Op-Ed: A University Alone Isn’t Enough to Bring Vitality to Brampton

By: Andrew deGroot
The deadline for potential university partners is fast approaching. Back in October the provincial government announced $180 million in funding for a university in Brampton and one in Milton.
The call for interest went out to universities looking to partner with the City of Brampton on January 17, and is set to close in a couple of weeks.
With this welcome news, many speculate about the positive impact a university will have on our city. The institutions can have an incredible impact on a community, but a university alone it is not enough to bring vitality to Brampton. Many Ontario cities smaller than Brampton have universities, such as Sault Ste. Marie, St. Catharine’s, Peterborough, and Windsor.  
While these cities embrace their universities, they have not experienced the kind of growth and revitalization Brampton needs. So if a university alone will not bring about the change Brampton demands, what else is needed?  
 
Brampton needs a coordinated, multi-pronged approach, one that involves all levels of government, institutional investments, and private sector commitment. Only with such a comprehensive approach will the City of Brampton see the spin-off economic benefits a university could bring.

Program Alignment

The City of Brampton expressed interest in developing two sectors in the city: Health and Human Sciences, and Technology. The university proposed for Brampton would offer STEAM-focused programs (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), which align with the city’s sector priorities. It’s a good first step.
 
To provide the experiential learning the province wants to be a part of the university program, it will need to either limit programs to existing businesses in Brampton, or the city will need to attract new businesses. 
If neither of these options exist, the university will need to work with businesses outside of Brampton, which ultimately means local students getting experience (and likely future jobs) outside of our city. In addition to program alignment with the city’s aspirations, Brampton needs to attract more businesses, and a diverse range of them too. This is already sort of happening. Canon recently opened up a new facility in the city as well as Amazon.

Economic Development

One of the benefits of a university is to attract and retain the best and brightest to the area. The institution is projected to have 1,000 – 5,000 students enrolled right away. Everything possible should be done to ensure these students have employment opportunities in their field when they graduate, otherwise they aren’t going to stick around. Brampton already has a problem with losing its young talent.
 
Brampton is at the halfway point of the 114-kilometre stretch along the Kitchener GO line, nicknamed the Innovation Corridor. Downtown Brampton also connects Mississauga, Oakville, and Burlington to the Corridor via the Hurontario LRT.

From startups to multinationals, companies in the Corridor are growing fast and are looking to fill thousands of tech-related jobs, right now. There are already roughly 200,000 technology jobs between the Toronto area and Kitchener-Waterloo region, almost the same size of the entire tech workforce in Silicon Valley. Brampton needs to build a strategy to attract its share of these high-tech companies flooding the area more and more.

Peel Memorial and Brampton Civic hospitals will be the anchors for Brampton’s Health and Human Sciences sector.  An economic development plan focused on leveraging these two institutions, as well as integrating with programs offered by the university, will see tremendous benefits to employment opportunities for graduates.

Investments in Entrepreneurship

In addition to ensuring the are ample job prospects within the city, Brampton should encourage and support entrepreneurship of graduates. Incubators, accelerators and other forms of support should be established to help students start their own companies and grow them within Brampton.
 
Institutions such as Communitech and Ryerson’s DMZ help companies get customers and generate revenue faster. They also help entrepreneurs find angel investment, venture capital, and government funding. Finally, places like these help business owners stay abreast of innovation, and provide access to trusted advisors and services from business professionals.

Location

The new trend in Ontario – and globally – is to build urban universities. Typically, urban universities involve partnerships with municipal governments and private enterprise to provide various aspects of the educational experience. These city-integrated campuses utilize existing infrastructure to reduce initial building and overall operating costs. For example, if located in downtown Brampton, the university could take advantage of the Rose Theatre, existing office space, and the YMCA.
  
Urban campuses also improve students’ experiences by integrating the student life experience with city living. Restaurants, bars and shopping experiences are all better in an urban university setting.
 
Finally, an urban-integrated campus should be built near a major transit node since many students do not drive.
 
Millenials, and those projected to graduate over the next decade, have very different expectations for where they live. Surveys show youth want to work and study close to home, and have easy commutes. They want their workplace and educational institutions to be near public transit, and also want access to restaurants and bars via transit.
Brampton need look no further than Waterloo to see the positive impact a university can have when embraced by a community and its city government. According to its website, the University of Waterloo “is an entrepreneurial ecosystem where technological leaders and startup founders share the same goal: to bring innovative and world–changing ideas to the global marketplace.”
If Brampton picks the right location, pulls together the right partners, and builds an economic development plan that maximizes the potential of the graduates of the university, the city could achieve the growth and revitalization it needs. If not, this is another example of a poorly planned and half thought-out initiative that fails to live up to expectations.

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