More professional programs calling Northern Ontario home – by Louise Brown (Toronto Star – May 28, 2011)

Louise Brown is the education reporter for the Toronto Star, which has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on Canada’s federal and provincial politics as well as shaping public opinion.

There’s a new northern exposure to higher education in Ontario. First there was a fancy $95 million two-campus med school launched in cities known more for training drillers than doctors: Sudbury and Thunder Bay.

Then the lofty Law Society of Upper Canada gave its blessing this month to Thunder Bay’s dream for a law school, leaving Lakehead University to hope for provincial approval — and funding.

And this week, Queen’s Park approved a $44 million new school of architecture for Sudbury, kicking in $21 million. With the city pledging another $10 million for a program it hopes will pump $50 million a year into the Big Nickel’s economy, Canada seems poised to land its first new architecture school in 40 years.

Doctors, lawyers, architects — why so many blue-chip professional programs in the green woodlands that hold only 6 per cent of Ontario’s population?

“Why not?” countered an elated Dominic Giroux.

But, as president of Sudbury’s Laurentian University, he would say that.

His booming campus scored half of the school of medicine in 2006 to help ease the worst doctor shortage in Ontario, and now a school of architecture will tackle a shortage of architects said to be the worst in the industrialized world.

“These programs do many things — just imagine the creativity 400 architecture students will bring to our downtown — but they also help diversify the economy beyond mining and reduce the gap between the number of graduate school spaces in northern and southern Ontario, about 800 master’s spots and 500 PhDs,” said Giroux, who hopes a graduate program in architecture will also be approved once the undergraduate program gets rolling in 2013.

But there’s another payoff to launching university programs in the north. It makes higher education suddenly handy to three groups the province has been trying to woo to the ivory tower in greater numbers: aboriginal, francophone and rural students, said professor of education Glen Jones of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

“We know it’s a challenge for these groups to move south for post-secondary education, so this is a good reason to open programs in the north,” said Jones. “But the northern labour market is not as good, so it may be a challenge to support growth in, say, the number of lawyers.”

Indeed, some wonder if these programs are meant more as a backdoor boost for hard-hit communities — stimulus dollars pumped through campus coffers — than an answer to educational or market needs. When the University of Waterloo moved its architecture school to Cambridge in 2004, it sparked a 250 per cent increase in housing in that city and enriched local arts and culture, noted director Rick Haldenby.

Yet others insist there is a need for more, and different kinds of, professional schools.

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