A History of Student Activism at UBC

UBC students protest in support of English professors Brain Mayne and David Powell | Photo courtesy of UBC Archives.

UBC students protest in support of English professors Brain Mayne and David Powell in 1970| Photo courtesy of UBC Archives.


Blog post by Jane Young 

Before you tuck into our latest BarTalk stuffed with discussion on the recent fee increases to hit UBC, whet your appetite for activism with the following tidbits of past action from students and one president hungry for change. (I may have gone too far with the food metaphor.) (Pie.)

The Rainmakers

1965: 1,500 students marched in a downpour to the Bayshore Inn, the downtown site of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s annual meeting. Students received a hearing but did not present a coherent front, as some were against the fee increase, others wanted fees reduced, and yet others wanted fees abolished altogether. Undergraduate arts, science, and education tuition fees were set to increase from $372 to $428 (or $56) per student. It was the second year in a row to see hikes: the previous year it had been between $50 and $60.

UBC’s recent proposal to increase residence rates and international tuition fees has sparked intense debate and activism on campus. Listen to our latest podcast on the issue ( Recorded live at BARtalk) 

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The Leader

1985: UBC president George Pedersen resigned in protest to funding cuts from the provincial government. UBC saw their funding decrease by $12.6 million over two years, and in 1984 had raised tuition by 33% to avoid a deficit. Pedersen, who was also fed up with not being notified of the province’s funding for a given year before the university was required to plan its budget, felt he was unable to provide the leadership necessary for provincial institutions such as UBC.

The Rock Stars

1989: 1,000 students chose to forgo a cookie-tasting contest inside the SUB and instead came out to a rally against a tuition increase of $150, or 10%, per student. They held speeches and played The Beatles’ Revolution (the slow version) before marching to the office of president David Strangway, who maintained the increase was needed to balance the budget and save staff positions. Among students’ concerns was tuition would be roughly $1,600, yet students were still working at jobs that paid $4-5 per hour.

The Fixtures

1997: Ten students occupied president David Strangway’s office for an entire week to protest tuition hikes for international graduate students. The board of governors had approved a tuition raise from $2,500 to $7,000 for new students (the decision would not apply to currently enrolled students). Early in their occupation, the protesters were offered a meeting with acting president Dan Birch – as Strangway was, ironically enough, in Asia trying to attract foreign attention – in exchange for the protesters leaving the office. They refused. Other students showed their support by holding rallies and pitching tents on the lawn outside the office.

The Entrepreneurs

2002: Students occupied a corridor outside president Martha Piper’s office in response to tuition hikes that would see new undergraduate students pay an average of $500 more every year, and new graduate students face increases ranging from 33% to 321%. The 321% increase belonged to the MBA program: current students had paid $6,650, whereas new students would have to pay $28,000. RCMP and campus security removed a number of students from the building, but stopped when attendance reached its peak of 400 around mid-day. No major incidents were reported.


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