Ecclectica: Small is Beautiful
 Small is Beautiful

Small is Beautiful

by Tim Mckay, BUSU President 2000-2002

As I turn and stare down the road of my last semester as a student at Brandon University, I begin to reflect on my time as a student and why I chose this particular institution. Had I bought into the philosophy that bigger is better, I surely would have chosen Western, the University of Toronto, or McGill. Yet, the more I think about it, the more I am comfortable with choosing Brandon University. In the past two years, as I have served as student president at my chosen university, it has become apparent to me that our slogan of "something special" also applies to other small schools across the country.

The idea of campus culture has become increasingly important. It is used to establish a niche for a university in programme focus as well as marketing to potential students, faculty, and donors. The sense of community established by the close-knit environment, the style of learning, the accessibility of faculty and the ability to change quickly in today's uncertain times all contribute to the campus culture at small Canadian universities.

One direction that small universities have taken is towards actively recruiting international students. "We have seen a 15-20% increase in the past 3 years in the number of international students at Brandon University" says the university's Director of International activities Meir Serfaty. With more than 30 countries represented by international students, there is a definite international flavour. This gives all students the opportunity to learn about other countries and other perspectives. This success is in part a result of the World Wide Web. Students can obtain course information and apply on-line from anywhere in the world. Serfaty says that small campuses are ideal for international students because "there is a closeness between students and faculty, which is a plus, as well as being in a small city. There are fewer distractions, so students spend more time learning." He also points out that Brandon is one of the few institutions in Canada that have exchange agreements where students wishing to be involved in an exchange will have their tuition and fees paid. Another small university that has taken advantage of the international trend is St. Francis Xavier in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. They have created the Coady institute, which helps to educate community leaders from underdeveloped countries. This is a programme that has helped St. FX's international recruitment bloom.

The accessibility of faculty at small institutions has played an important role in the campus culture at many institutions. Jeff Richardson, alumnus of St. Thomas says, "Faculty were always easy to reach. If I had a problem, they were more than willing to help out. I don't think you could get that kind of commitment at a bigger school."

Another notable point is the size of classrooms and how that affects the learning process at universities. As a student, is it easier to learn in an introduction to psychology class of over 600 at the University of Toronto or in a class of 70 in Brandon? Add to this the fact that a graduate student teaches the class in Toronto and a tenured faculty member with a PhD teaches the one in Brandon. This raises quality concerns at larger universities. Also, at schools like Brandon and Mount Allison, third and fourth year classes that have less than 25 students make up 88-90 percent of the courses offered. This is much higher than the U of T's 69.33 % or Laval's 59%.

The learning environment is affected by these faculty accessibility and class size issues. This shows the true worth of the small Canadian campus. For the most part, classes at UBC, Calgary, York, or McGill are lecture based. Not so at institutions like Brandon, Mount Allison, and Acadia. The smaller the classroom, the easier it is to have discussion-based learning. This leads to a more desirable learning structure, particularly when considering critical thinking. Discussions lead to a better understanding of material, as well as differing views on a subject. This is critical thinking, which is what a university is supposed to be teaching.

Another point to consider is the community based support structure on smaller campuses. Most of these small universities are in small communities and thus are an important part of the city or town that they are in. This contributes to campus culture in the sense that the small town ideal of "neighbourly support" is absorbed by the university community. This leads to a support structure that allows students to have a better university experience.

All in all, there is something special about small universities in Canada. Their ability to offer a higher quality education in a friendlier more attractive environment makes them the best of Canadian universities. This is something that has stood the test of time and, as students look for a better value per education dollar, small universities are sure to remain the best for a long time to come.

About Ecclectica | Current issue | Issue archive | Links | The editorial team | Contact us
ISSN 1708-721X