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,” reads the statement.

“The diversity of opinion, perspective, and circumstance improves the educational experience for all engaged in the exchange of ideas. With the majority of students choosing to remain in the Okanagan after graduation, UBCO continues to be a net contributor to the talented and entrepreneurial nature of the region.”

The statement also said that UBC Okanagan accepts the vast majority of qualified Okanagan students. The immediate high school to post-secondary transition rate for all students in the Okanagan region has increased from 36 per cent in 2004/05 (when the UBC Okanagan campus was created) to 46 per cent in 2014/15, approaching the rate for BC overall, which is 52 per cent.

This is, she said, despite a decline in high school graduates in the region and provincially over a similar time-frame.

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