An Era of Innovation

At the start of the decade, everyone is relieved to have ‘survived’ the millennium without ‘Y2K’ and the unwitting destruction of the world’s PC-based computer systems, or the fulfillment of the many doomsday predictions that litter the Internet prior to midnight, December 31, 1999 (one year before the correct Gregorian start date of the millennium).

The new age is relatively unremarkable until 2001 when the shock of the 9/11 attacks reverberates around the globe. Shortly after, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) compounds the anxiety and nervousness felt across Canada when the disease leaps the Pacific Ocean and strikes Toronto, killing 44 people.

In every way, it is a new era.

In the 2001 Annual Report, UBC President Martha C. Piper urges the UBC community to think as global citizens with a “global conscience” and defines the role of universities as one that prepares students for the ‘world out there’. UBC is no longer content to educate future provincial leaders, states Piper. It must prepare its students by “searching for answers, building communities, leading debate, finding solutions and redefining the role of a good citizen: these are the challenges of the new era.”

The Canadian Federal government establishes the Canada Research Chair (CRC) program to create 2,000 Canadian university research professorships, with the goal of attracting the world’s top scholars into disciplines ranging from natural sciences to engineering, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The unique two-tier system provides scholars with either a Chair tenable for seven years (Tier 1) funded for $200,000 per annum and renewable indefinitely, or a Chair tenable for five years (Tier 2) funded for $100,000 per annum and renewable only once. UBC receives 160 Canada Research Chair professorships that will not only help the university fulfill its Trek 2000 strategy but, as Indira Samarasekera, UBC's vice-president, Research explains, it will allow UBC to “build human capital vital for the future well-being of Canada.”

Meanwhile, student enrollment at UBC continues to grow, with over 50,000 students from all over the world and more than 6,000 graduate students connected to and with one another via digital access in and out of the classroom.

Similarly, staff levels continue to increase; UBC is now also the largest employer in the Lower Mainland with more than 9,200 faculty and staff and channeling more than $1 billion into the BC economy. As one of the top three largest endowments in Canada, UBC faculty members conduct thousands of research projects annually.

In an effort to offer more opportunities for ‘lifelong learning’, UBC Robson Square opens in the heart of downtown Vancouver, in the Arthur Erickson-designed complex that also houses the British Columbia Law Courts. In the same year, UBC joins Simon Fraser University, BCIT, and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) to create the Great Northern Way Campus, located on an 18-acre site on the False Creek Flats and what is a land gift from Vancouver-based heavy-equipment firm Finning International.

Enrollment, funding and endowments are on the rise and, for the first time in UBC’s history, infrastructure keeps pace with the construction of new facilities such as the Clean Energy Research Centre, the Life Sciences Centre, the James Hogg iCAPTURE Centre for Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Research, the Brain Research Centre, the Mood Disorder Centre for Excellence, and the Michael Smith Laboratories.

In turn, the Centre for Integrated Computer Systems Research (CICSR) secures funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund provides more than $22 million to expand the centre’s infrastructure and strengthen UBC’s interdisciplinary ‘muscle’. Founded in 1985, CICSR now changes its name to the Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems (ICICS) and opens its membership eligibility to any UBC faculty member pursuing “emerging human-centered technologies research”.

In 2005, UBC’s second campus, UBC Okanagan (UBCO), welcomes its first students. Set in BC’s beautiful Okanagan, UBCO’s enrollment doubles in its first five years to 7,500 students, including 500 graduate students. Along BC’s far West Coast, the Faculty of Dentistry helps establishes a dental clinic and dental residency program in Haida G’waii.

“If there is one goal to which we should dedicate ourselves above all others, it is to make UBC a leader and a driving force in the world-wide effort to create a positive and healthy relationship between human beings, the societies in which we live, and the natural environment upon which we all depend.”

Martha C. Piper
Professor Henry Forbes “Harry” Angus, head of the Department of Economics, Political Science and Sociology

In President Piper’s report Trek 2010: A Global Journey, she defines a university vision that seeks to lower barriers to research collaboration, both internationally and externally, and stresses the necessity for private-sector partnerships to see research more fully realized. Piper leaves little doubt that UBC is a university now in its full power, unabashedly seeking to become one of the best universities in the world:

“If there is one goal to which we should dedicate ourselves above all others, it is to make UBC a leader and a driving force in the world-wide effort to create a positive and healthy relationship between human beings, the societies in which we live, and the natural environment upon which we all depend.”

