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A sign set in a fountain is seen at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday September 2, 2015.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The University of British Columbia has ended its seven-year fundraising campaign, surpassing its goal of raising $1.5-billion and doubling the number of alumni it had set out to reach.

The news comes as the university is embarking on a search for a new president this fall after the controversial resignation of former president Arvind Gupta this summer.

Interim president Martha Piper says the $1.62-billion final tally shows that UBC is supported by donors and alumni.

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"It's clearly a cause for celebration, but the main celebration is one of gratitude. This is not easy for people. There are many deserving causes. For people to step up and believe in a university, and believe in the University of British Columbia, is quite remarkable," Dr. Piper said.

The campaign reached its goal gradually, starting out with $760-million in 2011, when the campaign officially launched. By this past February it was 97 per cent of the way toward the original $1.5-billion goal.

It is the second largest amount ever raised by a Canadian university. The University of Toronto is aiming at $2-billion in its "Boundless" campaign, and now sits at approximately $1.8-billion.

Private funds are accounting for a larger share of university budgets, both here and in the United States. This month, for example, Texas A&M University, a public institution, announced it was looking to raise $4-billion. Stanford and Harvard have been battling for top fundraising schools with over $1-billion each per year.

Donor fatigue is always a risk, Dr. Piper acknowledged.

"We have to have appropriate uses of the money. The main thing is sustaining people's engagement in the university. Universities are recognizing they have to stay in touch with alumni, that's a better goal than the financial goal. Clearly we are going to see campaigns coming in at higher and higher numbers," Dr. Piper said.

The funds are going to a variety of areas. Academics, research and infrastructure are receiving about 30 per cent each, with 10 per cent destined for student aid.

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Among the most high-profile gifts was $5-million from arts philanthropist Michael Audain for the Audain Art Centre, and $30-million from businessman and philanthropist Peter Allard for the law school, which now bears his name.

Students also raised $80-million through a levy that went toward building a new student centre – the Nest – which is home to a food court, student clubs and multiple studio and meeting spaces.

Perhaps the most unexpected gift was from Judith Jardine, who left $6.4-million to the university's Faculty of Medicine. The UBC alumni was a private and little-known heiress in Vancouver who donated most of her money, the last of a family fortune, to charity.

All the money that was raised is going toward what Dr. Piper called "an added level of excellence.

"We are not raising money to keep the lights on, or put people in classrooms… I don't think this in any way takes away the responsiblity of government to provide operating expenses, or for students to pay the appropriate tuition levels," she said.

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