KPU, Maple Leaf Education MOU Stirs Up Controversy

Concerns about space and KPU student needs raised by the community
Alyssa Laube, Associate Editor

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KPU Provost and VP Academic Sal Ferreras responded to concerns raised about KPU’s MOU with Maple Leaf Education at a meeting of the KPU Board of General Purposes on Mar. 29. (File photo)

An MOU between Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Maple Leaf Education has led to the establishment of the Maple Leaf Education Partnership Opportunity, which was approved by KPU’s Board of Governors on Mar. 29. The initiative will allow non-KPU students enrolled in foreign high schools to use university space for the purpose of studying abroad.

Concerns about the partnership pertained largely to the lack of space for such a program, and whether relocating members of the KPU community in exchange for foreign students is warranted. Those praising the partnership are looking forward to an influx of interest and tuition payments from international students, as well as a strengthened reputation as a multicultural and multifaceted institution.

“The agreement for the three-year-pilot is the beginning of what we hope is a long-term relationship with Maple Leaf,” says KPU Provost and VP Academic Sal Ferreras. “The relationship that will be outlined or articulated in the agreement will assure a three-year occupation of space on-campus. Probably at the end of the second year we’ll be able to discuss how we’ve moved forward.”

He adds, “This is a way for us to start a positive precedent in working with other markets, and it definitely is a great opportunity.”

Prior to the proposed signing of the MOU, the Provost and other members of the Board were involved in consultations regarding space and community opinion on the partnership. According to him, ministries, city governments, and school districts around the country “were very receptive” of the idea.

However, letters and other acts of protest from the university’s Biology department, Sustainable Agriculture Students Association, Kwantlen Faculty Association, and Kwantlen Student Association have been released in scrutiny of the project. At the meeting on Mar. 29, the Chair of the Board of Governors Hanne Madsen recognized that the board received and reviewed the documents. Others vocalized their doubts and worries about the MOU, and alleged that the consultations conducted in reference to it were not sufficient.

Eric Wirsching, a student representative on the Board, raised a series of questions to Ferreras throughout the meeting, and others joined in to either argue for or against the project. Tanvir Singh, a member of the Kwantlen Student Association, was present to discourage the passing of the motion to sign the document.

“While we understand that the university will benefit financially from this arrangement, myself and members of the community are very concerned about this,” says Singh. “The KSA was able to meet and pass a motion opposing the allocation of university space for a non-university system. The KSA believes that any… housing and space on campus [should] be used [for KPU students, staff, and faculty].”

Faculty Representative Suzanne Pearce brought up that the Faculty of Science and Horticulture is “not thrilled with the idea” of space being given to non-students when its members are already struggling to find places to work, study, and bond.

“I know the utilization is not 100 per cent, but for some areas we’re really struggling. We’ve lost our home and we’re wondering, ‘Where are these classes going to be?’” she says. “Yes, a consultation occurred, but that consultation didn’t have the depth to assure people there was going to be space available and where it was.”

“It would be presumptuous to come into a consultation with the plan,” Ferreras says in addressing some of the concerns. “If I don’t know what the issues are, I don’t want to make something and throw it out the window.”

KPU President Alan Davis says that he is happy with the level of consultation, and believes that everyone who might be affected by agreement with Maple Leaf Education has been spoken to.

“We’re not looking for consensus,” says Davis. ‘We’re looking for feedback so that we can inform the Board properly. For a lot of faculty and students they will not be affected by this, other than that KPU will be in a better situation.”

Despite the contention, the motion approving the Maple Leaf Education Partnership Opportunity was passed on Mar. 29.

Maple Leaf Education’s first Canadian school is in Kamloops, and KPU will be in touch with the faculty and staff there to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible in the Lower Mainland.