The University of Waterloo defied tradition by integrating academic and research excellence with work-integrated learning when it was founded in 1957. In our rapidly changing world, we can honour this legacy of courage and innovation by imagining bold new futures.
Waterloo at 100 is an exercise to move us beyond five-year planning cycles toward a longer-term vision that will answer: What do we as an institution aspire to become by our 100th anniversary in 2057?
In order for Waterloo at 100 to be successful, we need your input. We are seeking contributions from our community of students, faculty staff, alumni, supporters and wide-ranging partners. During this transformative time, we look to the whole community to help shape a future for the University that is vibrant and inclusive for all.
As you engage in the Waterloo at 100 discussion, we encourage you to reflect deeply about the institution you want Waterloo to become.
I cannot perceive a time when the universities will not be challenged by new requirements from our society. Equally, I cannot foresee a time when the University of Waterloo will be so hidebound by tradition that it cannot adjust itself to providing education to meet these needs.
Building on strength
Frustrated by the pace of change in Canada in the post-war years, Gerald Hagey and Ira Needles took their experience in industry and founded a university with strong bonds to the community, industry and government. Waterloo at 100 will build on this institution’s first 65 years, on our proud history of trailblazing and real-world impact.
Our 2022 Global Impact Report provides a glimpse into the impact we are making today through the work of students, faculty and alumni from the nation’s most innovative university. This visioning exercise seeks to identify opportunities for further successes. This visioning exercise also builds on Waterloo’s current strategic plan, developed through an extensive consultative process. The plan identifies the University’s academic and research strengths and our institutional differentiators.
Waterloo’s fundamental and applied research is amplified by insights and experiences from students, faculty and external partners working together, particularly augmented through our distinctive cooperative education program. Our research impact is furthered each day as a result of entrepreneurial drive and a relentless spirit for innovation in all endeavours.
A key distinction for the University is the strength of our relationship with our region. We were founded by local leaders who wanted to make a difference. As we chart our future, engagement with our local community is critical. In recent decades, many new partners have developed and evolved with whom we can continue to build and strengthen relationships. Together, we can make a meaningful difference for our social infrastructure and economy so we can continue to be one of the best places to live, learn and grow.
Our evolving world
As well as building on our strengths, the vision for Waterloo at 100 must reflect the many changes happening in our region, country and world. In his installation speech, President Goel identified the forces shaping our University, the broader post-secondary education sector and societies everywhere:
- The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation already underway, changing how we learn, teach and work. Life-long learning will become more important as workers reskill and reimagine their careers as they navigate an ever-changing work environment.
- The pandemic heightened awareness of and in some cases exacerbated inequities in society, particularly the legacy of centuries of colonization. On our campuses and beyond, we must meet calls for decolonization as we advance Indigenous relations and truth and reconciliation, and embed equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism throughout our institution and beyond to build a more equitable society.
- The climate crisis poses an existential threat to the health of our planet. We must multiply efforts to find innovative and sustainable solutions to achieve carbon neutrality.
- All around our world polarization is increasing and populism is rising, often fueled by mis- and disinformation. Many parts of the world are facing armed conflict causing death and destruction. Global multilateral institutions, which enabled a long period of peace and prosperity, are losing ground. Post-secondary institutions play a vital role in preserving democracy by offering a safe place for free inquiry and preparing our students to be global citizens.
- Recognizing that these and other forces affect our individual and collective sense of humanity, we must prioritize mental health, wellness and thriving for everyone in our community.
We are again – as were our founders – at a crossroads. We can help find solutions to these major global challenges and renew a sense of hope with bold ambitions for our future.
How and where can Waterloo make impacts on our biggest and shared challenges?
To help position and grow our strengths and differentiators, we are proposing a Futures Framework. This framework will help align and coordinate our efforts and investments in education, research and innovation as we strive to address global challenges. The framework is intentional about first asking how we envision the future of humanity. From there, we can shape multiple Futures required to support a better world for generations to come.
There are no shortage of trends that will impact our society. In particular, digitization and automation will continue to impact jobs, prosperity and societal equality. Colonial legacies, structural racism and social injustices abound though collective consciousness to these issues is growing. Building pluralism needs dire attention as echo chambers multiply and disinformation grows in a post-fact society. The world is already more urban than rural and aspirations for smart cities offer as many challenges as solutions. As already evidenced, these changes and more promise to transform our social, family and personal relations.
What kind of Societal Futures should we imagine? If our University is a microcosm of society, how can we demonstrate such futures on and through our campuses?
From cybersecurity to health and from education and decentralized systems of governance and finance, technology is transforming the way we work, live and play. Waterloo holds research and innovation leadership positions in several technological fields including advanced manufacturing and robotics, nano and quantum technologies, information technology, AI, data science and cybersecurity. The University’s current research strategy outlines these strength areas and more, underlining how these are aligned with human dimensions of global challenges. Essential to our leadership in developing new technologies are Waterloo’s strengths in fundamental science and research coupled with reflective scholarship that advances understanding of ourselves, the planet and cosmos. Such research paves the way for future discoveries that can lead to technologies we cannot imagine today.
