May 1, 2013 marked the official unveiling of the U4 League, a cooperative initiative involving four Eastern Canadian universities: Bishops University, Acadia University, St. Francis Xavier University, and Mount Allison University. The stated aim of the alliance is to “extend the institutions common objectives of providing students… with a high quality, undergraduate university education in a residential setting.”
The alliance aspires not only to boost the public profile of the member schools, but also to promote collaborative projects among the member institutions. The possibilities raised by cooperation remain to be fully realized, but potential initiatives suggested by the U4 League include collaborative courses and exchanges, increasing professional opportunities for faculty at the four schools, joint research activities, mutual branding initiatives, and more.
In many respects, the schools of the U4 League are natural competitors; all four are small, primarily undergraduate institutions. They are also all located in small towns, and offer similar intimate residential and educational experiences. Their relatively low student to faculty ratio further distinguishes them from other urban-based Canadian schools, as do their high percentages of courses taught by full-time faculty. Michael Goldbloom, Principal at Bishop’s University and Chair of the U4 League, said, “We have been—and will continue to be—friendly rivals, but we believe that this partnership of our four universities will accelerate our drive to improve and share our unique model of undergraduate excellence.”
The league’s member institutions not only share similar characteristics, but also enjoy similar reputations. All four institutions were founded over 150 years ago, and have stood well in national rankings such as those carried out by Maclean’s and The Globe and Mail in recent years. In its public background information, the U4 League makes a direct appeal to the prestige of small American liberal arts institutions such as Amherst and Bowdoin colleges. They go on to explain that this perception is lacking in Canada, and the U4 League aims to increase public appreciation of the small, liberal arts, undergraduate experience.
Prior to the official establishment of the League, collaborative events were already underway. In February, Bishop’s University hosted students, faculty and administrators from all member universities in Lennoxville, for a series of TEDx Talks and a student debating tournament. Mt. A professor Elizabeth Wells and Mt. A student Kylie de Chastelain both spoke at the event. Mt. A hosted its own TEDx series in March, focused on student contributions to undergraduate teaching. De Chastelain, who participated in both events, was unaware that they were leading up to the establishment of the alliance, but she feels that it makes sense in retrospect. She said she hopes “the League will allow these schools to really strengthen one another” and was excited about the opportunities for resource sharing the new initiative will provide. Events are planned for Fall 2013 at both Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University.
While the public releases of the U4 League highlight student engagement in university life, the effects the alliance on student life at Mt. A remain to be seen, as well as to what extent cooperation among the institutions will be driven by students. While the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) was not directly involved in the establishment of the alliance, MASU President Melissa O’Rourke said, “The new MASU executive is interested in seeing what direction this initiative will take and is looking forward to seeing it implemented in a way that truly benefits the student experience.” She also pointed out that the MASU is fortunate that it enjoys good relations with the student unions of the other U4 League schools through the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
The members of the alliance will each invest $50,000 a year for the next three years, at which point the League’s program, goals, and membership will be reviewed. These funds are to be raised from outside the operating budgets of the participating universities.