CIGI opens 114,000 sq. foot campus in Waterloo, featuring Balsillie School

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) received quite the gift as it celebrated its tenth birthday over the weekend.

While commemorating the ten-year anniversary of the internationally known think-tank on global governance, CIGI was also able to unveil its brand new 114,000 square foot campus, located in Uptown Waterloo, right beside CIGI’s offices in the restored Seagram Distillery.

The $66-million facility will house the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA), which is a graduate studies institution formed through a partnership between CIGI, the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

“We’re thrilled because we’ve been thinking about this for years,” said Fred Kuntz, vice president of public affairs for CIGI. “This plan has been in the works for half a decade practically …. The building started as something about 35,000 feet just along Erb, and what emerged was something around four times that size with other programs added in, so it’s really the culmination of a long-term dream.”

CIGI itself was founded in 2001 by Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie as a think-tank, designed to better equip the world’s policy makers on issues of global governance. It started with a grant from Balsillie, and contributions from the federal and provincial governments, and now CIGI employs 50 permanent staff and about 25 research fellows.

In 2007, CIGI formed the first partnership of its kind when it teamed with UW and Laurier to form the BSIA. The partnership offers PhD program in global governance — a joint initiative between Laurier and UW — as well as a master’s degree in international public policy (MIPP) from WLU and master of arts in global governance from UW.

“We are educating the next generation of policy makers,” said Kuntz. “The current generation haven’t done such a great job and you look at all the different things around the world, whether it’s the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, there aren’t very good mechanisms for global sustainability… Right now we lurch from crisis to crisis; we need much better leadership.”

Currently there are 67 students enrolled in the BSIA of which 33 are in the joint PhD program, 14 in Laurier’s MIPP program and 20 in UW’s master’s of global governance. And the institutions have enjoyed the benefits of the partnership.

“This is the only academic partnership that also includes a not for profit think-tank on international governance,” said Laurier’s vice president: academic and provost Deb MacLatchy. “The major benefit has been our ability to attract leading scholars in different areas, political science, economics, et cetera. But also to develop a master’s program as well as a PhD program… It really allows Laurier to be at the forefront of studying some of the most pressing social issues that we have.”

While the CIGI campus was under construction —which started in the summer of 2009 — the BSIA took place in classrooms on the campuses of both WLU and UW. But now armed with a brand new facility, Kuntz sees a great opportunity for growth.

“Certainly there’s capacity to grow in numbers,” he said. “But I think what having a marvelous facility does, is attract talent. You’d be hard pressed to find a better graduate school facility than this one that’s just been built.”

MacLatchy also sees an opportunity for growth at the BSIA, particularly when it comes to expanding into undergraduate programs.

“With the master’s of international public policy, students get to spend some time in Ottawa to understand how our government system works,” she said. “We’d like to expand that into the undergraduate programs, to give those same experiences to undergraduate students.”

However, the most immediate source of expansion for the institution will likely be the addition of an international law program, which would add an additional Ontario law school to the partnership.

According to Kuntz, the long-rumoured addition of the international law program is very close to being complete, however, due to the upcoming provincial election, very little details can be released.

“Pick your metaphor: We’re on the threshold, we’re on the cusp, we’re on the edge, we’re on the very rim of a great announcement about a new international law program,” he said.

After the new campus was unveiled to the public on the weekend and over 2,000 people visited the site for free tours, faculty members have already begun to move in and classes will begin on Oct. 1.