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Mount Royal joins university elite

98-year-old institution to focus on quality of undergraduate experience

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The new semester at Mount Royal brings back new students as well as one important addition ­-- university designation.

With the name change from Mount Royal College, Mount Royal University joins four others in the province to become Alberta's newest university.

Premier Ed Stelmach granted the 98-year-old institution the right to use "university" in its name Sept 3. Citing Mount Royal's service to the needs of Calgary and Alberta by providing "generations of professionals who have given back to our province's communities," Stelmach's government created the city's second university.

"Being named a university confirms the essential role that Mount Royal plays within Campus Alberta for its students and our province," said Stelmach.

Mount Royal's status as a university has been a goal years in the making, and one that MRU president Dave Marshall said "recognizes the quality educational experience we offer and validates our efforts to be the best at what we do."

Although the process towards university designation can be traced back to the late 1980s and early '90s when the school first began requiring doctorates for the newest academic staff and pursuing baccalaureate degree granting status, it wasn't until 2003 that Mount Royal's board formally requested the province make the name change. Six years later, one of the oldest post-secondaries in Alberta now has a new name, one that Marshall says will help students looking to transfer to other institutions to continue their studies.

"[They won't] have to explain why they have a university level education from a college."

MRU Students' Association vice-president external Rob Jones said that while the name change has been a long time coming, the new title won't change anything for students as "they come to Mount Royal for premier undergraduate instruction, small class sizes and instructor interaction -- not university designation."

Alberta Minister of Advanced Education and Technology Doug Horner, made the change possible earlier this year with the Post-Secondary Learning Amendment Act, a document that opened the door for baccalaureate degree-granting institutes like Mount Royal, as well as Edmonton's Grant MacEwan College, to change their names.

The amendment came on the heels of Horner's Roles and Mandates Policy Framework, a document outlining the categories of advanced education within Alberta.

"Post-secondaries such as the Universities of Alberta and Calgary fall under [the category of] Comprehensive Academic and Research Institutions," said Carol Neuman, executive director of lobby group the Alberta Student Executive Council, of which MRU is a member.

"Mount Royal has been, and will remain, in the Baccalaureate and Applied Studies Institutions category," explained Neuman.

This means despite the name change, Mount Royal will not receive government funding for pure research initiatives like every other university in the province, a reality Marshall isn't concerned with.

"We have absolutely no intention to be anything but the No. 1 undergraduate university in Canada," said Marshall. "We have absolutely no desire to become a pure research institute. It's like asking if the University of Alberta will try and become an applied degree granting institute. Everyone has this idea that this is the direction we are trying to go in -- it's silly."

MRU student representative Jones seconded Marshall's thoughts on the pure research model.

"Students don't want their tuition going towards subsidizing research that doesn't help them in the classroom," he said.

University of Lethbridge president Dr. Bill Cade said he "cannot think of a university in the Western world that does not have a strong research component." However, he noted the status change ultimately provides opportunities for students to get their education and is unlikely to affect enrollment at his institution.

Here at the University of Calgary, Students' Union president Charlotte Kingston said the newly minted university will create competition in the city.

"The pressure's going to be on [the U of C] now that Mount Royal's a university," she said.

"Can we really stand up in the Calgary community and say that the quality of our undergraduate experience is going to be better than the quality of the undergraduate experience at Mount Royal? I'm not entirely sure, they've been buying up PhDs for the last couple years, so your son or daughter [may soon be] more likely to be in a class with an actual professor [at Mount Royal] than they are here."

The name change will definitely help students enrolled at the new university.

"It's also very helpful to me . . . I can now graduate without transferring," MRU student Rachel Dorian said, pointing to the number of her fellow students that chose to finish their degree at a university.

"Do you know how difficult it is to try to explain to people that you are seriously taking anthropology, but at a college, but it's not really a college, and [then] ambiguously writing just the words 'Mount Royal' on your resume?"

While the name is officially in effect, the metamorphosis from MRC to MRU is still ongoing, with changes to all logos, contracts and signage needing to be completed over the coming years.

The school is also waiting for an offer of membership into the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada -- the organization that represents Canada's public and private not-for-profit universities and university-degree level colleges -- which is expected sometime in the fall.

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