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The University of Victoria is one of Canada’s leading research-intensive universities, recognized for its leadership in research, inspired teaching and community engagement.

Q&A with The University of Victoria

The University of Victoria is consistently ranked the top university in North America for international research collaboration (Leiden), was named number one among Canadian comprehensive universities by Maclean’s in 2022, and its Co-operative Education Program and Peter B. Gustavson School of Business have both received Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada ScotiaBank Awards for Excellence in Internationalization.

UVic prides itself on its focus on discovery, innovation and creativity. It has filed over 580 patents to date and helped launch 169 startups. Its Vancouver Island Technology Park is home to 31 leading hi-tech firms, which contribute more than $280 million annually to BC’s economy. The Marine Technology Centre houses seven oceans- and marine-related firms.

UVic’s roots lie in its previous iteration, Victoria College, established in 1903 and originally affiliated with McGill University in Montreal. The university received degree-granting status in 1963, and now enrolls 22,000 students annually. 

Kevin Hall, President, talks about the changing role of post-secondary education and research in our local economy, and how their work helps shape a prosperous, vibrant future.

Kevin Hall, President, University of Victoria. Photo supplied by UVic.

Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?

I wish to begin by recognizing language and land –and acknowledge and respect the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples on whose traditional territory the university stands — and the Songhees, Esquimalt and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

The University of Victoria has been a part of SIPP since the beginning and it has become a vital organization for our region. At UVic we strive to connect more deeply with our community and SIPP provides us a unique platform and an opportunity to do just that. It also provides a forum to work with partners, explore bold ideas, build on successes and develop forward thinking, innovative solutions ensuring the economic and social prosperity of our region. Universities are critical to the health and prosperity of our society and we have a responsibility to support the communities in which we live and work.

What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?

There are a number of factors I see contributing to the strength of our region’s economy. 

These include: 

  1. Increasing Access to Education 

People and skills are critical to Canada’s economy and future. Right now, we have an aging population and are seeing disruptions in labour markets with the potential to impede growth. Therefore, we need to be training people over the longer term to ensure we have a strong and educated workforce.

I have worked in higher education for over 35 years, and I was the first in my family to attend university. I have seen the direct benefits of an education. It is transformative and creates opportunities and opens doors for people. In British Columbia, 35% of people attend post-secondary education, but we need to build pathways for the other 65% to come back to education at later stages in their lives. We must make the university more accessible to everyone whether through face-to face learning, or online distance education. By breaking down barriers to accessing education we can build a more resilient and robust economic future for our region and beyond.

We need to find ways to support people in precarious employment situations to transition to new sectors. We know the digital revolution is upon us, and these skills are in demand in every sector. We need to work together across traditional divides to figure out how we can create opportunities for people to learn skills or retrain to be ready for the new economy and maximize their options for employment. 

  1. Lifelong Learning

We need a culture of lifelong learning. Our world is changing at a dizzying rate, and technological changes will only increase in speed. Automation is a big topic and there are many precarious jobs as a result. Therefore, we need to think about how we can incentivize and build a culture of lifelong learning, with access to relevant and flexible courses and models of learning. We are at an exciting cross-roads in education, where the world is forcing us to think in multi-disciplinary terms. So, we need to consider how business and education can seize upon this moment, and help create, foster and sustain lifelong learning in our region. 

Many people only associate universities with undergraduate and graduate degrees but we’ve been delivering micro-credentials particularly through our Division of Continuing Studies for years. The curricula in these shorter programs are designed to give people knowledge and practical skills they can immediately apply in their work. Courses are taught by subject-matter experts with real world experience and the curriculum regularly updated with input from industry advisory councils.   

What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?

I think partnerships are the key to success in this area. We are living in challenging times, but across the entire region and across the globe we have seen people working together to innovate and move forward on collaborative projects. 

Organizations such as SIPP convened cross-sectoral tables to discuss how we could build back as a more inclusive and resilient region. This work developed incredible initiatives and helped bring an incredible and diverse set of voices to the table to ensure we were looking towards the future we wanted to leave for our children and grandchildren.

While we are living in a state of uncertainty, these partnerships and relationships will help us emerge from these challenging times stronger and more united, ready to tackle complex problems like climate change together. 

What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?

