How can UBC help B.C. face the future?

by Michael Goldberg
Prof. Michael Goldberg is former dean of the Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration and chair of the Academic Plan Advisory Committee.

An economic revolution is well underway today and British Columbians and the B.C. economy are being challenged at every turn: commodity prices are near 60-year lows, yet employment in the Lower Mainland goes up; in the midst of massive layoffs in natural resource industries, technology industry employment increases by some 20 per cent per year; Asian visits to Whistler drop, and the sales of million-dollar homes skyrocket.

What's happening?

The combined forces of globalization, dramatic advances in information technology, the explosion in knowledge-based jobs and financial pressures are transforming the economic landscape. These forces are driving B.C.'s post-secondary institutions to some important watershed decisions. We must ask ourselves some fundamental questions about how we can deal with the challenges, capture the opportunities, and better serve our stakeholders in the next millennium.

Three-quarters of a century ago, the University of British Columbia faced similar challenges, which resulted in the Great Trek of 1922 and the establishment of its Point Grey campus.

In the fall of 1997, 75 years after the Great Trek, UBC began Trek 2000, a process designed to place us squarely at the forefront of Canadian universities in meeting our responsibilities to students, faculty, staff, our diverse communities and the people of British Columbia. This process culminated with the launch of the Trek 2000 vision document in November 1998.

Trek 2000 -- UBC's blueprint for the millennium -- outlines a series of principles, goals, strategies and operational timelines that will guide UBC into the next century. It identifies five major areas of focus: people, learning, research, community and internationalization, and is based on extensive consultation conducted with faculty, students and staff, as well as communities throughout British Columbia over the past year.

Flowing from the Trek 2000 vision document is the need to develop an academic plan to identify our approaches to the future. It must guide course and curriculum development, teaching innovation, the learning environment and our research activity.

This process will be affected by an important reality -- in the next decade, more than half of our faculty members and a third of our staff members will retire. With this challenge comes a unique opportunity to renew ourselves by hiring the people and creating the environment that can make the academic plan a reality.

We want to, and need to, create a university that is responsive to the needs of society and honours our valuable tradition of critical inquiry and the creation of knowledge. We want to build an institution of higher learning that is welcoming, flexible and capable of adapting to the explosive growth of knowledge and of using the technology available to generate and communicate it.

In the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, universities will be central to the prosperity of our people. We generate the knowledge that drives the knowledge economy. We also educate the people who create and sustain the economy.

In meeting these responsibilities, universities can help us all better understand the complexities and changes that have come to typify our lives today. We can provide the ideas and knowledge that can help us make sense of today's complexities, operate effectively in the vagaries of the future, prepare for and adapt to life-long learning, and contribute meaningfully to our personal and societal development.

Given the crucial role of universities in the future knowledge economy we want UBC to equip British Columbians and Canadians to shape that future.

We have created an academic planning discussion paper to generate ideas about how to do this. Among its key elements are: creating a learning-centred community; integrating knowledge across many fields; including research in the student learning experience; focusing our research on areas of current excellence and future need; building diverse bridges to the larger community; expanding co-op, internship and international study experiences; and being more responsible and accountable to all of our varied stakeholders.

We know that we cannot be all things to all people. We also know that our resources will be quite severely constrained. There will be difficult choices to make. Thus, we need to be clear and focused on our direction for the future both in terms of the goals we pursue and the means we use to pursue them.

We realize that British Columbians are facing new and confusing pressures today on an unparalleled scale. We at UBC want to be active partners in helping deal with these pressures so that as individuals and as a community we can prosper in the rapidly changing knowledge economy.

The academic planning process has two objectives that are crucially relevant here.

First, we want to develop an academic plan that ensures UBC, among other things, supports British Columbians in their efforts to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the global economy.

Second, we want to engage in a process that draws widely on the knowledge, the diversity, and the experience of all British Columbians as we craft this academic plan. Central to creating Trek 2000 was broad input from the UBC and British Columbia communities. We want to continue to receive the benefit of wide community input.

This is where we need your help. How can the University of British Columbia serve your needs? What should our goals be? What guidelines or ideas would you suggest we use to help make the tough choices we face? What role should UBC play in the community? How can we best integrate our activities with the business, labour and professional groups across the province?

Please share your ideas with us.

If you would like to receive a copy of the discussion draft entitled "Toward an Academic Plan," contact us at: Academic Plan Advisory Committee, Old Administration Building, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z2, phone 604-822-5611, fax 604-822-8118, e-mail or you can visit our Web site at