In Northern Ontario, there's a small population spread out over a wide area.
When it comes to administering a college, this can make it difficult to get enough students in one location to run a program, or to find enough professors with the necessary expertise, said Cambrian College president Sylvia Barnard.
That's why it's critical that the North's colleges work together.
On Nov. 25, the north's six colleges — Cambrian, Collège Boréal, Canadore College, Confederation College, Northern College and Sault College — renewed and updated their collaboration agreement.
“This kind of activity of collaboration across colleges has always happened in the North,” Barnard said.
“It's one of the things that differentiates us from pretty well anywhere else in the province, and it's because we have the same challenges and opportunities.”
The renewed collaboration agreement will see the six colleges engaging in several innovative ventures including joint recruitment strategies.
“What we're looking at is basically marketing the North to southern Ontario, so that we become top of mind or more visible,” Barnard said.
“Students, when they're looking for college programs, will have better information about the North, and then may certainly consider a Northern college.”
The colleges are also looking at increasing their collaboration when it comes to curriculum development and course delivery.
For instance, students at Northern College or Sault College might want to take a college course not offered at their school, but that is offered at Cambrian.
That's where the role of technology comes in, Barnard said.
“Rather than having to move to Sudbury, the students take the program virtually by going to Northern College, and they sit in a classroom there, but they're connected into us.”
As well, if a college wants to offer a program already offered by one of its Northern neighbours, the curriculum will be shared rather than one of the schools having to start from scratch, she said.
The collaboration agreement also sets out to build capacity for applied research projects. Cambrian is much more advanced than the rest of the colleges in the North when it comes to this area, Barnard said.
It is currently participating in 19 applied research projects, which help businesses prepare innovative products for market.
“That's an area of research where Cambrian would be able to provide some expertise to some of our colleges, and be able to partner and share resources across the North,” she said.
Ultimately, the collaboration agreement will help create “synergies” between the North's colleges, Barnard said.
“The agreement will help us better meet economic, social and industry needs; maximize opportunities for learners; and advocate for the North with a stronger voice,” she said, in a press release.
Sault College president Ron Common said in a press release that colleges in Northern Ontario share similar socio-economic characteristics.
“The memorandum will contribute to the development of the North while realizing the objectives of a new vision for post-secondary education.”
Fred Gibbons, president of Northern College, said the collaboration agreement is a “significant step toward increased collaboration and innovation.
“By working together we are better able to expand program offerings, increase educational access and provide enhanced student support throughout Northern Ontario.”