If they were alive today, such unabashed ambition likely would have embarrassed UBC’s more strait-laced founders, but by 2010, this boldness is exactly what is required to survive in the competitive environment the university now faces. As Piper had earlier noted in her inaugural 1998 President’s Report: “That is the nature of innovation. It changes everything.”

Long gone are the days when UBC was a beloved yet small provincial university. The scope of UBC’s vision now shifts into a worldview that promotes “the values of a civil and sustainable society”.

With this new perspective, sustainability is at the forefront and UBC is seen as a leader, exceeding its Kyoto Protocol targets five years ahead of schedule. The UBC Campus Sustainability Office (established in 1997) creates a campus-wide strategy and works across the university to implement it.

By the end of her tenure at UBC, Piper’s vision for the university as a place that helps build diverse, healthy communities is realized across both campuses, from UBC’s Museum of Anthropology’s Interdisciplinary Research Facility (the world’s first facility to link scholars, First Nations communities and research museums) to the new UBC Okanagan Aboriginal Centre. UBC also creates innovative programs such as the Ch’nook Aboriginal Business Education program and the collaborative Distributed Medical Program, North America’s first four-year ‘distributed’ model and part of the dramatic expansion of medical education in BC.

In March 2006, Dr. Martha C. Piper steps down and Dr. Stephen J. Toope becomes UBC’s 12th president. Toope continues to build on the international relationships established by Piper. His first President’s Report is aptly titled ‘Without Borders’. In it, he cites the arrival of Carl Wieman, an American physicist, Nobel Laureate and newly appointed director of the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative (CWSEI), as an important shift in science education for university students.

By 2007, UBC breaks the $100-million mark in cumulative licensing revenue from its inventions and discoveries. These discoveries, in areas of human health, technology and environmental wellbeing, have been at the heart of treatments, products and services that have, by this time, generated an estimated $5 billion in sales for licensees and spin-off companies. By the end of the decade, UBC will realize more than 300 active licensing and assignment agreements with industry via the University-Industry Liaison Office (UILO).

As an incubator of innovation, UBC now plays a critical role in the growth of BC’s globally recognized biotech industry with more than 120 ‘spin-off’ companies emerging as a result. In this decade alone, the new firms range from D-Wave Systems ((2001) and what is the creator of the world’s first practical quantum computer) to Cloudburst Research (2010) picture-stitching app.

In December 2009, UBC launches Place and Promise: The UBC Plan, the comprehensive, strategic guide to its future.

Like a tremendous interconnected web, the relationships and influence of UBC knows no boundaries; its heart and spirit now a global manifestation of its motto Tuum Est  — It is Yours.

2000–2009: Timeline

Explore the era

  • UBC Robson Square

    Established in 2001, UBC Robson Square is set in an Arthur Erickson designed building, and functions as the downtown centre for the University.

  • Early plans for Wesbrook Place

    Early plans for Wesbrook Place, a residential community for staff, faculty and the public on UBC’s Vancouver campus.

  • Carl Wieman, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics

    Carl Wieman, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, joins UBC in 2007 and heads the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.

  • The Great Northern Way Campus

    The Great Northern Way Campus Trust is jointly owned by UBC, SFU, BCIT and ECUAD. Established in 2001, the trust now operates The Centre for Digital Media.

  • Over 2,000 gather for The Great Farm Trek on April 7, 2009, to advocate for retaining the UBC Farm in its existing size and location.

    Over 2,000 gather for The Great Farm Trek on April 7, 2009, to advocate for retaining the UBC Farm in its existing size and location.

Martha C. Piper

“To be sure, UBC research, second to none, is helping advance real solutions. Just as important, I believe, is this: in classrooms, in the community and around the world, UBC students are gaining a new understanding of humanity, global interdependence and their own capacity to make a difference. And our world will be better for it.”

Martha C. Piper
President, 1997–2006



UBC is proud to mark its 100th anniversary as a global leader in education, research innovation and community engagement.
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