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October 24, 2002 Changes in funding formula raise questions in Engineering



by Laurie Zack

The Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science is grappling with the latest changes in the Education Ministry’s funding formula, which severely devaluates funding to the entire computer science sector and changes the funding of masters and PhD graduate programs. It means that the Faculty will have less money to work with and must seriously re-evaluate how it

Dean Nabil Esmail remarked, “Overall, based on this year’s enrolment figures, a preliminary evaluation indicates a loss of $1.5 to $2 million or 7 per cent of funds to our Faculty. It is not something that we can ignore. It means reassessing our priorities and perhaps adjusting the way we deliver programs.”

The most recent changes provide more funding for undergraduate programs in engineering but cut back significantly the funding for undergraduate programs in computer science.

At the master’s level, funding in both engineering and computer science programs is reduced, but the latter quite drastically.

PhD candidates in engineering get increased funding, while those in computer science face funding cuts.

While recent enrolment figures show a continuing 30 to 40 per cent increase in the programs of Building, Engineering, Civil, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, there has been a drop in Computer Science enrolment. Overall, this may translate into a slight drop in enrolment in the Faculty after several years of phenomenal growth. This is another factor to consider in looking at planning and the allocation of resources.

Some of the questions being raised: Should diploma courses be directed at expanding, high-funded areas like software engineering rather than computer science? Should the emphasis be switched to more heavily funded PhD programs rather than master’s?

The budget squeeze also raises the issue of the total number of course offerings in the Faculty, the ratio of full-time to part-time faculty members and class size. Given the present full-time faculty contingent of 132, only 61 per cent of the total 710 classroom courses can be covered at the moment. It would take another 90 faculty members to cover them all. Given the current level of FTEs, the average number of students per full-time faculty member is just over 30:1. More full-time faculty would be needed to achieve a ratio of
24:1 to 20:1.

The price paid for maintaining small class size has been raised in discussions at Faculty Council. Smaller classes mean more classes requiring more part-time teachers. Small classes theoretically provide quality teaching, but they reduce the ration of teaching done by full-time professors. Likewise, offering a wide variety of electives and graduate courses means a high number of teaching assignments with too few full-time faculty members to teach them.

At an executive academic planning session in April, some broad guidelines were adopted to help deal with these issues. It was decided that a total FTE enrolment of not more than 4,100 and not less than 3,400 would be required to justify the target full-time faculty complement of 170 professors.

Lowering the ratio of part-time to full-time instruction was identified as a high academic priority for the Faculty. The ratio of part-time instructors to total classroom instruction was targeted at between 40 and 20 per cent with a bias towards the 20 per cent ratio.

The increase in the percentage of graduate FTEs from 21 to 22 per cent of all FTEs in the early ’90s to 31 per cent of the total now has had a positive effect on the academic life and budget of the Faculty. It was recommended that total graduate enrolment be maintained at the present level.

Finally, it was decided the Faculty should consolidate both the undergraduate electives and graduate courses offered, and balance individual faculty teaching loads taking into account classes with larger and smaller enrolment.

“Planning is vital,” Esmail concluded, “but we have to be ready to ask the difficult questions and look at doing things differently if we are going to adapt to this new reality.”