Donald Roy, President of the University of Fredericton, has been an innovator his entire life. His career has been widespread and varied; spanning 20 years of founding companies in real estate, business, construction, land development, and restaurant industries, and also working in the transportation industry.
While on a flight during a business trip, Don read an advertisement for an Executive MBA program and immediately knew that it was something he wanted to pursue. After some research, he found a program that he thought would suit his needs and embarked on the journey to achieve his degree. Don chose to complete his Executive MBA through the traditional in-class model, largely because this was the only option available at the time.
“I spent the next two years as a single parent, a very active businessman, going to school, and spending about 20 hours per week studying. It was absolutely grueling, because every second Friday and Saturday, I would spend the day and the evening in a classroom. To do that as an entrepreneur and as a father was very difficult to manage.”
His graduation from the program coincided with the launch of the Degree Granting Act by the Province of New Brunswick, an innovative new piece of legislation that allowed private universities to operate in New Brunswick. Fresh off the challenging experience of completing an in-class Executive MBA, Don was convinced that there had to be a more flexible and accessible way to deliver education, and the concept for UFred began to form:
“The concept that you could actually get an equivalent degree and all the benefits that come with an MBA, that you could get that without the disruption in your life, it was so appealing to me, and I thought, this absolutely has to happen.”
Raising the capital required to found what would become the University of Fredericton was not an easy task. Don had a vision, but finding investors that understood and believed in his vision initially proved a challenge:
“I tried to raise capital in New Brunswick because it would be a New Brunswick university and was unsuccessful. I then ventured across Canada but was still unsuccessful. I finally went abroad, and there, I did receive offers. It was a very interesting proposal to a number of people. So, I got the opportunity to discuss with a number of investors the possibilities, what we could create, and finally found an investor that was very much aligned to our vision and values.”
The investor was Norwegian executive, Kjetil Sandermoen, who is passionate about evolving education and its reach. He remains involved with UFred to this day, serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors.
From the beginning, it was important that UFred be predicated on a different notion than other educational alternatives already available in the Canadian post-secondary landscape.
“I think the fundamental difference, from my perception, is that we view our students as clients, and as such, we don’t tell them what they need; we listen to what they need,” said Don. “They deserve the best customer service, they deserve the best product line, and I think that’s very different from viewing a student as a traditional student, where an institution tells them what they need.”
This type of thinking led to the development of programs that are applied by nature, and to support services that empower student success. Over the past decade, programs have steadily continued to grow:
“Initially, we really wanted to prove that you could have an online degree that was equivalent to the degree that was granted in a traditional institution. That was the goal in creating the content and technology… given our students feedback over the years, I think that we actually produced a degree that I believe to be superior to many bricks and mortar institutions.”
This achievement comes from strong academics and exceptional faculty but is also partly owing to the level of collaboration and interaction inherent in the classes offered at UFred. This interaction allows for peer-to-peer learning with professionals across Canada and around the world. Collaboration, according to Don, has led to one of the biggest (and happiest) surprises of UFred’s journey so far:
“The biggest surprise out of this was that other things formed online; the relationships, the network, the friendships. I had the pleasure of being at a few different meet-and-greet events where we got to watch students who had worked together collaboratively for years, and they meet for the first time, but they are meeting as best friends and, this was a big surprise to me, that these things could actually develop online. And, we’re hearing that many of the relationships continue on as alumni.”
After a decade of steady growth, one of Don’s proudest accomplishments to date was UFred’s most recent review from the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, which found the University to be entirely compliant. Moving forward, he sees the University “really pushing the boundaries of advanced learning technologies.”
“We want to create something that is even more engaging than it is right now and more streamlined, the transfer of knowledge being at the maximum possible, creating not only programs using existing technology, but also ones that are even more scalable. The Globe is very hungry for quality educational programs, but, they need to be accessible, and they need to be affordable.”
When asked what has made Don proudest about being a member of the UFred team, he said:
“Well, I think the answer is right in the question, I’m very proud to be a member of the UFred team. I do not know of anyone that is not absolutely devoted, that it’s not their cause, as much as a job. We’re creating something that did not exist before and, we all can feel ownership for that. There is no manual on how to build an online university, and we’re doing that, and it is due to every person that’s on this team.”