UBC Reports | Vol.
51 | No. 8 |
Aug. 4, 2005
When the New University Comes to Town
UBC Okanagan opens its doors in September
By Bud Mortenson
The creation of a UBC campus in Kelowna is helping define an exciting future for the Okanagan Valley’s largest city and for the entire region.
“I don’t think there’s a better employer we could have sought to help the Okanagan grow in a sustainable manner,” says Brad Bennett, Chair of the UBC Board of Governors and an active Okanagan business and community leader.
“This gives us so many value-added propositions, from wage scales and employment opportunities, to commercial spin-offs, medical training, and what we can do in partnership with Kelowna General Hospital and other hospitals in the region -- that is all value-added. And it’s all clean industry. For the Okanagan, we could not have found better.”
Bennett says UBC Okanagan means people pursuing a UBC degree can do so without leaving the region. “To have this calibre of university right in the middle of our region is a tremendous opportunity for people,” he says.
“This was definitely the right thing to do -- and totally necessary -- to help the region meet its potential. And we haven’t even begun to tap that potential. The future is extremely bright because of this.”
Kelowna marked its centennial this year. With a population nearing 100,000 (contributing to the Central Okanagan’s regional population of 150,000), the city has grown and changed a great deal over the past quarter century, says Mayor Walter Gray. But even as he considers the grand scale of what UBC Okanagan’s debut means, Gray still recalls an earlier, smaller, standout event.
“I fondly remember 25 years ago, when I was president of the Chamber of Commerce, people said Kelowna had really arrived. The first McDonald’s had just been built,” he says, laughing.
But times do change, and so does a community’s perception of itself. “We are absolutely at a crossroad,” says Gray. “UBC Okanagan sets a positive direction for the economic future. It brings a new level of stature and status to the community. It will motivate young people to be educated at home, and then stay at home to develop their careers.”
It’s a good-news story just waiting to be told.
“As exciting as this is, most people still don’t realize the incredible opportunity our valley has,” he adds.
UBC Okanagan is situated in Kelowna’s north end, near the Kelowna International Airport, on what was a campus of the former Okanagan University College. OUC is now Okanagan College, with four main campuses in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm.
When the announcement of a UBC Okanagan campus was made in March 2004, Gray immediately saw just how important it would be for the region. “I believe it was one of the biggest announcements in recent history, and it’s very, very exciting,” he says. “As a result of the announcement, we can see a shift to the north in our development focus and interest from the development community.
“The government’s decision to separate university and college, with UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College, sets up the next chapter in the evolution of our valley’s post-secondary system,” Gray says. “Kelowna is a community that really has arrived. We’ve come a long way in 25 years.”
Others are just as excited about the future as the new UBC Okanagan campus prepares for its inaugural year of classes.
“This is one of the most significant economic events for the Okanagan in at least a decade. It’s huge,” says Lorraine McGrath, B.C. Interior Regional Vice-President for Prospera Credit Union and former director of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
Like Gray, McGrath views the creation of UBC Okanagan as a major new economic driver for the region. As a member of the President’s UBC Okanagan Advisory Council, she has seen the projections for direct economic activity as the institution is developed and operated -- but she also looks forward to the day when long-term business partnerships and other benefits flow from UBC Okanagan research.
Consider the economic spin-offs -- and not just from new professors and students coming to the Okanagan, she says. “There will be the benefits of business born of the research, plus we will see partnerships with business and education.”
The B.C. Ministry of Advanced Education has estimated that UBC Okanagan’s economic impact on the provincial economy will be more than four times that of the former Okanagan University College, which was estimated at $117 million last year.
Chief Robert Louie leads the Westbank First Nation, a short drive across the Okanagan Lake floating bridge from Kelowna. He looks forward to greater access to education with UBC Okanagan so close to home.
Louie notes that a growing number of people in the First Nation community are seeking graduate degrees, and UBC Okanagan will offer increased access to this level of education.
“This is going to be really significant,” he says.
“Students can go to university here at home, and that’s a tremendous advantage,” he says. “I hope more students will go into undergraduate and graduate programs.”