When I left UBC in 2006 at the end of my first term as president, UBC was already well established as a leader in Canadian post-secondary education, showing undoubted excellence in learning and research. We had expanded our reach into downtown Vancouver, with the creation of the campus at Robson Square; even more significantly, we had begun to serve the southern Okanagan with a new campus in Kelowna.
Now, 10 years later, UBC has exceeded my expectations in almost every aspect of its operation, and stands poised to become one of the world’s great universities.
That claim is borne out by the rankings: currently UBC stands 34th in the world, and 6th among public research universities in North America. Skeptical as one may be about rankings of this kind, they do offer at least some indication that UBC enjoys a reputation comparable to that of such universities as Berkeley, Michigan or Washington.
And that reputation is well earned.
At the level of teaching and learning, we have a distinct advantage. We receive some of the best undergraduate applicants in the country, giving us the luxury of choice. No surprise, then, that Macleans currently ranks us second in the number of awards gained by students. The level of excellence we can expect is reflected in the fact that this year two of the ten 3M National Student Fellows are from UBC.
Much of the credit for such successes lies in the heightened attention being given these days to the quality of instruction. A big step in this direction was taken in 2007 when Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman joined UBC and introduced a teaching initiative that has transformed science education. And in the same period, we introduced a new professorial rank: the Professor of Teaching, which places an emphasis on excellence in educational leadership, as well as teaching and learning, and which rewards the kind of originality and innovation that characterize the best teaching.
I’m equally impressed by the extraordinary achievements of our researchers. At both campuses of UBC, we have developed a research capacity that really does improve the quality of life and address the major problems facing global society. Progress can be measured in terms of funding dollars: over the past decade, UBC has succeeded in increasing its annual research funding from $400 million to $531 million, and the number of research projects has grown correspondingly, from 6,604 to 8,278. Over the same period we have increased our share of active Canada Research Chairs from about 140 to 187; only the University of Toronto can boast a larger number.
But numbers alone do not tell the whole story. In acknowledgement of their accomplishments, UBC researchers have received wide national and international recognition. In 2015-2016 alone, four were inducted into the Order of Canada; seven were elected to the Royal Society of Canada and one to the Royal Society of London; five were elected to the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and two were inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame; two were elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, two more became Guggenheim Fellows, one was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one received the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Gold Medal, the highest award that SSHRC can bestow.
My list is by no means complete, but it may help you see why today’s UBC is regarded as such a research powerhouse. And it is in large part because of our global reputation as a major research-intensive university that we are attracting greater and greater numbers of international students.
One of my goals as incoming president in 1997 was to develop a strong international presence at UBC, and when I left in 2006 we were enrolling some 5,600 international students. By 2015 that number had doubled: last year our campuses in Kelowna and Vancouver attracted over 11,000 international graduate and undergraduate students from 139 different countries. Today one in five of our students is from another country. It’s hardly surprising, then, that this year the QS International Rankings ranked UBC as North America’s most international university, well ahead of such venerable institutions as MIT, Princeton, and Harvard.
In every respect, as we look back over UBC’s past decade, we can all take pride in the advances that UBC is making as an institution with an increasingly global presence. And I have not even touched on the amazing success of UBC’s varsity athletes in recent years, though perhaps I may be allowed a small claim to fame in this regard, having been the only UBC president to see the Thunderbirds bring home the Vanier Cup on two occasions!
Dr. Martha Piper
Interim President and Vice-Chancellor, University of British Columbia