This is a time of renewal — the pandemic brought to light many societal challenges and as a university it is time for us to determine what is next. This year we are engaged in creating a new vision — we are looking forward 30 years to imagine what the world will need then, and making a plan to get there. 

As an institution, we are ready to take smart risks in a post-pandemic landscape so we can be innovative in the way we deliver training, skills and knowledge and support the research addressing the most pressing social, environmental and economic challenges. 

Recently the university has established UVic KWENCH in the downtown core to support venture exploration and early-stage start-ups. Services available through UVic KWENCH will include mentorship, workspace, access to subject matter expertise, direct connection to UVic and other networks, workshops and seminars. One of KWENCH’s first programs will focus on support for women exploring starting ventures. 

The network expands the existing work of UVic’s Coast Capital Innovation Centre, which is our very successful campus based start-up incubator. I am eager to see this initiative support the development of technology and knowledge-based businesses in our region.

I am really excited to continue making UVic a place where people want to come study, work and visit. I also want to explore how we can engage in the community to help enrich people’s lives, create economic opportunities and build a stronger Victoria beyond the Universities are not only places of learning, but they are conveners in helping connect people on a global scale and to empower people who may not have those opportunities to connect. 

I think there is an incredible opportunity for UVic to deepen its ties with the community and let people see us as a valuable resource. We will be continuing to explore ways we can work with the communities around us to deepen our connections, and work together to solve pressing problems today, as well as emerging issues.

What’s one thing about your organization you really want people to know that they probably don’t know?

UVic has the fourth largest co-operative education program in Canada. When you think of hands-on co-op education you think about the Waterloos of the world, but UVic is a national leader with opportunities within the region, across Canada, and across the globe. 

Co-operative education provides incredible opportunities for our students to gain hands-on experience, but it also serves the community by giving businesses, many of them start-ups, access to quality talent. Students are able to find jobs out of university and small companies are able to scale-up and grow. We will continue to be leaders in co-op education and build upon our partnership to find opportunities for our students.

What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?

UVic is committed to tackling the challenge of climate change. Over the past year, we have seen extreme weather events disrupt supply chains, disable major highways, and cause loss of life. These unsettling wakeup calls will continue and their impacts will be felt for many years. We need to take immediate climate action to reduce our GHG emissions across the economy. UVic researchers Ralph Evins and Andrew Pape-Salmon are combining their computational and building safety expertise to provide evidence-based advice to the Greater Victoria 2030 District, a group of property managers and owners aiming to cut emissions from 37 buildings in the region with a combined footprint of 3.6 million square feet.

There is also a lot of work to do in the areas of equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism. This is a priority for us and there is also a lot of work we can plan for in the future. UVic has to make sure we are leaders in action towards racism, there is no place for it at our institution or within society. We are proud to have an anti-racism ambassador working with our local municipalities and UVic. UVic is centering justice, humanity and oppression and creating a better university for all, in particular, for communities that have been oppressed. We are committed to building on this work and finding more ways to work together. 

In terms of reconciliation, Canada has lagged behind other jurisdictions across the globe. We can, and we must do more. We must lead by example, not only at our institution but across the entire post-secondary education sector. Murray Sinclair rightfully pointed out that education is the key to reconciliation when he stated, “education got us into this and education will get us out of this mess.” So, as leaders in education, we have to work hard, ask ourselves hard questions and work to advance efforts in building pathways and decolonizing our institutions. Our researchers are working with communities across Canada to expand language revitalization, support co-governance of water systems, and increase access for elders to homegrown traditional medicines and foods. 

Few matters have taxed our communities’ resources and sense of wellness more than the opioid and overdose crisis. UVic researchers worked across disciplines and in partnership with the community to develop a drug-checking pilot in 2019, which has since grown into a free and confidential drug-checking storefront open five days a week.

What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?

Like so many organizations during the pandemic, we quickly recognized the need for agility, when we transitioned to online learning, it was done almost overnight across the country. In normal circumstances, this may have taken several years to accomplish. This shows us we can be agile, and we must take these lessons forward beyond COVID to address the ever-changing world in front of us.

When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?

By 2040, I hope to see a connected, prosperous and equitable Southern Vancouver Island. I hope our region will lead in critical social, economic and environmental changes in our communities. I strongly believe this will help us achieve a more sustainable world with new opportunities for the region, enriching us all on a global scale.