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The province allowed Edmonton's Grant MacEwan to make the name change to a university last week, less than a month after Mount Royal made the switch.
Andrea Larsen/the Gauntlet

Edmonton college wins university crown

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Another week, another new Alberta university.

Less than a month after Mount Royal added "university" to their name, Grant MacEwan has joined the club, bringing the total number of universities in the province to six.

Last week, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology Doug Horner signed the Order-in-Council allowing the 38-year-old college to change its formal name from Grant MacEwan College to Grant MacEwan University, a change that, like Mount Royal's before it, won't impact much of what's happening on campus.

"The change is more in perception than day to day operations at the institutes," said advanced education and technology representative Rachel Bouska. "It doesn't change the mandate for MacEwan or Mount Royal . . . [the name change is] recognizing the quality of programs students receive."

Bouska said current legislation around post-secondary education details specific categories that each institution fills in the province and MacEwan's name change won't affect that.

"Each institution in Alberta, depending on the category, specializes in different areas and programming, the comprehensive and academic institutions, the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge and the University of Athabasca, focus on undergraduate and also graduate degree programs as well as pure research, whereas the baccalaureate and applied studies institutions, MacEwan and Mount Royal, focus more on undergraduate degree programs."

"We are not going to leave our certificate and diploma programs, we have a lot of success with those programs," said MacEwan U spokesman David Beharry. "We have no plans of handing off our diploma and certificate programs to other institutions."

In 2005, MacEwan introduced two degree programs: a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of child and youth care.

The school now offers five degrees and has over 50 per cent of its students enrolled in university studies programs -- either an undergraduate or transfer program -- which Beharry says made the choice to apply for the name change all that more important.

"One of the important aspects of being called a university is the recognition globally," said Beharry. "In order to assist [students] in the recognition of their degree, that is one of the reasons that we made the change."

Traditionally, Alberta universities have been viewed as "kind of an ivory tower," said Rob Jones, chair of the Alberta Student Executive Council, which represents the students of MacEwan University.

"It's kind of viewed as an elite system, and I think this is going to change now with MacEwan University and Mount Royal University."

Bouska said the opportunity for MacEwan and Mount Royal to apply for the change came this past spring when the post-secondary learning act was passed allowing both schools to write to the minister and ask for his approval to include university in their name.

Although Bouska said requests for approval came at around the same time, Mount Royal's pursuit of university status has been well documented over the past decade, while MacEwan's change this past week was heralded by virtually no lead-up.

"I don't think it's any surprise to anyone that Mount Royal wanted to add the term university in their title," said Bouska. "When the post-secondary learning act was passed they both moved in unison in the same process."

"I know [Mount Royal] have been pursuing status for quite a while," said Beharry, "we were not as active as Mount Royal but when the option was provided to us we had to take a look at it."

Beharry said MacEwan's strategy differed from its counterpart in southern Alberta.

"We were looking at all our options from the beginning, but once the legislation was passed it was appropriate for us to come forward."

When asked if other schools could be expected to change names in the near future Bouska said no.

"I think right now each institution is just focusing on being the best they can be in their sector and focusing on the programming they deliver," he said.

Jones said, ultimately, the name change is a benefit to learners at both institutions.

"This is going to help students find a job, because, let's face it, when it comes to a name, between university and college, there's a big difference," he said.

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