New agreement smooths path to Brandon University degrees for military personnel

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Brandon University and the Department of National Defence have formalized an agreement that will make it more convenient for members of the Canadian Forces to take BU courses and to earn BU degrees — even if they are deployed overseas.

“We have always had a great relationship with members of the military, and this new agreement helps deepen that even further,” said Dr. Steve Robinson, BU’s Vice-President Academic and Provost. “We are very pleased to be able to work with our partners in the armed forces to create built-in-Brandon education solutions that address the unique challenges of military life, including frequent relocation and deployment.”

Robinson signed the agreement last week at Brandon University, along with CFB Shilo Base Commander Lt-Col. Jeff Lyttle. They took advantage of the pleasant weather to host an outdoor signing in the Kavanagh Courtyard. Everyone also wore masks and maintained physical distancing as much as possible during the brief event.

Also in attendance were Capt. Bradley Knoll from CFB Shilo and BU’s Dr. Gary McNeely, the two who did most of the legwork to bring the agreement together.

“This MOU is an acknowledgement that it is an important bit of business for BU, and an indication to the military that we take this initiative seriously,” McNeely said. “Their knowledge is worthy of serious consideration, their skills are real and vital, and appropriate to recognize — especially this close to Remembrance Day.”

McNeely is the Coordinator of Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition, or PLAR, at Brandon University, where he facilitates the assessment of technical knowledge and work experience for students who bring pre-existing knowledge and skills to the university, without necessarily previous course credit. He says people with jobs and training in the military often have high levels of knowledge in areas that qualify them for credit  in BU degree programs.

“A lot of military roles are quite managerial, which is a good fit for our business administration program,” he said. “There are also natural fits with much of our emergency studies courses, with computer science and technology, with meteorology, and more.”

Dr. Steve Robinson, BU’s VP Academic & Provost signs an MOU with CFB Shilo Base Commander Lt-Col. Jeff Lyttle. The agreement formalizes longtime understandings.

Military students will now be able to more quickly have their existing skills recognized academically, so they can learn more at BU, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, and advance even further in their military careers, he said.

The new agreement builds on years of informal partnerships, streamlining into a single process what used to require time-consuming and cumbersome workarounds tackling individual student needs one at a time.

“We have been doing much of this already, since at least 1980,” McNeely said. “For the first time, this new agreement pulls all of our existing understandings into one place, making it simpler, more consistent, and a better experience for students and faculty.”

He hopes the new agreement will boost numbers of Shilo-based students at BU. Although numbers fluctuate a lot, typically he fields about 10 inquiries a year from students, with two or three taking an educational leave to focus on studies.

Along with recognizing specific military training for transfer credit into BU, the new agreement also builds flexibility into course and exam procedures, including the ability for students to write exams while deployed in operations.

The agreement also lays the groundwork for potential collaboration in the future, on the development of defence- or security-related programs.

“One thing I’m excited about is the opportunity to leverage the multilingual nature of the military with the languages department here,” McNeely said.

While a few other institutions in Canada have signed similar agreements, they are typically colleges or community colleges. McNeely says BU may be the first university in Canada in years with a formal agreement in place.



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