Here are excerpts from the speech of Arvind Gupta at his official installation as UBC’s 13th president. Canada’s post-secondary system should take notice.
“We recognize UBC as a Place of Mind, but also as a place of shared cultures, traditions, and history. We come together as a community striving to excel in a spirit of integrity, diversity, inclusiveness and mutual respect.
UBC is a Place of Learning.
This applies to our entire community: undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty, staff, alumni, and yes, even administrators. Our UBC is committed to ensuring that the university is functioning at its highest capacity so we produce the leaders our society requires. We will empower our students with enhanced resources for success, including bursaries and scholarships, graduate support and state-of-the-art research facilities, auxiliary services, such as on-campus housing, improved physical and mental health facilities, venues for sports; and outlets for culture.
We will enhance the student experience within a second-to-none learning environment. We will also reach out, tirelessly, to the underrepresented – whether based on gender, race or community – recognizing education as the best instrument for breaking down barriers to social and economic mobility.
I have frequently called today’s youth the “empowered generation.” They know that they confront unprecedented societal challenges. They see how quickly yesterday’s innovations become obsolete. They are aware that some 50% of today’s jobs will likely not exist in 30 years. But they also know that what never goes out of style is the ability to consider information critically, to assimilate facts into bigger narratives, and to generate new ideas. This is the gift of a great education – one that goes beyond knowledge in a particular field, or training in a specific skill. Our students must have the ability to think systematically, to welcome change, to tolerate ambiguity, to disrupt and to innovate. These are all skills best learned from the broadly based programs available only in a research-focused university.
The knowledge-intensive world also demands that we extend UBC’s service beyond our traditional undergraduate and graduate constituencies. We will embed lifetime learning in our core teaching-and-learning mandate, engaging alumni, mid-career professionals, retirees – everyone who looks to us for personal, professional, and career growth. Here, technology plays a critical role, enhancing the classroom experience and transforming the concept of place for learning. Technology can bring UBC, to those juggling career and family demands, to those at a distance from our campuses, to all those seeking a creative outlet or a new path in life.
UBC as a Place of Engagement.
Every globally significant city – every city considered among the “most liveable” – boasts a leading research university. In these communities, town and gown work come together to underpin a creative economy. UBC enjoys two such relationships: two thriving campuses – two places with one mind, one aspiration to excellence, and one unquestioned call to service.
Our Point Grey campus and the City of Vancouver have grown together and grown up together. UBC has been indispensable in establishing Metro Vancouver as a provincial economic engine and a Western Canadian centre of culture and innovation. We will continue to support the resource sector, the traditional mainstay of the BC economy. We will pioneer in fields such as health sciences, life sciences, multi-media, IT and clean energy. We will fuel the burgeoning creative sectors – architecture, design, film, gaming, and the performing arts. We will partner across civil society, expand our footprint in downtown Vancouver, and tend to community connections – virtual and physical – including, crucial public transportation links to Point Grey.
UBC Okanagan was established less than 10 years ago by farsighted provincial and university leaders, many of whom honour us with their presence today. In the blink of an academic eye, our Kelowna campus has proved itself worthy of the name UBC. It has doubled in size, tripled its infrastructure and expanded its student body to nearly 8,500.
We will continue our integration across all B.C. Consider the partnership with our excellent sister institutions in a distributed program that is now graduating medical professionals in Victoria and Prince George, as well as Vancouver and Kelowna. UBC will partner with our provincial government to expand this model wherever it creates measurable benefits for British Columbians.
UBC as an International Place.
As one of the world’s top 25 public institutions, UBC is a portal for global engagement, connecting our cities, our province, and our country to the world. Our students and faculty learn about the world, teach about the world, and stand in service to the world. We will stretch this portal – and shrink the world – fostering research-and-learning links across BC, Canada, and beyond. Such alliances tap into all of UBC’s strengths: from the historically and ethically informed critical thinking skills of the Humanities, to the transformative capabilities of modern science.
UBC as a Place of Innovation.
Our UBC has moved well beyond the “build-it-and-they-will-come” paradigm of graduating students. We will become even more pro-active in transferring knowledge from our classrooms to the industries, theatres and meeting rooms of our communities. We will listen well, to ensure that our teaching, learning and research reflects societal imperatives. In keeping with our academic mission and values, we will reach out across civil society, always ready to address the challenges facing governments, industries – hospitals or not-for-profits. Their needs will be integrated into our research mandate creating a robust two-way exchange of ideas. And they will be integrated into our teaching mandate through continuing and professional education tuned to the needs of learners, industry and society.
I have spent the past 15 years at Mitacs developing pathways to employment for our graduates. This is my passion and I am dedicated to multiply such opportunities. We will proactively dovetail on-campus courses with off-campus experiential learning. Today, I am further committing that we will connect our students to career opportunities by doubling UBC’s extra-curricular student experiences on- and off-campus through internships and co-op programs. And we will build new opportunities for students to study, travel and practice innovation abroad. Our graduates will shape the future, rather than be at its mercy.
None of these four themes – not one – would be possible were it not for the fifth. UBC is ever so proudly a Place of Research.
Excellence in research distinguishes great institutions from the rest. Excellence in research puts our students at the cutting edge of knowledge, giving them access to the latest discoveries and revelations. Excellence in research allows us to nurture leaders and to take a lead on the broad societal agenda. Excellence in research ensures our graduate students are ready to join the ranks of elite world scholars and innovators. Excellence in research makes our reputation – enabling us to attract the best faculty and students from around the world. Excellence in research gives currency to our diplomas.
Investment in research excellence makes sense – and it also makes business sense. North America’s most distinguished research universities are experiencing unprecedented enrolment demand. UBC is no exception. For that, I salute our outstanding research faculty, past and present. It is by your accomplishments that we make the case – to students, to government, to private-sector partners and to philanthropic donors – that an investment in UBC is an investment in excellence – and in success.
But we are not done. We are not where UBC should be, can be, and must be. That’s why, today, I am committing to you that my administration will be unwavering in its focus on research excellence. During my presidency, UBC will increase its base funding for research excellence by at least $100 million. This funding will be directed toward those who are leaders at discovering, developing, and deploying knowledge. We will invest in what our Nobel Laureate Dr. Michael Smith called “follow-your-nose” research. And, we will invest in targeted research.
And always, we will invest in excellence, enhancing our research capacity and thus our ability to train and nurture an unprecedented generation. Our goal is to leverage this investment so that we multiply our external research funding and our research impact many times over.
Inspirational! And a breath of fresh air – a stark contrast from the usual corporate-sounding pfaff emanating from the offices of university presidents.