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A dragonfly lands on a stalk of wheat ready for harvest during sunset on the Canadian prairies near Vulcan, Alta. (TODD KOROL/REUTERS)
A dragonfly lands on a stalk of wheat ready for harvest during sunset on the Canadian prairies near Vulcan, Alta. (TODD KOROL/REUTERS)

Canadian University Report 2014: Profiles-Prairies

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We gathered information from professors, alumni and the universities themselves to describe some of the strengths and weaknesses of almost 60 universities in Canada. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) informed coverage of the type of undergraduate education. But, most importantly, we spoke to real-life students about the good and bad of their university experience.

See profiles of universities in other regions by clicking on the links:







University of Alberta

Alberta’s flagship university


Students: 39,000

Cost: $6,800

Awards: $22-million

Pro: World-class research opportunities

Con: Unsupportive campus environment

Located next to a river valley and within walking distance of Whyte Avenue’s vibrant nightlife, U of A boasts more 3M teaching award-winning profs than anywhere else in Canada. Its undergrad engineering and commerce programs are regularly ranked among the best in the world and its undergrad research initiative offers funding to students to get hands-on research experience. The opening of the Medical Isotope and Cyclotron Facility last July further establishes U of A as a global player in medical research. However, according to NSSE, U of A flounders in fostering student engagement and recent budget cuts could further damage undergrad education.

Hotshot prof: Philip Currie, an internationally renowned paleontologist, will soon launch U of A’s first MOOC (massive open online course).

Notable alumnus: Beverley McLachlin is the longest-serving chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Students say: “What I am disappointed with in undergraduate arts programming is a very clear division between humanities and sciences. There isn’t any encouragement or academic incentive to pursue both courses in the humanities and sciences.”

– Blue Knox, fourth-year political science


University of Calgary

Up-and-coming research giant


Students: 32,000

Cost: $6,500

Awards: $13-million

Pro: Huge entrance scholarships for engineers

Con: Commuting

Calgary is the commercial hub of Alberta’s oil and gas industry, and U of C is the place to be for future energy engineers, business leaders and lawyers. Like any large university, it struggles to create an engaging learning environment for undergraduate students with a large average first-year class size of 109. U of C is aiming to become one of the country’s top five research universities by 2016, and evidence of this ambitious goal can be seen in recent capital expansion including the new Energy, Environment and Experiential Learning Building. The cycling and transit infrastructure is mediocre in car-obsessed Calgary.

Hotshot prof: Walter Herzog is one of the leading biomechanists in the world and won an NSERC CREATE grant worth $300,000 a year to train biomedical engineers.

Notable alumnus: Stephen Harper is the first prime minister since Joe Clark in 1979 not to hold a law degree.


Grant MacEwan University

All about undergrad


Students: 11,000

Cost: $5,600

Awards: $2.4-million

Pro: Flexible part-time degree, diploma and certificate programs

Con: Business students have to commute to south campus

With no graduate programs, Grant MacEwan is 100 per cent about undergraduate teaching. Some opportunities exist to conduct research alongside professors, but choices are more limited than at larger universities. Originally founded as a college dedicated to health care and social work, MacEwan offers strong related programs such as its bachelor of child and youth care. The bustling urban main campus will only become more interesting as the university nears its goal of moving its other three locations downtown by 2017.

Hotshot prof: Torah Kachur, professor of biological sciences, is a frequent science columnist for Airplay on CBC Radio One.

Notable alumnus: Jerrold Dubyk’s 2009 album The Maverick won a Western Canadian Music Award for best jazz recording.

Students say: “Profs take that extra mile to help you do well in class.”

– James Skrlik, second-year accounting


University of Lethbridge

Undergrad research leader


Students: 8,300

Cost: $5,900

Awards: $2.6-million

Pro: Internationally renowned neuroscience research

Con: Dungeon-like dorms

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