Northeastern launches campus in Vancouver

The future location of the Northeastern Vancouver campus in the 400 West Georgia tower, a creative economy workspace developed in partnership by Allied and Westbank. Rendering courtesy of Westbank

By Ian Thomsen

News at Northeastern

Northeastern is adding a campus in Vancouver to the university’s global network that will fill a demand for computer scientists on Canada’s west coast in its burgeoning high-tech industry. The Vancouver campus will offer degree programs to prepare students for careers in the age of artificial intelligence, including pathways that enable those with no high-tech background to pursue computing careers.

The Vancouver campus will be part of Northeastern’s global university system, which includes campuses in Boston, Seattle, the Bay Area, Charlotte, North Carolina, Toronto, and London.

“We are excited to build this partnership with Vancouver, a great global city whose strengths and goals align so closely with ours,” said Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun. “Vancouver and Northeastern are shaping the technology-driven economy that is human-centered, giving learners and innovators the right opportunities for continuous reinvention.”

Northeastern’s arrival in British Columbia comes as government and industry leaders join with employees to grapple with the new realities of the automation age. More than 85 percent of Canadians view the emergence of artificial intelligence as a threat to jobs over the next decade, according to a recent poll conducted by Northeastern and Gallup.

A view of downtown, Vancouver. Photo by iStock

“There’s a need for computer scientists here, and it’s explicit,” says Steve Eccles, the regional chief executive officer and dean of the Vancouver campus. “We’re tightly aligned with that need. Because we’re driven by experiential learning, we’ll be putting graduates into those high technology jobs who are going to be extremely well prepared and road-tested through co-op.”

The 2018 British Columbia Technology Report Card, published by a nonprofit trade association that promotes the high-tech industry in British Columbia, called attention to a shortfall of high-tech talent coming out of the province’s post-secondary system. Among Canadian provinces, B.C. has one of the lowest percentages of master’s graduates with technical degrees, and those numbers have been declining in recent years.

The Vancouver campus will play an important role in meeting the demand for talent by recruiting and educating students from a variety of academic backgrounds. In addition to the master’s of computer science, available in the spring of 2020, the new campus will also offer the  Align, a master’s in computer science beginning in the fall of 2020,  for people who did not study in the computing field as undergraduates. Align, an initiative at the Khoury College of Computer Sciences since 2013, has led to careers for 95 percent of its graduates at leading tech firms including Dell, Facebook and Microsoft.

“Align drives diversity in computer science,” says Eccles. “On the West Coast, there’s been much dialogue around the need for diversity in the tech industry. Align directly responds to a diversity challenge that industry has stated it needs to solve, and that government in B.C. is very keen on supporting.”

The British Columbia government has conferred its Education Quality Assurance on the Vancouver campus, which will allow it to accept international students, who will be granted the work permit necessary to do their co-op in Canadian companies.

“This will be particularly attractive to international students who are looking to remain in Canada and work here, because they’ll get to integrate the professional and the classroom experience and have a strong pathway to a career,” Eccles says.

Vancouver business leaders like Alexandra Greenhill, founder of the digital health platform Careteam, are counting on Northeastern to infuse B.C.’s tech industry with new talent and points of view.

“Northeastern’s unique offering is a flexible and real-life focused solution that is so needed to address the talent gap as well as the diversity gap in technology,” says Greenhill, who is chief executive officer and chief medical officer at Careteam. The university’s Align programs will “directly support the core of the talent shortage we are experiencing as we are scaling B.C. businesses to take advantage of global opportunities.

“This confirms that the B.C. tech ecosystem is attracting world-class leading organizations,” adds Greenhill, “and also strengthens our innovative companies’ ability to compete on the global stage.”

In February, Northeastern finalized a partnership with the New College of the Humanities, a private college in central London, to create new academic and research opportunities at both institutions. Now known as NCH at Northeastern, the college will spur the development of new academic programs, including those that offer a fast track to earning master’s degrees and certificates that allow learners to acquire skills and knowledge in specific areas that they value.

The Vancouver campus will collaborate with the campus in Toronto to develop a base of operations across Canada. The newest of the university’s locations will also join with neighboring campuses in Seattle and San Francisco/Silicon Valley as a regional high-tech network that contributes to the nascent Cascadia Innovation Corridor, which aims to develop a global innovation ecosystem in the Pacific Northwest.

Programs of study at Northeastern’s Vancouver campus will include master’s degrees in project management and information systems, pending regulatory approvals. Programs in artificial intelligence, data science, cybersecurity, and information design and visualization are being considered, based on the strong demand in British Columbia.

Northeastern’s approach to preparing students to thrive in the age of artificial intelligence emphasizes human skills in the form of a curriculum called humanics, which purposefully integrates three literacies—understanding technology, understanding data, and understanding what it means to be human. It is at the heart of the university’s strategic plan, Northeastern 2025—a concept of lifelong and experiential learning that will liberate students from outdated career models and give them the opportunity to prosper over the course of their lives.

Eccles brings business experience to his administration as a former vice president at HSBC, an international banking and financial services holding company. Before he joined Northeastern in 2018, Eccles was dean of the School of Computing and Academic Studies at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Bethany Edmunds, associate dean and lead computer science faculty at the Vancouver campus, joins Eccles in bringing a number of contacts with local industry and government. She was recently named one of the Most Influential Women in STEM, received a YWCA Women of Distinction award, and Business in Vancouver’s Forty Under 40 in 2018, when she was associate dean at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Edmunds has a doctorate in computer science with a specialization in machine learning.

The new campus is based in temporary headquarters at 333 Seymour St. in Vancouver. In 2021, the university will move into a downtown tower currently under construction at 400 West Georgia St. Designed by Westbank, the 24-story office tower comprises several clusters of four-storey steel-framed cubes arranged around a central core.

“It’s going to be the premium new tower in Vancouver and supports our signature entry into the community,” says Eccles, who hails from Liverpool in the U.K. and has lived in British Columbia for 22 years. “Vancouver is a highly attractive place for people who want to enjoy not just the quality of life, but also to contribute to a fast-growing global hub driven by tech with a real community focus.”

(Reprinted with permission from News at Northeastern.)