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Branch campuses extend a distant business school's reach

Toronto a popular destination. As one dean puts it, 'We are going to where the students are'

Kingston-based Smith has a satellite campus in Toronto on the 30th floor of Simcoe Place. The school recently renovated and expanded the space to meet growing student demand.

Toronto is the home base for three well-known business schools, but they're not the only game in town for commerce students seeking a master-level degree.

Several other business schools from outside the city – in some cases well outside – have embedded branch campuses into the fabric of Canada's biggest financial centre.

The phenomenon isn't new, but one university's recent expansion and another's arrival on the scene in the past few years indicate the options for Toronto-based students have never been greater.

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"Toronto is Canada's business capital," says David Saunders, dean of Queen's University's Smith School of Business in Kingston. "So it is important to be there. We are going to where the students are, rather than have students come to where we are."

Smith began delivering its executive MBA in Toronto in 1994, moving into its current facility on the 30th floor of Simcoe Place five years ago. Following a renovation and expansion completed this fall, that space has now doubled in size, approximately, taking over an entire floor in the core-area skyscraper.

"We have a tremendous set of programs and the demand is huge," Dr. Saunders says. "We have thousands of applicants for them."

Smith's master of finance and master of management analytics programs are both exclusive to the Toronto campus, he says, which has more than 400 students, up from 100 seven years ago.

"The rationale for that," he adds, "is people can take them while they continue their jobs."

Smith’s Toronto campus has more than 400 students, up from 100 seven years ago.

Smith is not alone in expanding beyond its own borders, providing competition for Toronto stalwarts Schulich, Rotman and Ted Rogers.

The University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School has been offering an EMBA in the Toronto area for even longer, since 1991. London, Ont.-based Ivey moved its Greater Toronto Area campus to the Exchange Tower in downtown Toronto from Mississauga in 2007. Both its executive MBA programs and executive development programs are run from there, says John-Derek Clarke, the school's MBA executive director.

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"It is the epicentre of business activity, but also a convenient location for the approximately 15 per cent of our students from outside of Toronto," he explains.

"We have people from cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Ottawa who come in for the program, and there's more accommodations available for them. It also offers an opportunity for us to get speakers in [and hold alumni events] as well," he adds.

Waterloo, Ont.-based Wilfrid Laurier University has also been in Toronto for two decades, says Maureen Ferraro, MBA marketing co-ordinator for Laurier's Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. Its campus in the Sun Life Centre downtown offers a part-time MBA, and represents "an opportunity to give the working professional a quality degree at a good rate," she says.

"We knew that there was a good market in Toronto, and we also knew that we could be very competitive," she says. "There are a lot of up-and-coming individuals who need this degree and … we have facilitated tons of careers."

For Yuri Mytko, communications advisor at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business in Montreal, the benefits of offering its investment management MBA in Toronto are also obvious.

Its course, which has been available in Toronto for 16 years, "has a real focus on preparing students to take the chartered financial analyst exams," he says.

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Smith’s master of finance and master of management analytics programs are both exclusive to the recently renovated Toronto campus.

"It's the financial capital of Canada, and so many students interested in writing the CFA exam, or in working in finance, have an interest in working in Toronto, or are already in Toronto," he says.

The classroom experience is shared via video conferencing between cohorts in both Montreal and Toronto. "That means there are networking opportunities for the students both in Montreal and Toronto," says Mr. Mytko. "What's more, there are many examples of students who have begun the program in Montreal, obtained employment in Toronto, and moved there. So their education is not interrupted."

One of the newest arrivals in Toronto, meanwhile, is Cape Breton University's Shannon School of Business. It opened shop in 2015, using Centennial College's main campus on alternate weekends for its classes.

Toronto is one of five cities beyond Sydney where Shannon offers its MBA in community economic development, a unique program for the Toronto (or any other) market.

"Community is at the core of all the courses that we offer," Shannon dean George Karaphillis explains. "The idea is to help students understand that all of these things are connected. You cannot have good development and prosperity and social justice unless everything works well together. You have to have co-operation among all the sectors.

"So where this MBA works the best is in societies that are going through change, where the economy is in transition," he says. "And that is something we lived through here in Cape Breton."

So why Toronto?

"We find that the economy in general in Canada has been going through transition and has been for a while," says Mr. Karaphillis.

"At the same time, we have been approached many times from Ontario, and from Toronto, specifically," he says. "We have also had people coming from Ontario to take the program, so that was an indication that there was demand for the program in Toronto."

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