Global Opportunities

Despite the general decline in university enrollment across Canada in the 1970s, UBC enrollment increases by decade’s end. Women in particular make their presence felt in graduate studies, up from 26 percent in 1970 to 41 percent by 1979, and with an increasing surge in the number of women entering the fields of computer science.

UBC doctoral programs keep pace, growing from 47 to 64 programs, bolstered in the early 1980s by Ottawa’s increased funding for research. UBC deepens its focus in applied research, which in turn becomes a critical driver for university expansion.

In 1983, Dr. K. George Pedersen replaces Dr. Douglas T. Kenny as president, but 22 months later, Pedersen resigns in protest, stating that the provincial Social Credit government’s education policies and ongoing funding cuts have made it impossible for him to do his job.

Dr. Robert H.T. Smith takes the helm for one year as interim president. With BC unemployment at its highest level since the Great Depression, UBC and the province both suffer as Victoria continues to cut funding to higher education.

In 1985, Dr. David W. Strangway becomes the 10th president of UBC. His inaugural President’s Report focuses entirely on the UBC Library, stating that the Library is crucial to UBC’s ability to call itself a “centre for research with national and international reputation for excellence and significance”.


In 1985, Dr. David W. Strangway becomes the 10th president of UBC. His inaugural President’s Report focuses entirely on the UBC Library, stating that the Library is crucial to UBC’s ability to call itself a “centre for research with national and international reputation for excellence and significance”.

Dr. David W. Strangway

As a champion for proactive change, Strangway argues for additional space and budgets to increase. He supports research and helps create UBC’s first overall comprehensive mission plan. Meanwhile, the ever-growing potential of the digital revolution is melding into all levels of the university with the use of microfilm and laser disks making their way into the lexicon of librarians.

The focus on resource-based industry shifts to new and more sustainable technologies such as forestry management.

In 1986, Vancouver celebrates its centenary and also hosts the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, known simply as Expo 86. The 70-hectare showcase changes the course of the city’s history. UBC gets involved on a number of levels, with faculty, staff and students equally excited to participate in the exposition.

Applied Science hosts an international competition (Innovative Vehicle Design Competition) to design unusual new forms of transportation to support Expo 86’s World In Motion theme. UBC wins with its Turbic, the odd yet indomitably frugal three-cylinder vehicle powered by natural gas or diesel. UBC shines in the competition with the Turbic’s 20-strong development team driving off with $100,000 in endowed university scholarships.

The UBC School of Architecture, Museum of Anthropology, Department of Theatre, UBC’s Asian Centre and faculty contribute to the design, educational elements and themes in a number of pavilions before and during the six-month exposition. In turn, revenues from short-term accommodation at UBC during Expo 86 help fund Acadia Family III Housing on campus.

Short and long-term, Expo 86 is seen as a game-changer for the city and puts Vancouver and UBC on the global stage.

President Strangway is quick to develop a network in the Asia Pacific region and the Department of Asia Studies steadily gains profile through the work of scholars such as Drs. J.D. Schmidt, Edwin Pulleybank and Oscar Sziklai.

With almost 60 faculty members, Asian Studies gains a new global context at UBC. Seeing the need to invest in better ways to for communicating with Asia Pacific countries, Strangway establishes an International Liaison Office in 1987 and is vocal about UBC’s need to recruit more international students and provide more experiential learning abroad for UBC students to help prepare them for the future.

In 1987, John Demco, IT manager with Computer Science at UBC, creates the ‘dot ca’ domain name, two years before the World Wide Web (www) is created by English scientist Sir Timothy John ‘Tim” Berners-Lee. It’s indeed simpler times; the .ca registry is managed by a small group of dedicated volunteers, with domain requests and applications done by hand. When the ‘Web’ emerges as a tool for education, ‘dot ca’ is more than ready to respond.

As the opportunistic 1980s rolls towards its end, Ottawa ramps up innovation and R&D initiatives significantly when it provides $240 million to create the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NEC) program. The goal is to link leading research with commercial funding to drive innovation and support the emerging knowledge economy in Canada and advance Canadian society on all levels.

The centres allow information to flow seamlessly, university to university, and link top researchers with commercial opportunities. UBC is quick to embrace the model and engages in the new multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach to research partnerships to advance discoveries. The new University-Industry Liaison Office (UILO) is established as the first office of its kind in Canada, creating ‘new knowledge’ transfers by connecting the discoveries of UBC researchers with partners in the private sector.

In 1985, scientist, broadcaster, author and UBC alumnus Dr. David Suzuki wins the Governor General’s Award for Conservation for his television series A Planet for the Taking.

In line with the dynamic guidelines of the university’s Visions and Values ‘blueprint’ or simply, the UBC Plan, in 1988, the UBC Real Estate Corporation is formed. Among its goals: increase the stock of on-campus housing and student beds, identify and realize latent land values, and make the campus more ‘livable’ on every level. In 1989, Hampton Place officially opens to become the first major family housing neighbourhood development on campus. With almost 1,000 new housing units in 11 buildings, the project generates $80 million in endowment principal for core academic use.

UBC is in ‘business’ but not everyone is delighted. The Board of Governors must now answer to a public, faculty and student population that often yearns for a simpler UBC of the past. Balancing the reality of an increasingly competitive economy while staying true to protecting and supporting basic research that will spark discoveries far into the future becomes a core challenge for UBC as a research-intensive university.

1980–1989: Timeline

Explore the era

  • Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu strikes Japanese bell alongside UBC President David Strangway, 1989. 

  • Student using the microfiche reader in UBC’s Main Library, 1980.

  • Bruce Hodgins with fellow engineering students and Turbic, the team’s Expo 86 entry into the Innovative Vehicle Design Competition.

  • A letter to the Ubyssey from former editor Eric Nicol, 1980.

  • Indira V. Samarasekera, a PhD student in metallurgical engineering in 1980 who would go to become vice-president (research) at UBC then president of the University of Alberta in 2005.

President Douglas T. Kenny

“I would be flying in the face of reality if I tried to claim that the University is not confronted with serious and continuing problems. We still lack adequate research funds as the result of short-sighted policies which are only now being corrected nationally and provincially; the threat of a decline in the quality of education is mounting as the result of formula financing and under-funding; and many of our faculty and students continue to study and carry out research in marginal quarters because we lack funds to replace outmoded buildings.”

Douglas T. Kenny
President, 1975–1983

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