TechBC, whose little-used full name was Technical University of British Columbia, was a special-purpose university in Surrey near Vancouver, Canada. It operated from 1999 until 2002, when it was closed by the BC government and its students and programs transferred to Simon Fraser University (SFU) to become the core of the SFU Surrey campus of SFU.
Although its initial charter suggested TechBC would cover a range of technology topics, early decisions led it to pursue specifically high-tech programme offerings, in keeping with the economic climate and vision of the times, especially in 1999. The institution pursued an "integrated learning" approach, combining heavy use of on-line learning with mixed face-to-face instruction.
All students underwent a common, intensive first-year programme called TechOne, which emphasized core artistic, technical, mathematical, and communication skills. Students completing TechOne could continue in any of TechBC's offerings.
Three programmes were offered at the university's September 1999 launch:
- Perhaps the most innovative, Interactive Arts focused on the use of computers and technology in the development of art, design, and "new media".
- The Information Technology program was conceived as a hybrid of traditional computer engineering and computer science programs.
- Management and Technology was designed to integrate traditional business curriculum with content specific to the management of high-technology industries and also the technical skills required for work in that field.
In its short life, TechBC managed to recruit some high-calibre talent. some very well-known in e-learning circles, but this wiki does not focus on personalities
The TechBC web site was at http://www.techbc.ca - after a sad history post closure as a downmarket index site this has now been reclaimed by some former students and is supposed to act as an archive.
Upon taking office in 2001, the new BC government's Advanced Education Minister initiated a review of TechBC's future while a colleague solicited proposals from other BC post-secondary institutions. Simon Fraser University was the first to express its interest, and ultimately was felt by government to be best able to provide the province with a politically acceptable solution. SFU agreed to accept all existing TechBC students, and to operate a Surrey campus on a permanent basis. It continued the Interactive Arts and Information Technology programmes on the Surrey site, while the Management and Technology students were streamed into its Faculty of Business at its main campus on the Burnaby Mountain.
Transition arrangements proceeded quickly, and TechBC officially closed at the end of July 2002, after three waves of layoffs. SFU ultimately hired most of the teaching staff, and some middle-level administrators and support people.
SFU Surrey opened in September 2002, initially with essentially the same campus and programmes as its predecessor.
Despite the pain along the way, it was with hindsight a successful solution which managed to preserve some of the essence of the original TechBC vision.
The wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TechBC is very useful. The wikipedia bots have flagged it as suspect but this is in my opinion to do more with the limited number of people who both can and will comment on the material.
In recent years less seems to be available. The key researcher on TechBC has moved on to other things and the site http://www.techbc.ca is minimal.
The main TechBC Research Project and Thesis: "Our Time Will Come Again": Tracing the Story of the Technical University of British Columbia (ISBN 0-9739620-1-1) is not available now on the web. Those few experts interested in e-learnng failures have found this fascinating reading - still relevant, for example to current thinking on UK HE start-ups. More information is around for persistent enquirers.
Critical success factors
(edited by Paul Bacsich and representing his personal view though based on study and conversations with those involved)
My own involvement with the analysis of TechBC goes back many years but the last phase began in 2004 when I was editing the E-University Compendium with Sara Frank Bristow and needed to get up to date information. In summer 2005 I was fortunate to meet several of those involved, and the archivists for the project, in Vancouver. Certainly the tale was much more complicated than it appears even on the wikipedia article.
There were many problems affecting TechBC but the ones most visible to me were:
- technological over-reach - the proposed VLE was very advanced - other studies show that the style of VLE is rarely of great interest to actual or potential students
- a limited market in the part of Vancouver where TecBC was situated - did the social mission and political imperatives get in the way of a viable business plan?
- personality clashes between senior staff in TechBC
- inadequate liaison between TechBC and the government level (even though the new government closed some e-learning organisations they did not close them all, and the manner of the closure/migration was different in each case)