Brandon University’s award-winning Northern Teacher Education Program (BUNTEP) closed its offices Friday after more than 35 years.
The innovative program delivered courses to northern Manitoba communities since 1974 and graduated more than 650 northern teachers. It offered remedial courses for students who started the program without a high school diploma and worked to successfully integrate participants into post-secondary education.
BUNTEP professors travelled to northern Manitoba communities to provide art, science and education courses with the eventual goal of graduating students with a bachelor of education.
“It was a unique kind of work, where these professors were travelling for four weeks at a time,” said Scott Lamont, vice-president of administration and finance at Brandon University. “It’s a sad day to see the program leave after so much success.”
The official closure marks the transition of the program to the University College of the North (UCN), a decision made by the Doer government in 2004. In the eight years that followed, negotiations on terms of transfer have halted the change-over.
“The decision was how to make it happen, not whether,” Lamont said. “Brandon University believed we were teaching that program very well and we respect the province’s right to choose where programming takes place.”
Lamont said the university wishes UCN well and hopes the program continues its success rate.
Rachel Morgan, spokesperson for the province, echoed these sentiments, adding the transition “just makes sense.”
“Brandon has been doing a good job, but UCN is closer for potential students,” Morgan said. “It’s better able to directly respond to the needs of these students.”
UCN has two main locations in The Pas and Thompson, with some smaller communities receiving instruction through the program.
“We’re hopeful there will be greater enrolment due to the close proximity,” Morgan said.
As of today, the travelling professors cease to be employees of Brandon University.
The challenge throughout the complex transition process was considering what would happen with the 14 teachers, most of whom have tenure. A few years into discussions, some teachers were asked if they’d simply consider moving to the smaller communities. This option was once again brought to the table in the finalization, with the second option being redundancy pay.
One professor opting for the full benefit redundancy payment is Dick Henley, who said the eight-year negotiation process left him “old” and without the means to move.
“It’s not an easy job,” Henley said, adding that making the decision to move into the communities was hampered by a lack of job security at the time.
“Here, we are secure in Brandon, and there’s nothing at the other end.”
Bill Paton, a biology professor at Brandon University, believes the government decision certainly doesn’t benefit the university — or people from northern Manitoba.
“You have to visit these communities to know how different it is,” Paton said. “I walk into a lecture theatre here (in Brandon) and have all the audio-visual equipment, but those folks don’t have that.”
Paton said BUNTEP ensured these students received the same level of education no matter the location.
A representative from UCN could not be reached for comment.
Provincial access funds paid for the BUNTEP program throughout its 38 years. While the province will continue its financial contribution to the program as it transfers to UCN, Brandon University will now be the only public university in Canada without government access funds.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition June 30, 2012