Brampton has won provincial approval to be the site of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) + arts university. The city has been waiting for decades to be site of a full university. This article will hopefully shed some light on the topic in Brampton, as well as the process and other important facts and issues that may pop up as the conversation continues.
Brampton has wanted a university for a very long time. It had ambitions for a new post-secondary institution and was previously proactive in protecting land for a new campus.
The OPP Lands
In 1997, the Ontario Provincial Police was moving their police academy in Brampton to Orillia. The city of Brampton put in a bid of $4.95 million for the 97 acre piece of land at Queen and McLaughlin, in order to secure lands for a university. While the city initially failed, the province eventually allowed the land deal to proceed. However, most of the lands have been redeveloped for other uses at this time.
Algoma University in Brampton
In 2008, Algoma University become independent from Laurentian University. Primarily dedicated to teaching and accelerated degree programs, the university started offering business degrees in Brampton in 2010, in the Market Square building downtown. 150 students attend classes at this satellite campus.
Failed Guelph-Centennial Bid
In 2014, the city received a proposal that would later prove to be disastrous. The proposal was led by Centennial College, and was seemingly supported by the University of Guelph; the province had repeatedly stated the application must be led by a university, which was ignored.
It later turned out the proposal wasn’t even approved by Guelph’s Board of Governors, but by outgoing president Alastair Summerlee. Despite this, council approved of the plan and was sorely disappointed that the application was rejected.
The year after she was elected to office, Mayor Linda Jeffrey set up an exploratory committee for a university, the Blue Ribbon Panel.
Alongside city staff, the panel is composed of 17 council and community members who have been tasked with determining the best university to partner with, where to locate it, and work out all the nitty gritty details associated with the logistics of it all.
The Blue Ribbon Panel also commissioned an Economic Impact Study, which can be seen here. The study suggest the city could benefit from a construction impact of $373 million, and an ongoing economic boost of up to $220 million, with the addition of a university.
How the process works
The province announced that both Brampton and Milton would receive university campuses. The process is now slightly different, as the two cities are no longer in competition with each other.
Currently, the city is looking for a university partner and have put out requests to 10 Ontario universities. When the city has chosen a partner, they will come to an agreement.
Some time in the next little while, the province will announce it is accepting bids. This bidding process is led and responded to by the university, not the municipality.
The city may help improve the university’s proposal to be accepted and funded better by offering incentives, such as land, cash, or other agreements.
The province will approve the university bid. At that point, Brampton and its partner university would meet to facilitate campus construction.
Independently, the university will submit its proposed programs to the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. The ministry will decide whether the proposed programs are suitable.
Judging from York University Markham timelines, it will take three years from approval for construction to start, and five years after initial approval for the first students to walk onto campus.
Assuming that Brampton’s proposal is approved in late 2017, a university campus in Brampton could possibly be open by September 2022.
What schools are in the running
When the city initiated the Blue Ribbon Panel to explore the possibility of a university, they contacted the following schools:
- University of Toronto
- Ryerson University
- McMaster University
- University of Waterloo
- Western University
- University of Guelph
- Queen’s University
- Wilfrid Laurier University
- York University
- Brock University
Algoma University is looking to partner with whichever institution Brampton chooses, as they are too small to lead a bid themselves.
Western University and Brock University have confirmed that they are no longer looking to partner with Brampton.
Location, location, location
A university needs a location to set up a foundation to grow. There have been multiple suggestions of where to place a campus. The built form of the university is also in question.
Despite Milton’s all-but-approved proposal, it seems that the Ontario government may still prefer a mixed-use, dense campus with lots of transit links. The Blue Ribbon Panel and community members have grappled with whether to build a centrally located “urban” campus (think Ryerson), or a more traditional “greenfield” campus (think McMaster).
There are still 16-20 acres of usable land at the corner of Queen Street West and McLaughlin Road. While that seems small, York University is expecting to cram almost 10,000 students onto 5 acres in downtown Markham. A benefit of this location would likely be less congestion than downtown, and a quick bus ride to Sheridan College, which may partner with a future institution.
Downtown, with its GO station, transit hub, and other amenities, seems like an ideal location for a more urban-style university. Rumours have swirled that the city has looked into sites such as the downtown bus terminal, and the Robson Block (where the old Heritage Theatre and the Beaux Arts Gallery is located) for potential future adaptations for campus buildings.
