UFV marked a quiet milestone on April 21, 2023: 15 years since Premier Gordon Campbell visited campus to announce that the University College of the Fraser Valley would now become the University of the Fraser Valley.
“The new University of the Fraser Valley will build on its international reputation for criminology and criminal justice programs, for its specialization in Indo-Canadian Studies, and for its trade and technology programs,” said Premier Campbell to a packed gymnasium audience on the afternoon of April 21, 2008. “UFV will provide degree-granting programs for thousands of students closer to where they live and for international students attracted to its exceptional teaching and community orientation.”
The institution began as Fraser Valley College in 1974. It was granted university-college status and renamed the University College of the Fraser Valley in 1991. The change to university-college status meant that UCFV could begin to develop third- and fourth-year programming and its own bachelor’s degrees.
The drive for university status was the next goal. UFV started to lobby for a name change in the early 2000s. A community support group called Friends of UFV, chaired by John Smith of Abbotsford, helped build support via a community-based campaign.
“Our new status will mean we can increase opportunities for our students while continuing to offer all of our current programs, including trades training,” said UCFV president Skip Bassford at the 2008 announcement. “Having an accessible university means we can make the entire region more competitive, attracting more professionals and keeping grads closer to home.
“This announcement is wonderful news for our students and for all of us who live and work in the Fraser Valley. It recognizes all of the work that everyone at UCFV has done to ensure that we’re fully prepared, academically and otherwise, for university status. It recognizes the expression of need by all the people in our valley who have been supporting university status for UCFV so strongly for so long.”
When Bassford agreed to take up the presidency of the University College of the Fraser Valley in 1998, it was because he was intrigued by a concept.
The university colleges of British Columbia were unique types of post-secondary institutions – ones that combined degree-level university studies with applied disciplines. This meant not only offering trades training, upgrading, and career programs as well as bachelor’s degrees, but integrating an applied focus into the university programs. But the ‘university-college’ label was not well understood outside B.C.
“When I first came here, the group of university-college presidents was quite proud of the new type of education that we were forging, but we felt we needed a way to tell the world about the university-college model,” he recalls. “It became clear, however, that people, especially those outside of British Columbian, just didn’t ‘get’ the university- college name.”
So the focus of his presidency changed from trying to make the world understand the university-college model to achieving a name change for UCFV while keeping its applied, comprehensive, and regional focus.
“We decided that we needed a name change so that our students and faculty would get the recognition and respect they needed. We were, in essence, a university. It was time for our name to reflect that so that it would be easier for our students to get into graduate school or employed, for us to recruit faculty and attract international students, for our communities to understand what we offer, and for us to attract donors.”
For at least six of his years as president, Bassford was a relentless campaigner for university status. He balanced lobbying the provincial government with community education, giving more than 100 talks to community groups to assure them that even as a university, UCFV would be responsive to its communities and comprehensive in its offerings.
The 2005 provincial election came and went without the hoped-for university status. University colleges in Kamloops and Kelowna were changed into universities without a similar prize for the Fraser Valley. Then, in 2006, the provincial government appointed former cabinet minister Geoff Plant to lead the Campus 2020 initiative, tasked with reviewing the post-secondary system and making recommendations about its future. When Plant brought his road show to Abbotsford, the Fraser Valley responded by filling the Ramada Inn ballroom to overflowing and bringing a unanimous message: “we want university status for UCFV now.”
“When Geoff Plant came out and found more than 900 people rallying for a university, that made it almost impossible for him to not recommend it for us,” Bassford recalled with a chuckle.
It took until the spring of 2008 for the provincial government to respond, when UCFV was the first of five institutions that Premier Gordon Campbell visited to bestow university status.
So when Bassford took the stage for his last Convocation ceremonies in June 2009, he had the pleasure of presiding over the first graduating class of the University of the Fraser Valley.
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