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SFU campus expansion overdue, officials say

The Surrey School District – the largest in the province – is the top ‘feeder’ district at all SFU campuses, with one in five students now from Surrey.  - Leader file photo
The Surrey School District – the largest in the province – is the top ‘feeder’ district at all SFU campuses, with one in five students now from Surrey.
— image credit: Leader file photo

SFU Surrey needs to get rolling on a “long-talked about” campus expansion and university officials want the provincial government’s blessing – and dollars – to do so by next year.

In a presentation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services earlier this month, Joanne Curry, SFU Surrey executive director and associate vice-president of external relations, reiterated a request which would eventually see the local campus double its capacity from the current 2,500 full-time students to 5,000.

For now, however, the university would simply like the province to provide approval for the first phase of the project so that an 800-student expansion can begin in 2013.

The request stems from a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Ministry of Advanced Education and SFU in 2006 that said that SFU Surrey’s physical space and enrolment would have to double by 2015 to meet regional demand for post-secondary education seats. Those expansions have yet to come to fruition.

“We need government to re-commit to the MOU,” said Curry

She said there hasn’t been any new funding for the university for three years, despite rapid population growth in the area, more high school grads seeking university and college educations, and a forecasted skills shortage that have escalated demand even more.

The last increase at SFU Surrey was the $10-million “podium 2” project, which relieved some pressure and allowed for additional science labs and classrooms. However, because there was no operational funding attached to it, no new instructors could be hired and therefore no additional students allowed.

The vast number of students being turned away from the university points to the need for more classrooms and programs, Curry said. This fall, there were approximately four applicants for every student space at SFU Surrey – double the ratio of just a few years ago.

For students, that means a higher Grade Point Averages (GPAs) are required to to get in.

“It depends on the program, but many of them are at the mid-80 mark for a student from Grade 12,” said Curry.

The Surrey School District – the largest in the province – is the top “feeder” district at all SFU campuses (Burnaby, Surrey and Vancouver), with one in five students now from Surrey.

In fact, said Curry, 70 per cent of all first-year students this fall are from south of the Fraser, with 50 per cent of those coming from Surrey.

“In some ways, it’s not surprising… we’re just seeing incredible demand and uptake by Surrey students.”

While the local campus has a capacity for 2,500 students, it is currently well over capacity with the equivalent of 3,500 full-time students. In terms of a head count, that equates to roughly 7,000 students taking between one and five classes. The overflow, said Curry, has been accommodated through efficiencies such as offering courses on evenings and weekends.

The university expansion is backed by the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association (DSBIA) and the Surrey Board of Trade, which also made presentations to the government finance committee on Oct. 18.

“We are concerned that the lack of funded university spaces is beginning to have a negative impact on the aspirations of B.C.’s future workforce who are unable to enter the program of their choice,” said Elizabeth Model, executive director of the DSBIA. “In addition to meeting future labour market needs, the City Centre businesses believe that the growth of Surrey’s campus would act as a catalyst for economic development and would be excellent investment for our downtown core.”

Curry is confident the university’s request to proceed with expansion plans will be endorsed.

“There appeared to be a very high degree of recognition of this committee to the situation in Surrey and the rapid growth and needs.”

A report from the government finance committee is due by Nov. 15.

 

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