Surrounded by woods and perched on top of a hill overlooking the sea, Vancouver Island University’s intimate environment certainly bespeaks its motto: Matter Here. The many changes over the years have likewise reflected the importance of students in this post-secondary institution. Its many growth spurts have resulted from a number of official recommendations and legislation changes aimed at making education more accessible to a wider range of people, especially those in smaller and more rural areas.
It all began in 1936 when the Dominion-Provincial Youth Training Centre founded the Nanaimo Vocational Training School. Initially, the school mostly taught automotive mechanics and operated as an army trade school during World War II. The number of men overseas, killed, or injured in the war meant that jobs that were traditionally held by men needed to be done by women, and so the school offered women’s mechanics classes. During its first year, the college carried out classes in the old Nanaimo Hospital. These classes were filled by a mere 638 students, and the college employed only a few dozen faculty and staff.
Big changes came in 1962, when Dr. John MacDonald published a report entitled “Higher Education in British Columbia and A Plan for the Future.” This report, later known as the MacDonald Report, recommended that new universities and community colleges be created in densely populated parts of the province to give people in remote regions greater access to post-secondary education. Malaspina College was proclaimed in 1968, and classes began in the fall of 1969. In 1971, the college merged with the Nanaimo Vocational Training School. That same year, the construction began for a new permanent campus (the current VIU campus), which was completed in 1976.
Malaspina College took its name from Captain Alessandro Malaspina, a Spanish naval officer originally hailing from Tuscany. Malaspina had come to British Columbia as an explorer and had traversed Vancouver Island.
In the beginning, the college offered trade programs and the first two years of university degrees, after which students would transfer to a bigger institution. Even in the early days, courses were offered at the satellite campuses in Duncan, Parksville, and Powell River.
Bigger changes came in 1988, when the Provincial Access Committee, under the Access for All initiative, recommended that more university degree programs be expanded. Under this initiative, the University of Northern BC was created, and in 1989 new legislation changed five BC colleges into “university colleges.” These colleges included Cariboo, Okanagan, Fraser Valley, Kwantlen, and Malaspina. At first, these institutions partnered with universities, meaning that students took classes at Malaspina but received a degree from the University of Victoria.
New legislation in 1995 allowed the university college to take steps to issue its own independent baccalaureate degrees. Then in 2002, the BC government passed a bill enabling university colleges to develop and offer some applied master’s degrees and colleges to develop applied undergraduate degrees. In 2008, another amendment to the University Act allowed Malaspina to become a full university. Considerably grown from early days, today VIU has about 14,400 students.