What kind of Technological Futures should we imagine? The demand for authentic technological experiences will grow; how can we support technologists to develop an ethical mindset as they create? How will our approaches support the other Futures in the framework?
The threats to a sustainable future surround and grow all around us. The role of science in public debate and discourse has never been more important to help inform public opinion, policies and decision-making towards sustainable development. Sharper focus can be applied to technologies for a sustainable future. We can also advance policy and social issues for greater sustainability across society. A broader set of relevant environmental, economic and social dimensions must drive our efforts to combat increasing global scarcities and inequalities.
At Waterloo, sustainable futures are underway across and between disciplinary activities. Within the growing suite of actions (including championing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Canada), an internal collaboration on the interface between climate change, energy, and water security has been initiated. In all this work, we must lead by example and the Sustainability Office facilitates Waterloo’s transition towards sustainable campus operations.
What are the many Sustainable Futures we can imagine for our campus, our region and the world through bold directional moves in research and education?
The pandemic laid bare deep structural issues in society. Vaccine nationalism surfaced more prominently and the resulting inequities have prolonged our global response. The future of health will be premised on a genuine recognition that humanity is only as healthy as the sickest, poorest person on Earth, carrying implications for what it truly means to be a global citizen. The pandemic also illustrated how mental and physical health intertwine with great consequence. We saw the significant impact of the social determinants of health on outcomes resulting in huge demands on the acute healthcare system – constantly adding more to the health care system without addressing the underlying determinants is not sufficient. An aging population is shrinking the labour force, increasing healthcare costs, impacting social structures and altering health-care delivery.
Health technology will support digital and virtual care as the nature and efficacy of tools improves, but we will need to address regulatory and policy issues to enable their widespread adoption. Aging in place will grow as a priority. Waterloo’s research strategy captures our goal to lead nationally and globally at the interface of health, society and technology. This aim recognizes the power of disciplinary and interdisciplinary strengths to solve increasingly complex, real-world problems. The Innovation Arena is an example of how we are leveraging Waterloo’s industry and community connections to address the human dimensions of global challenges and grow our capacity to make distinctive impacts for Health Futures. Working with partners such as local health teams and institutions we can help strengthen our regional health services and develop and test new innovations.
What kind of Health Futures should we imagine? How can we evolve education, service, and partnerships accordingly?
As we look to build back after so much disruption, universities will continue to play an important role in economic recovery and ensuring society is more resilient.
As automation and digitization accelerate, technology is playing an increasingly central role in the economy of the future. A pronounced dimension emerging under the future of work lies in optimizing the various blends of in-person, remote and hybrid modalities locally and globally. Blockchain and cryptocurrencies have the potential to transform all manner of transactions, particularly with the advent of Web 3.0 and the metaverse. At the same time, we are dealing with sustained or rising income inequality, together with other factors like the aging population, historic inflation, a decline in real wages and global labor market competition. Deglobalization is gaining momentum, through reshoring and de-risking supply chains, intensified by rapidly changing geopolitics. The attack on democratic institutions and liberalism is real, as is growing corporate power and the intense concentration of economic control. The circular economy is an important ideal as is greater reliance on renewable energy sources. In Canada as elsewhere, a strong economy, one that is sustainable and inclusive to all in society, will be the driving factor to resource the needs across the other Futures.
At Waterloo, business education takes place outside-the-box as students develop their capacity through combining business skills and a given major. Waterloo is also renowned for the full range of entrepreneurship supports for students and faculty and from ideation to incubation and commercialization. We are well-positioned to reach bright Economic Futures.
What kind of Economic Futures will we imagine? How can we bring the constellation of inputs and assets at Waterloo to bear more strongly on what we can achieve? How do we adapt as an institution to the changing nature of work?
How will Waterloo evolve as an institution?
In this rapidly changing and complex world, deep and diverse collaborations are critical for success. Interdisciplinarity and collaborations across multiple Faculties are critical to both education and research, if we are to position ourselves optimally to contribute to addressing the future’s most complex challenges. We need to foster greater agility and creativity, working together in more coordinated ways across the institution. The post-pandemic transition provides us an opportunity to think about how and where we work in order to deliver the best possible experiences for our students and conduct outstanding scholarship and research.
New technologies and tools offer many opportunities to innovate how we deliver and augment programs yielding better experiences, more global accessibility and efficiency. Waterloo at 100 is our opportunity to examine these and other evolutions to become the institution our future needs. As with our founding, being unconventional, taking risks and innovating can propel us to achieve our greatest aspirations.
I cannot foresee a time when the University of Waterloo will be so hidebound by tradition that it cannot adjust itself…
Hagey’s quote remains true today. We are ready. Building on an extraordinary history and unique strengths, Waterloo is preparing for bold new futures.
Have your say, keep informed
We want to hear from you. Provide feedback through the button below. Over the course of this year we are holding a series of Waterloo at 100 consultations and conversations. Please stay tuned for updates about what we are hearing from students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry, community and government partners. A Waterloo at 100 draft paper will be shared for consultation and input in the Fall of this year.