Collaboration key for Royal Roads University’s new president
From tutoring fellow university students to acting as BC’s deputy minister of advanced education, the transformative power of education has been a recurring theme in Philip Steenkamp’s life.
He started his career in education in Durban, South Africa, tutoring mature students at the University of Natal, where he completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons).
“These students were working and taking classes part time and just needed some extra support,” says Steenkamp. “In most instances they were also raising families and yet they found the time to come back to school.”
While completing a Master of Arts in History at Queen’s University, where he would also earn his PhD, Steenkamp tutored incarcerated students in several of Kingston’s federal institutions.
“I met some of the most incredible people under those circumstances—incredibly bright and curious and dedicated,” he says.
“No matter where you are in life or what hand life has dealt you, that deep appreciation for the power and the importance of education has always stuck with me.”
Steenkamp went on to hold roles in multiple provincial ministries in BC and Ontario. As deputy minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Steenkamp helped propel forward the first modern-day treaty in BC. The historic Nisga'a treaty, which came into effect in 2000, protects the Nisga'a’s right to self-governance while ensuring authority over land and wildlife resources. As BC’s former deputy minister of advanced education, Steenkamp provided oversight for post-secondary institutions across the province.
He joins Royal Roads University from the University of British Columbia, where he served as vice-president, external relations from 2015 to 2018. He is also a past vice-president, external relations at Simon Fraser University and was president and chief executive officer of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Secretariat. In this role, Steenkamp worked with members of the Four Host Nations, who were given full and unprecedented recognition as a level of government by the International Olympic Committee.
“Nothing would have been possible without significant cooperation among the different levels of government,” he says. “I am a strong believer in collaboration.”
With more than two decades of senior leadership experience in the post-secondary and public sectors, Steenkamp says it’s a privilege to lead the university he has long admired.
Steenkamp assumed Royal Roads University’s top job Jan. 2. He is the university’s fourth president and vice-chancellor, succeeding Dr. Allan Cahoon, who has led Royal Roads since 2007.
“I was always intrigued by Royal Roads’ model,” Steenkamp says, referring to its demand-driven and applied learning approach.
He says what attracted him to the institution really came down to Royal Roads’ community of scholars and learners.
“Whether they are working in diplomacy or working in the tech sector or in the environmental sector, to be able to draw on that kind of talent and expertise from people who are still very current and working in their fields is extraordinary,” he says.
That kind of flexible, real-world education is essential in today’s rapidly evolving labour market, he says.
The impact of new technologies on the labour market means mid-career professionals increasingly have to reinvent themselves to remain competitive in a changing labour landscape.
Artificial intelligence is not only replacing “blue collar” jobs such as those in the manufacturing or construction industries but also “white collar” administrative jobs, he says, adding that Royal Roads is well positioned to provide students with the skills they need to thrive in this emerging economy.
“Royal Roads was cutting edge when it launched and it has evolved and it has remained incredibly responsive to societal needs. I really do think Royal Roads is the university of the future.”
The evolution of digital technologies is a chance to reflect on what skills people really need, and how to add value to information and knowledge that is freely available online, he says.
“What are we able to equip people with in order to thrive in this new environment? There are a lot of new opportunities in this economy but you also have to figure out how you manage the challenges in this period of disruption.”
Given the challenges and opportunities ahead, Steenkamp says collaboration—with the university community, West Shore community, government and community stakeholders, and Indigenous communities—is essential.
“There’s no option of standing still. The institution and the community has to keep moving in order to respond to all these issues.”
“I’ve always seen the best results when you’re truly collaborative,” he says. “I really want to sit down with people, hear their ideas, and work with them jointly to formulate a vision for the university.”