Allan Rock said the new $55-million centre for advanced photonics and environmental assessment is expected to attract students and researchers from around the world and be up and running by the end of 2013.
Speaking to a business audience at the Mayor's Breakfast Series, co-hosted by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Rock said the university's engineering and science graduate students will use the photonics research facility to study the application of light and experiment in areas such as information transmission, security systems, lasers and the detection of minute substances contained in human blood that may be an early sign of cancer.
Mr. Rock - a former Liberal cabinet minister who also served as Canada's ambassador to the United Nations - also touched on the school's plans to officially launch a new brain and mind institute in April, which will work with area hospitals to explore topics such as the connection between brain damage and mental illness. The university also intends to combine the existing Centre for International Policy Studies and the School of Public and International Affairs under a single umbrella, the School of Government.
None of these new initiatives are expected to significantly increase the size of the student body, which has expanded rapidly in recent years to the point that Mr. Rock said the university must start curtailing its growth.
"The campus is crowded, our buildings are used to capacity (and) many of our classes are too large," he said.
Each year, approximately 8,000 students graduate from the University of Ottawa, according to Mr. Rock. But over the last five years, the school has simultaneously admitted an average of 9,250 to 9,500 new students.
He said that will be limited to 8,500 in future years.
"It is going to create economic challenges for us to limit to 500 (additional new) students. The easy thing to do is throw it open and say, ‘Lets take 2,000 more because we need the money.' That's not fair to the students who are already on campus."
Separately, the university is finalizing a study examining its impact on the regional economy. One preliminary finding is that the University of Ottawa directly spends approximately $1.24 billion annually - or $30 million every 10 days - on goods and services.