The University of Victoria is a university located in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Home to 18,000 students and 1,700 teaching staff, UVic (as it is commonly known) occupies a 385 acre campus at Gordon Head, northeast of downtown Victoria. The current president of UVic is Dr. David Turpin, who has been in office since 2000.

Early History

The history of UVic begins in 1903 with the establishment of Victoria College as an extension of Victoria High School. Originally, Victoria College was associated with McGill University in Montreal, and taught first and second year courses. With the establishment of the University of British Columbia in 1915, the original Victoria College suspended operations. The demand for higher education in Victoria did not go away, though, and Victoria College was reopened in historic Craigdarroch Castle in 1921, affiliated with UBC. The student body continued to grow and at the close of World War II in 1945, there were over 600 students at Victoria College, leading to significant overcrowding of Craigdarroch Castle.

On October 10, 1946, the students at Victoria College held a public demonstration on the subject of overcrowding, kicking off a tradition of political activism which continues at UVic to this very day. Unlike many other protests involving UVic students, this one was successful, causing Victoria College to move to the site of the Provincial Normal School, the Lansdowne Campus (now the site of Camosun College). Space issues did not go away, however, as the two schools occasionally came into conflict about the allocation of the single building on the site. Eventually, more buildings were constructed at the Lansdowne campus, and in the late 1950s the College acquired the current campus at Gordon Head from the Department of National Defence.

Construction at the Gordon Head campus began in January 1962, and in July 1963 the University Act passed the BC government establishing the University of Victoria as a degree-granting institution, independent of UBC.

The Campus

The dominant feature of the UVic campus is the perfectly circular, 2000-foot diameter central campus, separated from the outside world by Ring Road. In this central region, there are no roads or regular vehicle traffic. Inside Ring Road, most of the buildings are clustered in a thick ring around the inside of Ring Road, leaving a large, plus-shaped area of greenspace in the very middle of campus. Combined to the relatively low heights of the buildings, this gives the central campus a very park-like quality. The general trend of the inner campus is to have the Arts buildings in the northern half of the Ring and the Science buildings in the southern half of the Ring, although there are minor exceptions.

Not everything is inside the Ring, however. To the east of the Ring is the residence complex, with capacity for 1,500 students in several separate residence groups. To the north of the Ring are the athletic facilities, including Centennial Stadium and the McKinnon Building, home to an indoor pool and the gymnasium. The UVic law school and the Fine Arts buildings are west of the Ring. The south campus remains forested, and includes the protected area of Mystic Vale as well as a number of well-used trails.

The School

The University of Victoria is considered one of the best midsize universities in Canada. There are ten faculties at UVic, broken down as follows:

The first five faculties are considered 'academic' faculties and the second five are considered 'professional' faculties, though this is not an official distinction. All of the faculties except Law and Fine Arts are situated inside Ring Road. I am a student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, under the Faculty of Science.

One major part of the undergraduate educational experience at UVic is the Co-operative Education program, or Co-op. Co-op involves going on 'work terms', where the student spends a full school term of four months working at a (paid) job in their field. Four work terms are required for a Co-op degree, which extends the degree program from four years to five years. Some programs, such as Engineering and Business, have mandatory Co-op programs, while many others have optional Co-op programs. One advantage of Co-op is that Co-op jobs pay fairly good salaries, and allow the student to complete their degree with less debt-load. A downside to Co-op is that it tends to favour more 'commercially desirable' programs such as engineering and biology, and disfavour more purely academic fields, such as geography and mathematics. Also, since the economic downturn in 2001, fewer Co-op jobs are available, and a larger fraction of those jobs are government jobs. I am a Co-op student on my fifth work term, and I have worked for the federal government twice, for the government laboratory TRIUMF twice, and for the university once. A Co-op student graduating in 2001 would likely have had at least two jobs in industry, giving a broader perspective.

The Student Union

The main student organisation at UVic is the UVSS, or University of Victoria Student's Society. The UVSS does many things, but its most prominent task is to operate the Student Union Building (SUB) and most of the services situated there. Unlike other universities, where there is considerable outside enterprise in the SUB, the vast majority of the services in the UVic SUB are operated by the UVSS. They operate a consignment bookstore, a movie theatre, a pub, a coffee shop, a cafeteria, a snack bar, a hair salon, and a copy shop in the SUB. In addition, they run a newspaper, the Martlet, and a radio station, CFUV.

The UVSS is a very politically active organisation, both locally and through ties to a national student organisation, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). The political orientation of the UVSS varies from moderate leftist to radical leftist, depending on the issue and the composition of that year's Board of Directors. In recent years the main issue that has concerned the UVSS is that of rising tuition fees and their impact on access to education. In 2001 the BC government removed the longstanding freeze on tuition fees at BC universities, and with their general policy of 'doing more with less' have forced university administrations to significantly raise tuition fees. The UVic Board of Governors raised tuition fees by 33% for the 2002-2003 school year, and again by 33% for the 2003-2004 school year, and the UVSS fought against this tooth and nail. Outside of education, the UVSS frequently involves itself in equity and social justice issues.

Summary

The University of Victoria, though a relatively new school, has a considerable reputation in Canada as a good school for undergraduate work. In addition to its academic merits UVic has a welcoming and vibrant student community and a beautiful, picturesque campus.


My primary source, other than four years of personal experience, was the UVic website at http://www.uvic.ca/
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This writeup is copyright 2003 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/ .

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