York University’s president has called an “urgent meeting” for Friday with key stakeholders to “save” the development of a satellite campus, following the province’s bombshell announcement that it is cancelling funding for that project, and two other planned campuses in the GTA.
“We want to get together and discuss what are the possible options … to explore the art of the possible,” said Rhonda Lenton, president and vice-chancellor on Wednesday.
“We still remain incredibly committed to this project” said Lenton, adding options may include finding additional donors and delaying the actual build. “We’re going to work diligently over the next week to see if there’s any alternative path forward … to save the project.”
Her comments come on the heels of the Progressive Conservatives cancelling funding, totalling around $307 million, for three planned satellite campuses, which are partnerships between universities and colleges. The fate of those projects is now uncertain. The money had been promised by the previous Liberal government, but the province said Tuesday it is pulling funding because it inherited a $15 billion deficit.
The affected projects include a Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton and a Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton, which had each been promised $90 million earlier this year by the Liberals. Also impacted, and much farther along in development, is a York University/Seneca College campus in Markham, which was approved in 2015.
In 2016, a $127 million funding agreement between the province and York University kick-started extensive planning and development on the Markham Centre Campus, for York and Seneca students. In total, it’s a $252 million project. The City of Markham donated land worth between $25 million and $30 million, York Region pitched in $25 million, and other donors have made significant contributions. The building has been designed and new programs developed for a campus expected to open in 2021 and serve 4,200 students when fully operational. Shovels were scheduled to break ground this fall.
“We’re obviously very disappointed with this unexpected news (of cancelled funds) given how far along this project was,” said Lenton, who’s hoping to meet with the minister or deputy minister of Training, Colleges and Universities within the week to discuss this matter.
All three campuses were planned because in the coming years post-secondary enrolment in the GTA is expected to grow among 18- to 24-year olds, particularly in the York and Peel regions.
“Ontario is one of the very few provinces, but especially in those two areas, where we are anticipating enrolment growth,” said Lenton, adding the growth is partly due to immigration. “We were very careful about why we were moving forward with this campus, which was to meet the students’ needs and to meet the employment needs.”
Ryerson University’s campus in Brampton — that city committed up to $150 million for the project — was slated to open in 2022 and include a National Centre for Cybersecurity and an innovation hub. In its first five years it was expected to attract more than 2,000 students.
In a statement released Wednesday, Mohamed Lachemi, Ryerson’s president and vice-chancellor, said that over the coming days and weeks the school will provide more details about the courses planned for the Brampton campus.
And a statement by Wilfrid Laurier — its proposed campus in Milton was scheduled to open in 2021 — says “the university looks forward to continuing its work with the Town of Milton and area partners to explore all options for keeping the dream of post-secondary education alive in this vibrant community.”
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74