For decades, Martha Piper immersed herself in knowledge, specialising in research on children and brain damage. In the past eight years, however, the epidemiologist has changed direction, wanting to have an impact on a much wider scale. Since being appointed president of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1997, she has played a key role in steering the development of the university, which is well-known to students in various parts of the world. In Hong Kong alone it has more than 3,000 alumni. At the same time she has remained committed to a campaign to enhance the research environment in Canada. Back in the mid-90s, when she was teaching and serving as vice-president (research) at the University of Alberta, she was a key part of a lobbying force comprising academics for increased research funding. Their efforts paid off not too long after, when the Canadian economy showed signs of improvement and the federal government decided to launch new initiatives to lure back prominent Canadian scholars scattered overseas, increase the number of research graduate students and boost investment in university research. 'About C$8 billion ($49.5 billion) worth of new research infrastructure was being built across Canada, a lot of that in UBC,' Dr Piper said. She has high expectations for her own university. In its recently released Trek 2010 development plan, UBC spelled out its vision to be one of the world's leading universities, and to nurture 'exceptional global citizens'. One way to achieve that is the building of a university town in its downtown Vancouver campus, spread across 400 hectacres on a piece of land granted by the Canadian government in 1908. The town is expected to accommodate and provide leisure facilities for 20,000 people over the next 15 years. 'To have a great university you need to have a great community. If you think about Oxford, Cambridge, Berkeley, you have towns that have integrated into the university,' Dr Piper said, stressing the importance of raising the proportion of UBC's foreign students from 10 per cent now to 15 per cent, and of furthering academic and student exchanges. Increasing academic ties with Asia was also seen as the key to the vision of nurturing global citizens. 'You cannot become global citizens in today's world without knowing about Asia, culturally, linguistically, socially and politically,' she said. Dr Piper and a number of UBC faculty deans were in Hong Kong recently for the opening of the university's Asia-Pacific office here, which will serve as a bridge between the institution and this region. UBC has student exchange agreements with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the University of Science and Technology and the University of Hong Kong, the latter a member of the international consortium Universitas 21 (U21). During her trip to China before coming to Hong Kong, Dr Piper signed the Shanghai Protocol at Fudan University, which will allow for increased student mobility between U21 institutions. UBC will co-ordinate the mobility activity. She said she was optimistic UBC's new campus - due to open in September - in the region of Okanagan, a four-hour drive from Vancouver, would attract foreign students who wanted a smaller, largely residential environment. Focusing on undergraduate programmes in areas including arts, sciences, and environmental sustainability, the campus was expected to have 7,500 students and an international faculty of 240 within five years.