Philanthropist donates $30M to SAIT for advanced technology school

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology has received the biggest private donation in its 103-year history, and it's going toward advancing students' technology skills.

David Bissett, a retired Calgary businessman, donated $30 million to SAIT to support the development of a school for advanced technology.

When asked why, Bissett says that at 80 years old, there isn't much time for him to decide how to make his legacy. 

"You're looking for something to do before you go and what is the real thing that's happening out there in the world?" asked Bissett. "An evolution from commodity-based economy here in Alberta to a consumer-based service industry [which] involves a lot of technology. 

The philanthropist says he sees the importance of technology in every field, every day.

"Whether it is investment management, oil and gas or agriculture, the advances in technology are breathtaking," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"If we are not fully competitive in the global economy, we are doomed to be a nation falling behind and will not be able to afford the standard of living and social services we have enjoyed."

New tech school

David Ross, SAIT's president, called the donation "transformative," adding it will support the development of a new school and new programs.

"There is going to be a school for advanced technology opened very soon. That is what the money is earmarked for," he said. "Our goal is to have all SAIT students exposed to what this school is going to offer in terms of advancing their digital technology skills." 

Ross says the donation will allow SAIT to meet the new challenges presented by digital disruption head-on.

Mike Symington/CBC

The founder of Bissett & Associates Investment Management Ltd. has a long history of philanthropic support.

In 2014, he donated $5 million to SAIT, establishing the Bissett bursary program, which provides full tuition annually to high school graduates in financial need.

"I see it as their key to our future prosperity. There's no question that if we're behind the curve in technology, we're behind the curve in the world," he said.