By Jessica Wallace – Kamloops This Week
Three universities are better than one.
That’s the idea behind a new research partnership Thompson Rivers University has formed with the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO).
“Basically, what it looks like is not three universities, but one mega-university in the Interior,” TRU president Alan Shaver said. “Working together to address problems that are particularly suited to the Interior.”
The Interior University Research Coalition (IURC) was announced at TRU on Friday morning, a partnership two years in the making. The idea was born from an initiative by TRU professor Lauchlan Fraser in recent years to collaborate with UNBC and UBCO researchers in applying for a Canada First Research Excellence Fund to establish a centre of excellency in ecosystem reclamation.
That application was unsuccessful, but paved the way for the universities to share resources and collaborate on future research projects.
“We realized, ‘Wow, this is powerful stuff,’” said Janice Larson, who will head the IURC office at UBCO. “Let’s keep doing it and let’s expand it to other research areas, as well.”
Representatives from all three universities were on hand for the announcement, rattling off multiple ways in which they will partner to facilitate opportunities for students, faculty and their communities.
“There might be a piece of equipment at the Kelowna campus that might not be present in Kamloops or vice versa,” said Philip Barker, UBCO associate vice-president of research. “So, by creating a network that allows people to move really easily to access that equipment, we’re going to be able to do things we couldn’t do previously.”
The universities are creating an inventory of equipment on campus, such as DNA sequencers, high-end microscopes, lasers and manufacturing equipment.
“We have an electron microscope, for example, that is used perhaps two days a week,” said TRU associate vice-president of research and graduate studies Will Garrett-Petts. “So, five days a week, there’s an opportunity to use very high-end equipment that at the moment is lying idle because we were working separately.”
Garrett-Petts said the partnership will also allow the universities to identify needs of the region as a whole. Mobile consumption sites are being utilized in both Kamloops and Kelowna, for example, creating an opportunity for comparative analysis with scope beyond the local level.
“We’re closer than other universities and we’re in dialogue with our communities,” he said. “So, being there at the surface of our communities and drawing upon friends to meet the challenges, that’s the kind of thing we’re going to do.”
Larson was hired to facilitate the sharing of resources and seek out funding and additional partners.
“I’ll be, in some way, acting as a bit of a quarterback for the research community across the three campuses,” Larson said.
Her salary is shared between the universities, but she will be stationed at UBCO and use virtual communication to manage her duties from Kelowna.
“I’m hoping to be able to come at least quarterly to the other campuses,” she said. “It will really depend on what particular opportunities and initiatives may arise.”
While TRU expands its research potential, the province does not consider it among research universities in the B.C., meaning it receives less funding than institutions such as the University of British Columbia, which has faculty members who spend all their time on research.
In 2013, then-minister of advanced education Amrik Virk told KTW the university should fund research in creative ways, such as finding partners, endowments and gifts.