Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Does Ottawa need a new university campus?

The Ontario election is over which means our attention must now turn to seeing whether the winning party will actually deliver on its promises. Of course, now that the McGuinty Liberals will only have a minority government, the first in 26 years, delivering on promises won’t be so cut and dry.

One of the most intriguing promises I saw from Dalton McGuinty was to add three new undergraduate campuses in the province. Some media personalities and analysts have assumed these new campuses would be in the Golden Horseshoe. Although it’s the most densely populated region in Canada, this could be seen as a slap in the face to Northern and Eastern Ontario.

As the province’s second largest city, whose two universities are quickly running out of space, I wonder whether there’s demand from our universities for a new campus in light of the Premier’s promise. 

Ottawa could make a case for being home to one of those new campuses. In Toronto both the University of Toronto and York University have multiple campuses so it’s not so far off to think that the University of Ottawa or Carleton could have another location in the city or region.

If there's demand from our universities, Kanata, especially the March Road area, home to Research in Motion, Ericsson and Huawei, would be an interesting location being a hub for the city’s knowledge-based industries. 

Going back decades universities have located campuses geographically close to knowledge-based industries and the trend continues today.

After being integral in the growth of Silicon Valley, Stanford University recently submitted a bid to open a New York City campus

The university says of its bid, “Stanford seeks to launch a new hub of innovation in New York City through the creation of an applied sciences center for teaching and research.”

The University of Waterloo and companies like Research and Motion also provide a great example of the advantages of locating knowledge-based companies near universities. 

Closer to home, seemingly inspired by the Stanford Research Park, Queen’s University acquired a 49-acre property next to Novelis Inc.’s research and development centre in Kingston to build Innovation Park at Queen’s University.

“Queen's has also reached an agreement to lease approximately 7,900 square metres (85,000 sq ft) of the Novelis R&D facilities to accommodate both faculty-led research projects that have industrial partners and small and medium-size companies with a research focus and a desire to interact with Queen's researchers.”

Although undergraduate campuses aren’t as research focused as graduate level campuses, when located close to enterprise they could help both our universities and Kanata-based companies with recruitment and retention as seen in Waterloo. Also, an undergraduate campus in Kanata could eventually lead to an even greater university presence in the area including graduate level programs and research.

Our universities may not be looking for additional space. There may not be the political will to bring another campus to the Ottawa area. Dalton McGuinty may not deliver on this promise after all. But I can’t help but salivate at the thought of a university campus in the midst of our knowledge-based companies in Kanata and what that could do for the local economy. Local entrepreneur Bruce Firestone recently called for the creation of a high school for the technological arts in the area so it can't be that far-fetched.

Kanata is an important research and technology centre for both the city and province, and it would benefit our universities, both of levels of government, and the local tech scene to at least consider locating a university campus in Ottawa’s west end in light of Mr. McGuinty’s election promise.

Our other alternative? Sitting idly by while the Golden Horseshoe potentially attracts three new undergrad campuses. In this case the decision to not do anything could be more costly than taking action.

Kevin Bourne

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