Various community members have suggested placing a post-secondary education campus at Bramalea or Mount Pleasant GO, to capture train travellers. There has also been a suggestion for a more suburban campus in the city’s west end, close to the proposed GTA-West highway and potential new mall.
Where is the money coming from?
Ontario will be giving up to $180 million to be split between Brampton and Milton. Assuming it is split evenly, Brampton could be awarded up to $90 million to help build a campus.
It’s unlikely this will be the only source of funding. The federal government is likely to contribute. For example, it supplied the University of Waterloo $24.7 million in 2015 for a new science building.
Brampton is considering converting the Peel Memorial Hospital levy into a university levy. The city will have raised $60 million over five years for the hospital. If they continue the levy from 2019 onwards, the city could contribute an additional $10 million per year to the university project.
The land that Milton has donated to Wilfrid Laurier University is valued at $50 million, and has already been prepped for construction. The town of Stratford contributed $14.5 million in land and building costs for the University of Waterloo’s new digital media campus.
Also key will be private donors and partnerships. Mike Lazaridis, of Research in Motion fame, has sporadically donated tens of millions of dollars to individual campus buildings at the University of Waterloo. York University has received large donations of $25 million and $10 million for a brand new engineering building.
Universities are expensive machines to run. Operating costs will be funded by student tuition and government grants.
Campus buildings are also expensive, depending on their use. While arts and humanities programs can operate out of anywhere, science and engineering programs require specialized labs and equipment, even if Brampton’s university will primarily be focused on teaching, not research.
The newest UW Science building, for example, can house over 1,000 students in lecture halls and labs, and cost $37 million to construct. If Brampton’s new campus is expected to house over 5,000 students at some point, it’s possible for the new campus to cost over $185 million (using the UW numbers).
What will students learn?
The province has dictated the university must have “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) focus. This is still a very broad focus. The university will decide on programs to offer in Brampton, which will reflect programs the school already offers, and majors that it has wanted to offer.
A Brampton university would probably focus on life sciences and advanced manufacturing, two industries that are heavily present in the city.
All the other important issues
The university will likely only build housing specifically for first-year undergraduate students. Almost none of the universities in Ontario offer housing for all years. And since universities try to attract the best students (not just those conveniently located nearby), expect rental conversion and new rental housing stock to sprout up where the campus is located.
According to some residents near Sheridan College, Brampton by-law enforcement is somewhat lacking, and so the city may wish to invest more in that department. If the city hasn’t set one up already, it may wish to create a “Town and Gown” Committee where city, university/college, and student leaders meet to solve issues.
Student Centre and Life
One cannot have a university without a centre of student activity. A Brampton campus will likely be too small to have a standalone building, but will likely have a floor or two to itself to provide independent services (sexual assault centre, LGBTQQ resource centre, etc) and student clubs. It will likely host the university’s student government, which will likely organize many non-academic services and events, as well as provide student representation amongst external partners.
Also, let’s hope for some sort of campus bar or club, if only to increase this city’s dismal nightlife.
Gym and Health Care
Most post-secondary institutions have their own athletic facilities, with students paying an ancillary fee in exchange for fitness memberships. Depending where a new campus in Brampton is located, the city and university could partner up to offer gym services at existing facilities (for example, it was suggested a downtown campus would expand the YMCA) instead of building a new one. Laurier Milton will have access to the Pan Am Velodrome, and York Markham will use the Pan Am Aquatics Centre.
Health care access is traditionally provided internally on a more suburban-oriented campus, or is provided by outside sources in more urban facilities.
Additionally, students elsewhere in Canada pay into a health care plan, that they cannot opt out of unless they are covered by a parental plan. It’s likely that the Student Union/Government of the existing university will cover Brampton students’ health care.
We’re in a digital age, but people are still reading and consulting the printed word for research. Many resources will continue to need a centralized hub, though the library of the future may not resemble the current model. Any university will need a library, if not for books, but to provide computer and Internet access, as well as future 24/7 study/cramming for exam space.
If the city is trying to build a campus to serve the future, it’s likely not going to want a campus with swaths of outdoor parking space (many university long-term plans now call to build on existing parking).
Most of the proposed university locations are located on current or future Zum lines. None are located on the future Hurontario LRT, though there are areas on the small LRT stub Brampton is receiving to place a campus.
Brampton Transit has been badgered for years to implement a post-secondary student transit pass, and they may finally be forced to create one.