Lee Richardson – Ontario Bureau Chief

TORONTO (CUP) — The Ontario government is planning to build three new campuses that would offer undergraduate degrees in the province, with locations to be selected based on population and educational demands.

The election promise by the Ontario Liberals, recently repeated during the government’s throne speech, is to build the three new campuses to open up 60,000 post-secondary spots by 2015–16. The province is currently looking into where educational needs are not being met.

We’ll be looking for communities with really significant needs, or where there’s a growing population,” said Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Glen Murray. “We’d be looking at some growth areas where there is an emerging economy with employment that could be supported and reinforced by a local college or university.”

Likely to become satellite campuses of existing universities and colleges, and more likely combinations of the two — examples given by Murray included “any combinations: Mohawk and McMaster University; Toronto and Seneca; Ryerson and Niagara” — the facilities will be designed to respond to what communities need.

Part of what we want to look at is what kind of education are people trying to get,” said Murray. “Whether it’s apprenticeships, trades, whether it’s a law school — it doesn’t really matter.”

While no commitments have yet been made in terms of any specific university’s expansion, experts have been discussing where the campuses would be most useful in meeting demand for post-secondary spaces.

Our existing universities have stretched a great deal, and on average our universities are about 50 per cent larger than they were a decade ago,” said co-author of Academic Reform and education consultant David Trick, who added that Toronto especially is constrained for space.

We have good universities, but the campuses of York and the University of Toronto are among the six largest campuses in North America,” said Trick. “We’re going to need about somewhere between 30,000 and 51,000 more spaces in the GTA alone by the year 2026.”

 In terms of the GTA, Barrie has already appealed to the province to build a new Laurentian University campus that would cost about $60 million. There has also been discussion around housing another campus in the Niagara region.

We’re talking about where the need actually is, so maybe western parts of southwest Ontario is a good choice — [or] in the region maybe east of Toronto, maybe Ottawa,” said University of Toronto economics professor Gilles Duranton. “East of Toronto, there’s nothing between Scarborough and Queen’s.”

Construction is expected to begin on the three campuses in about three years, according to Murray.

They take quite a while to design and to plan and to build, because we want to actually get proper input from students,” said Murray. “We have a little way to go yet because we want to make sure things are properly planned.”