Newfoundland government, likely in the latest bright idea to entrench its position for the next election, has come up with the bright idea of making Memorial Univeristy's satellite campus in Corner Brook, Grenfell College, into an independent university.
A recent article CBC comments on how this will have the effect of creating the most expensive (to run) university in campus given the extraordinarily low student population that will be available to defray the core costs associated with running a university. Simon Lono comments on this at Offal News.
On a personal level I think this idea will produce a weak educational institution for a few inter-related reasons. First, the target population is limited (and declining) population on the west coats of Newfoundland. While these are fine people creating a school that depends upon them staying home undermines what is one of the leading educational functions of any univeristy -- getting young students away from home. As a two year college that gives students a foothold in higher education and time to decide between more substantial institutions elsewhere, Grenfell serves a useful purpose. As an end of the road it does not.
Second, what is often missed about univeristy is that much of educational value comes from other students and not the faculty. I know from personal experience that no matter how good the faculty, there is nothing like a group of keen, motivated peers to drive a student to learn. The academic stimulation that comes from competition and conversation cannot be replicated in the lecture hall. The reality is though that such communities of high quality students are generally found either at larger schools with strong faculties or at well established elite schools. Grenfell will be neither.
Establishing Grenfell as a university will present an option to young students which will be misleading. They will see the title 'university' and think that they are being offered a program that is on par with other univeristies when it patently will not be. What they will be offered (except possibly in certain narrow specialty areas such as fine arts) is a community college experience in a college that will face severe economic challenges as well as severe reputational challenges. A wise government would recognize that this idea will do nothing to further the future of Grenfell, Memorial or the students of Newfoundland.