Point vs. Counterpoint

Counterpoint: Waterloo Should Focus on Opening More Satellite Campuses

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

Don’t get me wrong here. Expansion is always good– but focus is a key thing here. Waterloo is, as the name suggests, centered in the Waterloo region. At the moment, our school is one of the most well-established and respected in Canada and in order to maintain that status, we must keep our focus on our internal affairs.

Satellite campuses are great ideas in theory, but as the recent closure of the Dubai campus has shown us, are not always the most sound idea. Sure, in order to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs, but just how many eggs are we willing to throw away? These are costly investments and, as we get more data, the more it looks like these might also be risky investments, and perhaps not even worth the extra time and effort.

One of the most commonly stated opinions about satellite campuses is that they do not foster the same sense of pride for the University in its students in comparison to those who choose to go to the central campus. They have a harder time maintaining the same high level of standards maintained in a full-sized campus. Since they are significantly smaller in size, they often do not have the diversity of students, interests, and activities, as well as sometimes having less-than-spectacular teaching staff.  That is pretty much everything which makes university life, in general, appealing– it’s almost as if secondary school just gained many new faces and got a heck of a lot harder. To pay such extensive fees to create a less genuine experience seems ridiculous.

In actuality, if you go snooping around the internet for a little, you very quickly find some people questioning Ontario universities and their love of expansion– in February of 2012, the Ontario government vowed to create over 50 thousand new post-secondary spaces, including three three new campuses. Critics immediately questioned this move, as Ontario has already one of the most extensive undergraduate programs in comparison to other provinces– having almost twice the number of independent campuses from the second-place province, Québec. If you were to include satellite campuses in that analysis, the numbers would be even more dramatic. Expanding further within our own province seems less productive than focusing on improving what campuses we already have and trying to distinguish ourselves even more in what is already a very competitive market.

International markets are difficult as well. Although Canadian institutions are well-respected worldwide, much of the appeal for non-Canadians comes with the thought of actually living and attending the school in Canada itself. The extra effort to attend a Canadian school outside of Canada might not appeal to students as much as other options, especially when other names such as MIT, CalTech, Princeton, and Stanford  are involved. The students who are willing to go through the hassle of applying to university or college outside of their country are the high-achievers– they are going to be the ones who are going to go big or just stay at home. We’d have better luck attracting them by increasing our renown worldwide and focusing on internal improvements at our main campus.

Often the most popular support towards satellite campuses comes from the fact that it allows out-of-town students to attend the university when location and monetary issues would have prevented them otherwise. However, people sometimes forget that building a campus-away-from-campus is not the only solution to this problem: investing in internal expansions could see the university creating a fund or perhaps a scholarship that would assist a certain number of people each year people to come to the university (I, myself, received a scholarship of a similar nature that allowed me to study abroad when otherwise it would have been impossible). Even reducing fees for out-of-province students would promote the home university more and require far less effort and risky investments for brand-new campuses. Another bonus: there isn’t an extensive waiting process for the school and campuses to be built before any results are possible.

Finally, this all boils down to an issue of priorities: if we focused too much of our energy on satellite campuses, what might happen to the state of the mother campus? We have invested so much time, money, and effort into Waterloo that letting it be anything less than cutting-edge will soon not be enough. What if, at some point, the satellite campuses represent the University of Waterloo more than the Waterloo campus does? What if they outshine the main campus, to the point where attending Waterloo-based-UWaterloo is option B? Sure, it may seem a trivial detail, but you’d be surprised as to how many investors find trivial things to be of importance.

My two cents: have a satellite campus or two, Waterloo. It’ll be a great way to gain some diversity and it’ll look nice on your résumé, but don’t let it be your main area of focus. Having a really strong home base is far more important than expanding as much as possible. If you don’t, you might find yourself with a far too complex structure that is just ready to collapse at any minute.

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