The University of Prince Edward Island has a long-standing tradition of academic excellence dating back to the early 19th century, with roots in its founding institutions, Prince of Wales College (PWC) and St. Dunstan’s University (SDU). UPEI esteems this heritage and proudly embodies historic symbols of SDU and PWC in positions of honour within the shield that anchors the University’s official coat of arms, and flag.

The commitment to education as a primary factor in PEI’s development can be traced to debates of the colony’s earliest legislative council. A particular champion was Lieutenant-Governor Edmund Fanning (1786–1805). Fanning actively promoted the view that education was central to the colony’s progress, and that it should be seen as a priority, along with the enhancement of agriculture, fisheries, commerce, and population growth. In 1804, he personally donated the land on which PWC was to stand “for the purpose of laying the foundation of a College thereon.” Kent College, later to become Prince of Wales College, opened in 1820. A related predecessor institution, Central Academy, received a Royal Charter in 1834. In 1860 the Colleges were renamed for the Prince of Wales in honour of the visit of the future King Edward VII.

The predecessor of St. Dunstan’s University, St. Andrew’s College, was founded in 1831 under the leadership of Bishop Angus MacEachern. St. Dunstan’s College was established in 1855 by Bishop Bernard MacDonald on a large farming property which today is surrounded by the expanding city of Charlottetown. This property, including the historic Main Building constructed in 1854, serves as the UPEI campus. The campus is well-known for its respectfully maintained historic architecture, complementary modern structures, and for its red-brick, well-manicured appearance.

In 1969, the University of Prince Edward Island welcomed its first students, following the amalgamation of Prince of Wales College and St. Dunstan's University.

The University’s campus is a reflection of the character of UPEI on many levels—a complementary blend of old and new, of tradition and innovation. Original SDU buildings have been renovated tastefully to retain integrity of design while meeting modern standards, and many buildings have been integrated into the campus, including the Central Utility Building (1973), Blanchard Hall (1973), the Robertson Library (1975), the Atlantic Veterinary College (1986), the Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre (1990), the Wanda Wyatt Dining Hall (1990), the K.C. Irving Chemistry Centre (1997), the W. A. Murphy Student Centre (2002), Bill and Denise Andrew Hall (2006), the School of Business Administration and Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship (2008), the Health Sciences Building (2012), and the School of Sustainable Design Engineering (2016).

The depth of UPEI’s academic heritage is reflected not only in the buildings and scholarships named in honour of education pioneers and benefactors, but also in personal, day-to-day connections. Graduates of SDU and PWC teach at UPEI, children of current and former faculty and staff attend the University, and many families proudly report multi-generational alumni connections to the institution. The University has a long history of welcoming international students and many graduates remain actively engaged with UPEI as part of the local community or networked through professional and collegial world-wide relationships. Alumni of UPEI, SDU, and PWC—now numbering almost 30,000—whether in Prince Edward Island, elsewhere in Canada, or abroad—maintain a close sense of connection with their University.

UPEI has seen important developments in its programming over the past 35 years. Bachelors’ programs, in many cases including ‘honours’ options, are available in Arts, Science, Business Administration, Education, and Nursing. Co-op programs have been established in Business Administration, Computer Science, Physics, and Dietetics. One new faculty, Veterinary Medicine, and two schools, Business Administration and Nursing, were added as the University expanded. Master and doctoral degree programs were first introduced through the Atlantic Veterinary College and, beginning in 1999, a Master of Science degree was offered through the Faculty of Science. In that same year the first students were admitted to the University’s new Master of Education program. Since then, several programs have been added: Master of Arts in 2003; Master of Applied Health Services Research in 2004; Bachelor of Integrated Studies and Master of Business Administration in 2008; Bachelor of Business Studies and PhD in Educational Studies in 2009; Bachelor of Wildlife Conservation, Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology, and Master of Nursing in 2010. Many new programs have been added since that date. 

Underlying the University’s programs and activities is a commitment to rigorous study and inquiry, belief in the value of knowledge, lifelong capacity-building, and the development of the whole person—along with a sense of community at UPEI and in its local, regional, national, and international contexts. Faculty in all disciplines produce research and scholarly works of national and international calibre, while continuing to give priority to UPEI’s well-earned reputation for high-quality teaching characterized by individual attention.