A new program focusing on human movement, resettlement, and belonging was approved by the UFV senate last week.

The migration and citizenship program offers three related graduate-level credentials: a graduate certificate, graduate diploma, and a master degree. Because the certificate and diploma can be approved by the university, they will both be offered in Fall 2018. However, the master degree requires additional external approval from the B.C. ministry of advanced education which may delay the degree another year.

Currently there are no programs in western Canada the share the same focus. While there are a few similar courses in Canada, they are only offered at Ryerson University as an MA in immigration and settlement studies, at the university of Toronto as a graduate program in diaspora and transnational studies, and ethnicity, immigration, and pluralism (which is not a standalone credential but added it onto another program), and York University’s graduate diploma in refugee and migration studies.

“It’s very Toronto-centric, there’s nothing in B.C. and there’s nothing in Alberta, so we thought that this would be a good program,” said Dr. Nicola Mooney, program working group chair and associate professor in UFV’s social cultural and media studies department.

From both a Canadian and global perspective, the program will examine human migration in its many forms, whether forced, voluntary, permanent, or temporary. It’ll also address issues in both contemporary and historical contexts.

“If you look at particular decades, different people were coming in at different times, and facing different challenges,” said Mooney. “So looking at the specificities of what is the immigrant experience; and also to realize that whatever the immigration situation looks like today, there may very well have been precedents for this kind of moment in terms of different people’s experiences throughout history.”

The program will be organized so that students can stack their courses onto one another. After starting off with a certificate, the classes required for it will count towards the diploma and then also the MA.

“So if you don’t know if you can commit to a degree and don’t know if you have time or the money, you can start with the certificate and ladder it into a diploma,” said Eric Davis, provost and vice president academic. “If you want to go on, and then you can ladder that into the degree.”

Some of the classes required may also be taught at the 400-level of an undergraduate degree and count towards the graduate program.

“We want to give as many options as possible and for the program to be as flexible as possible for students,” said Mooney.

The migration and citizenship credentials may predominantly appeal to students who are looking to work, or are already working in community services, healthcare, non-profit organizations or the legal field. Further preparing students for the workforce, the diploma and MA will include a practicum requiring work placements, and the MA will also include a thesis.

Program development began back in 2014 when the university board of governors approved a list of planned programs allowing the programs’ working group to move ahead with developing a full program proposal. After approval, the Migration and Citizenship programs were included in the 2011-2015 Education Plan, as well as the 2014 Update to the Education Plan.

During the budget approval process in January, it was noted that the typical financial model creates difficulties for launching new programs where tuition is the only source of revenue. However, the risk was recognized and with the dean’s approval of the budget risk, the program’s costs were approved by the budget committee.

“So it was in development for a number of years, but even before the present moment we’re in, which is the world is witnessing the most serious refugee crisis since the second world war,” said Davis.

The National Household Survey revealed that the number of immigrants living in Abbotsford increased by 26 per cent from 2001 to 2011. According to the government of Canada, 40,081 resettled Syrian refugees have been accepted as of January 2017.

Even though development of the program began before the Syrian refugee crisis became fully realized, the global issue that it presents has been strongly considered through the planning process.

“We’ve had a lot of support institutionally because of that coalescence of factors,” said Mooney. “We’d rather the refugee crisis not be the major pressing issue that it is, but it’s only threatening to become worse with what’s happening in U.S. politics.”