Professor Arvind Gupta was installed as UBC’s 13th President and Vice‑Chancellor on September 12, 2014. The 53‑year‑old has taught computer science at UBC since 2009 and is a well‑regarded expert in research and innovation policy with a track record of accomplishment in connecting business to universities across the country. From 2000‑2014, he was CEO and scientific director of Mitacs, a Canadian not‑for‑profit dedicated to fostering the next generation of innovators.
Gupta has three daughters, one of whom is a student at UBC. He and his wife, Dr. Michelle Pereira, herself a UBC alumna, are settling into campus life.
Below, Gupta answers questions posed by UBC alumni:
What is your vision for UBC?
UBC is poised for a fortuitous leap forward in the coming decade, if we pull together with a common vision and purpose. At my formal installation in September, I outlined the following themes that I believe will define our success:
First, UBC is a place of learning. This now includes both our traditional catchment of young adults and broader society, which is looking for ever more education. And for that we will need to develop new learning platforms through technology, an area where UBC is taking international leadership.
Second, UBC is a place of engagement. Society has become knowledge‑sophisticated, which provides us with a broad cadre of opportunities for engagement and partnership. These partnerships start in the Lower Mainland and Okanagan Valley and extend from there to BC, Canada and around the world.
Third, UBC is an international place. We must always see ourselves in a global context because we are one of the most significant gateways for people of BC and Canada. UBC can act as the window to the social, economic and cultural world.
Fourth, UBC is a place of innovation. We are ideally positioned to ensure that our learning and research platform is in service to the social, cultural, and economic needs of our communities.
And fifth, UBC is a place of research. Research is the distinguishing characteristic for our university across all the other themes. For example, we must ensure that research excellence gives our students cutting edge knowledge so they have access to the latest discoveries and revelations. And this is why I have pledged to grow UBC investments in research excellence by at least $100M over the term of my presidency.
How do you plan to enrich the learning experience at UBC and prepare students for the current job market?
Many jobs of the future can’t even be imagined today. It is critical that our students learn to think systematically and analytically, so they can navigate change, tolerate ambiguity, and be innovative. As a research‑intensive university, we are ideally positioned to build broad‑based programs that provide our students with exactly these skills.
Getting this right will ensure our students lifelong employability. And this will be coupled with a lifetime of learning. That means we must go beyond the 18‑ to 22‑year‑old undergraduates and 22‑ to 30‑year‑olds pursuing master’s degrees and PhDs. The challenge will be extending our reach across society.
I believe technology will play a fundamental role in the future of education – by enhancing the classroom experience, but also by reaching out to broader society. Technology can bring UBC to those who cannot be on our campus, because they are juggling the demands of careers and family, for example, or because they are geographically removed. Specifically, our Flexible Learning Initiative will leverage mobile technologies and internet connectivity to enable about 100 UBC courses to reach an additional 30,000 students over the next three years.
At the same time, we must be ready to provide every UBC student with career‑building opportunities that strengthen their academic and employment outcomes. That’s why I have committed to doubling UBC’s extra‑curricular student experiences on‑ and off‑campus through internships and co‑op programs.
For our young alumni, share one word of advice.
You will only discover your passions through experiences. Ask questions, take opportunities, and don’t worry about not knowing exactly what you want to do. It’s much more fun exploring options than feeling like you have to lead your life in a straight line.
How do you plan to involve alumni more in the life of the university?
I see alumni as our university brand. They are UBC’s chief ambassadors out in the community and, as such, are our eyes and ears to how we are perceived, what we are doing well, and where we can improve. That means we must always be listening to them. And it is incumbent on us to understand how they want to be involved with UBC, and then give them the opportunities to do so.
As we approach the final year of the start an evolution campaign, we are already seeing large numbers of alumni getting involved – more than 50,000 over the past year, in fact. The new Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre opening next year will be the first of its kind in Canada and a key resource for alumni as they do business, expand their careers, explore their intellectual, cultural and social interests, and engage with other alumni, students and faculty. We also plan to increase our outreach through online channels so that all alumni can remain involved with the university, wherever they are. During the next academic year we will celebrate the centennial of UBC’s very first graduating class, and alumni will be a major part of that historic celebration. It’s going to be a great year!
What do you say to those who have been critical of last year’s review of UBC Athletics programs?
I believe what is most important is that lessons learned from the past should be applied to ensure our future efforts on behalf of UBC Athletics are inclusive and responsive to our stakeholders. I am committed to listening to our dedicated alumni, athletes, coaches, administration, students and community on how best we can nurture and strengthen the pride we all share for UBC Athletics in Vancouver and Kelowna. [See the T-Birds Digest for some further thoughts on this subject from President Gupta.]
Keep in touch with UBC’s new president on Twitter: @ArvindUBC