Private, for-proÞt universities may soon be a reality in Alberta.
On Jan. 31, Alberta Minister of Learning Dr. Lyle Oberg awarded degree-granting status to three programs offered by DeVry Institute of Technology.
"If you look at it in isolation, it may not mean a lot, I mean it's just three degrees that are out there," said University of Calgary Students' Union president Toby White. "But it opens the door to a lot of things. This basically gives someone who's not a university the ability to grant degrees, and it gives a company that's not accountable to the people of Alberta the ability to grant degrees. I think that's very disturbing because it's an affront to what a degree is supposed to stand for."
The three programs approved for accreditation by Dr. Oberg on recommendation from the Private Colleges Accreditation Board are four-year baccalaureates in information systems, electronic engineering technology and business operations.
"I think it's shocking that they did this just before an election, by order of Council, with no public input," said Simon Kiss, Communications Officer for the New Democrat Oppo-
sition. "It's another example of the Tory agenda of privatizing whatever they can get their hands on. First it was private, for-proÞt hospitals, now it's private, for-proÞt universities. This is just another step in the privatizing ladder that the government has embarked on."
The process by which an institution may receive accreditation for programs to grant undergraduate degrees is lengthy and involved. Two independent teams of reviewers, all holding PhDs, and experts in the degree Þelds in question examine and evaluate the institution and the proposed programs before making recommendations to the PCAB. In turn, the PCAB examines these recommendations before going forward to the Minister of Learning for approval or rejection, as the case may be. The decision to grant programs offered by a private, for-proÞt corporation accreditation is considered a blow to the public education system by a number of bodies in Alberta and beyond.
"The Faculty Association feels very strongly about this. We introduced a policy in 1999 about private universities and we also have policies on commercialization," said U of C Faculty Association president John Baker. "Clearly the Canadian Association of University Teachers is very concerned and they have just issued a press release in which they condemn this decision by the provincial government and call on the government to re-think its decision, as do we."
"There's been a constant increased demand for access to post-secondary institutions in this province which has been met, at least in this instance, by DeVry," countered communications officer for Alberta Learning Randy Kilburn. "DeVry is providing Albertans with another option to continue the process of life-long learning."
Kilburn went on to emphasize that DeVry does not currently receive operating grants, or any public funding whatsoever.
DeVry has been operating in Calgary since 1981 and began seeking accreditation for their programs in 1998.