Former Royal Roads president calls for new approach to post-secondary education

Gerry Kelly wants to see education that comes to people in the home and online through easy access

Rick Stiebel/News Staff

When it comes to creating innovative approaches to post-secondary education, Gerry Kelly forged a career by staying ahead of the curve.

Kelly was the driving force behind the creation of CEGEP (College d’enseignement general et professional) in 1959, a publicly funded general and vocation pre-university college in Montreal.

READ MORE: Indigenous peoples celebrated at Royal Roads

“CEGEPs offered a wide variety of courses that gave post-secondary students an opportunity to get their feet wet and try different subjects to figure out what they might want to pursue,” Kelly explained. “In many cases two years of CEGEP provided the equivalent of the first year of university. It was the first English language college of its kind.”

Dawson College, the first campus, was an old pharmaceutical factory converted into classrooms. “We had six months to hire faculty, set courses and get everything up and running,” Kelly recalled. “It doubled in size the next year, and again the year after. There are about 10,000 students at CEGEP campuses now.”

Kelly continued taking post-secondary education in new directions during his tenure as president of Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton during his extended tenure as president. He was appointed as the first president of Royal Roads University, where he served from 1996 until he retired in 2003.

“Royal Roads represented a dramatic new approach to university education where we pioneered online learning,” Kelly said. “The average age of our students was 35. Royal Roads was designed for people already in the workplace who were looking to further their education and advance career opportunities.”

READ MORE: WATCH: Royal Roads brings together students from around the world

Since his retirement, Kelly has been involved at various times in exploring a number of options aimed at creating a public-private partnership to build a college on the West Shore.

“With an expanding population of 60,000 to 70,000 in the area, it’s not a question of whether there’s a need. That’s like asking if a population of that size needs a grocery store,” he added.

Although there hasn’t yet been a provincial political initiative to make that a reality, Kelly has kept B.C. Premier John Horgan involved in what he sees as the future of education, including during the time Horgan served as MLA.

“I believe he has a better perspective of the need,” Kelly noted. “We want to develop a new approach based on a brand new model. The day of people having to go to some isolated institution sitting in a field for education has passed. We need to provide education that comes to them in the home and online through easy access, like if you were shopping at a mall.”

Kelly has worked with a committee of politicians, educators and people from the business community toward that end, and envisions something as simple as storefronts that are open seven days a week and preferably accessible 24 hours a day to accommodate people who work shifts. “Traditionally colleges and universities have not been customer friendly. We need something today that’s more flexible for the diversity of lifestyles.”

READ MORE: Flexible hours as mothers re-enter workforce could ease wage gap: UBC study

Kelly cites a B.C. Labour report, “Training for What,” that says jobs for life are disappearing and will be replaced by flexible, shorter-term work that’s constantly changing with the times. The report, produced in 1994, calls for dramatic changes in the entire learning system in B.C.

Kelly is keenly aware that Royal Roads and the City of Langford are conducting a study on the feasibility of a new college. He believes plans funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education to develop a college will likely not involve a conventional college.

“Fortunately, an innovative model can build on the foundations established by Camosun College and Royal Roads University in the West Shore. I don’t know what direction they’re headed in, but I hope the work our think tank has done from 2008 to 2013 (on the creation of an innovative new Westshore College Learning Commons) gets a serious look. Perhaps it was ahead of its time then, but with provincial and municipal government support, time and opportunity have come together.”

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