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U of M helps keep religious studies students here

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ALL Megan Bartel wanted was a chance to stay in Manitoba to get a master's degree.

Until last month, the third-year religious studies major at Winnipeg's Booth College couldn't have done that -- the University of Manitoba wouldn't accept her degree. Instead, the native Winnipegger would have had to leave the province to pursue her dream of being a professor of religious studies.

But all that's changed now, thanks to a recent decision by the U of M to recognize degrees from faith-based schools like Booth.

"This gives me the option to stay in Manitoba," says Bartel of the decision. "I can stay here to study, if I want."

Previously, the University of Manitoba did not recognize degrees from faith-based schools like Booth and Providence College. As a result, graduates from those two schools went to other provinces or the U.S. for further studies.

But the university changed its policy in June; it will now accept applications for graduate studies from any student holding a four-year undergraduate degree from Canadian institutions empowered by law to grant degrees. This includes Booth and Providence, both of which have been given degree-granting authority in Manitoba.

"There had been lots of discussion about what to do about the small faith-based colleges," says Richard Lobdell, vice-provost, programs, at the U of M about events leading to the change.

The decision, he says, "makes it clearer" for the university to decide who is eligible to apply for graduate programs, as opposed to doing it on a "case-by-case basis," as sometimes happened before.

At the same time, it benefits the U of M since it "broadens the pool" for potential students, he notes.

For Dave Neal, vice-president academic and dean at Booth College, "this change in the University of Manitoba's policy represents an evolution in their approach to faith-based colleges in the province... It's a very positive development for us."

"It's extremely important," adds Gus Konkel, president of Providence College. "It means that a degree from Providence is the same as any other degree in Canada."

Earl Davey, vice-president academic at Canadian Mennonite University, also welcomes the change. But he notes that it will have less impact on his school since CMU, unlike Booth and Providence, is a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) -- the same body that the University of Manitoba belongs to.

"Our graduates are already welcomed at AUCC institutions across Canada," says Davey, adding that "this is very good news for religious colleges in the province."

The decision will not affect Steinbach Bible College, since that school doesn't offer four-year degrees.

In addition to the change in policy for graduate programs, Providence College received another bit of good news in June when it learned that its graduates can now be accepted into bachelor of education programs at universities in the province.

Prior to this decision made by Education Minister Peter Bjornson, Providence graduates could only be accepted on a course-by-course basis.

"Until now, our students were going outside the province to study to become teachers," says Konkel. "Now they can study in Manitoba."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 19, 2009 A9

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