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Not enough students to fill university satellite campuses, expert says

An education expert says the closure of two satellite campuses in the last few weeks is a symptom of a larger problem with post-secondary education in Ontario.

Laurentian to close Barrie campus, Nipissing to close Muskoka campus: Why aren't these campuses working?

Roughly 30 students from the Barrie area are coming to Sudbury today to make their voices heard at a Laurentian University Board of Governors meeting. This is the first meeting to be held since the decision was made to close the Barrie campus. All programs, with the exception of social work, will shut down in Barrie by May 2017. (Shutterstock)

An education expert says the closure of two satellite campuses in the last few weeks is a symptom of a larger problem with post-secondary education in Ontario.

Last week Laurentian University announced it was shutting down its Barrie satellite campus after 15 years of operation, just a week after Nipissing University said it would close its Muskoka campus.

"Ontario has gone a bit crazy in terms of expanding its post secondary system," said Ken Coates, who has written about higher education and the problem with Ontario's pursuit of satellite campuses.

"[The province] couldn't see an educational opportunity they thought was a bad one."

Coates said the last decade has seen rapid growth on campuses across the country, with more and more spaces being offered.

"Had we not done so, there would have been really good opportunities to create satellite campuses. But we've done both," he said.

"We have everybody scrambling after the same declining number of students, particularly outside of the greater Toronto area. There are not enough students to go around."

Why aren't satellite campuses working for Northern Ontario universities? Laurentian is closing its Barrie campus and Nipissing is closing its Muskoka campus. Ken Coates of the University of Saskatchewan has written about the problem. He was our guest. 8:23

Coates said he had a feeling Laurentian's plans in Barrie would not succeed.

"There was great excitement that it was going to grow like crazy. And I was forecasting that it wasn't likely to succeed."

Coates said satellite campuses work if programs are specialized and there's a community demand. But in the case of Barrie, students would likely choose a school in the GTA.

Province says Laurentian's campus plan just didn't meet the cut

The minister of Colleges, Training and Universities says it's not the province's fault that Laurentian is shutting down its Barrie campus, even though Laurentian University's president and the mayor of Barrie accuse the ministry of dooming the satellite campus by preventing it from expanding.

"The province has consistently refused to allow growth in Barrie," Barrie mayor Jeff Lehman said in a statement, adding the city has a growing population and is one of the largest in the country without its own university.

"We are the only city in the province which has had a moratorium on new university programs."

Both the city of Barrie and Laurentian University blaming the provincial government for the failure of the university's satellite campus in Barrie. The Minister of training, Colleges and University Reza Moridi gave us the province's side of the story. 7:32

But minister Reza Moridi said that's not true.

Moridi says Laurentian's proposal for expansion in Barrie just didn't meet the cut.

More than a dozen different proposals for new campuses were put forward, and only one was given approval.

"With regards to setting up a campus in Barrie, the process was open, transparent, and their application, their proposal, simply did not meet the criteria. So there's no politics here," he said.

"When it comes to Laurentian University, we have increased their funding by 67 per cent. We have given them the school of medicine. We have given them the school of architecture."

Laurentian's satellite campus in Barrie has been in operation for 15 years and has 700 students. It will close by 2019.