August 17 - A Day of Celebration at UNBC

August 17, 2004 for immediate release

Today, the University of Northern British Columbia has celebrated the tenth anniversary of its opening by hosting a Special Convocation ceremony at the Prince George campus. Exactly ten years ago, Queen Elizabeth II visited Prince George to open the University and ten honorary degrees have been presented to commemorate the anniversary.

"The honorary degrees we've presented recognize the community, academic, and political leaders whose vision led to the creation of Canada's first new university in a generation," says UNBC President Charles Jago. "In his opening remarks ten years ago, Founding President Geoffrey Weller predicted that northerners 'will long remember that something happened in Prince George' that day. Our celebration today is proof."

A Brief History
The UNBC story began in January 1987, when a group of business and community leaders first met to advance the idea of a northern university. Originally called "the No-Name Group", they soon gained an identity as the Interior University Society. The IUS crafted the UNBC vision and its members traveled around the region and to Victoria, talking about a northern university wherever they went. This advocacy - together with a petition signed by 16,000 northerners - paid off in 1989, when the Government of BC appointed an Implementation Planning Group that made recommendations on the elements of an interior university. In June 1990, the Legislature passed the UNBC Act, officially creating UNBC and its founding Board, the Interim Governing Council. The subsequent construction of a campus, hiring of staff and faculty, and recruitment of students led to the August 17, 1994 opening of UNBC by The Queen.

UNBC Today
In the decade that has followed the grand opening, UNBC has emerged as one of Canada's best small universities. It debuted in the top-10 in the annual Maclean's magazine ranking of Canadian universities and recently received its highest-ever ranking (7th) in the magazine. The University's focus on the North has been integral to its growth and its emerging national and international reputation:

- In 1994, the University had 1400 students; today it has 3700. Similarly, the percentage of northern BC high school grads going on to university has grown from 8-15%.

- There have been eleven graduating classes and there are 4200 UNBC alumni.

- Surveys of BC university alumni consistently show that UNBC grads are the most satisfied with their education and most continue to live and work in the North.

- Much of UNBC's research activity is directly relevant to northern social, economic, and environmental issues. On a per-faculty basis, UNBC is as research-intensive as York, Memorial, Lakehead, and Laurentian universities.

- Last year about $9 million in research funding was received.

- First Nations students make up about 10% of the student body at UNBC - higher than the other BC universities, which each average around 1%.

- Since the opening in 1994, a forestry lab, teaching laboratory, the Bentley Centre, and a second student residence have been added to the Prince George campus. There is also a new regional campus in downtown Terrace and a new CNC-UNBC campus now under construction in Quesnel.

- The annual local economic impact of the University is estimated at $100 million.

The Northern Medical Program
Perhaps the biggest development since 1994 is the Northern Medical Program, a collaboration between UBC and UNBC to train physicians in the North. The building that will house the program has also been opened today (see above photo). The Northern Health Sciences Centre is a showpiece for wood construction and will feature state-of-the-art telecommunications to facilitate interaction between medical students at UBC, UNBC, and the University of Victoria. The first 24 students will begin the program this fall and about half of them will be from northern/rural communities.

The opening of the Northern Health Sciences Centre is the most recent chapter in northerners' quest to improve health care in the region:

- In June 2000, about 6000 residents attended a rally in the Prince George arena to express their displeasure over the state of health care in the North. The idea for the Northern Medical Program was born that day and at similar rallies around the region.

- On January 18, 2001, at a national rural health summit in Prince George, UNBC and UBC signed an agreement that officially established the Northern Medical Program.

- On March 15, 2002, the Government of BC endorsed the expansion of medical education in BC and committed $12.5 million to build the Northern Health Sciences Centre. Construction began in July, 2003.

"Ten years ago, Founding Chancellor Iona Campagnolo paraphrased author J.R.R. Tolkien when she proclaimed that 'this is the hour of the northern people, when we arise from our quiet forests to shake the towers and counsels of the great.' UNBC has embraced the spirit of that vision," says President Jago. "This university has made great strides in its first decade, and it is our intent to keep faith with those founding visionaries who understood the value of a university in and for the North."

See related news releases:
Event schedule
Announcement of Honorary Degree recipients
Community Barbecue supports future medical students

UBC news release announcing launch of Northern Medical Program
Government of BC news release

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