Open Text, U of Waterloo open centre for arts, IT

The University of Waterloo has been promised $30 million in funding from government and the private sector for a think tank in Stratford, Ont. intended to prepare students for jobs that combine creativity and content management.

The Stratford Institute, located 30 km away from the school well known for its cooperative education and engineering programs, will include the Open Text Centre for Digital Media Research, said the university’s president, David Johnston.

Open Text Corp., which based in Waterloo, has committed $10 million towards the centre, which will include academic programs that combine business, digital media and technology. Another $10 million will come from the province, while $10 million plus land will be given by the city of Stratford said Ken Coates, the University of Waterloo’s dean of arts.

Coates added the school has asked the federal department of industry for money, but an Industry Canada spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on the status of funding requests and would not want to speculate on the outcome.”

Open Text plans to second some of its executives to the centre and provide paid internships for University of Waterloo students.

“We’re still in formative stages in how we will structure and put all of those various forms of contribution together,” said Bill Forquer, Open Text’s executive vice-president, enterprise content management business development.

“Maybe it would make sense for one of our developers to be there for a period of time and lead a team to work on that problem jointly with some university folks,” Forquer said, adding Open Text is interested in the project because of its focus on Web 2.0 technologies.

Earlier this month, Open Text announced its Web 2.0 strategywith the first product, Livelink Enterprise Content Management Extended Collaboration, due to ship in May. The software is designed to let employees create groups, wikis, blogs, forums and other collaboration sites on the public Internet and their corporate intranets.

“The whole YouTube, Facebook, Myspace kind of world – how do you push the frontier of these technologies and in particular make viable companies that we can use to expand this industry in Canada?” Coates said.

He added the centre will have two academic programs, which will start admitting students in September, 2009. The digital media program would be designed to combine technology, culture and content, and the other program would focus on business.

“This is not designed to be a computer science research initiative,” Coates said, because the university already has programs in math, engineering and computer science at its main campus. “We’re backing up and saying to folks, ‘Listen, these technologies are out there. Let’s grab on to them and figure out how to use them effectively, how to understand their impact and work with them in the most creative way possible.’”

Coates predicts the academic programs will have a total of 500 undergraduate students and up to 100 graduate students.

“It’s designed to be sort of an intensive, team-based two-year program that draws together people from a variety of backgrounds,” Coates said. “We hope that we’ll get students out of an engineering background, a performing arts background, social science, humanities, et cetera and bring them altogether in that kind of a setting.”

The location in the city of Stratford, with its theatres is a major influence on the academic focus.

“You marry creativity of Stratford with the technology of the University of Waterloo and Waterloo Region and it’s a very attractive way of bringing content and carriage together,” Johnston said. “The beauty of Stratford is it’s the centre of Shakespearean theatre activity in Canada, one of world’s outstanding theatre centres with hundreds of people involved in, for example, set design and costumes.”

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