Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.3

October 9, 2003


Growing pains in Engineering and Computer Science graduate education

by Laurie Zack

In 1990, there were 194 students in the PhD program. By 2002, enrolment had grown to 284. In 1990, there were 356 master’s students, but by 2002, there were 1,575.

Graduate student enrolment now makes up 40 per cent of the student cohort in the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. These are heady numbers, as graduate students continue to flock to the Faculty. However, this phenomenal expansion brings its own set of challenges.

Maintaining quality and assuring proper supervision of so many students requires stringent guidelines and clear administrative processes. The Faculty is working with the office of the Dean of Graduate Studies to look at these processes.

Supervising so many graduate students also takes its toll on faculty members.

“We’ve gone from 500 to 1,200 students to supervise in only three years,” said Dean Nabil Esmail at a recent Faculty Council meeting. “To supervise so many students with only 120 faculty members is quite a challenge. We are stretched to the limit.”

Several possible solutions are being considered. One would be to hire more part-time faculty members. However, maintaining a proper ratio of part-time to full-time faculty is a key strategic goal. A more promising option would to closely examine graduate course offerings, limiting electives and options, and minimizing duplication.

“We have to look seriously at our course offerings, because reducing the teaching and supervisory load on our faculty members is necessary if we are to maintain our high standards.” Dean Esmail said.

The issue of resource needs was also raised in relation to the Faculty’s co-op program. As was pointed out by student representative Jacelyn Daigle, herself a co-op student, many students come to Concordia because of the co-op program.

However, with only 200 to 250 co-op students in the program at the moment, the program requires a major resource commitment from the Faculty, including co-op directors in each department. Employers are also making demands on curriculum that require evaluation and discussion. It adds to the supervisory load on faculty.

Esmail compared the Concordia situation to that of the École du technologie supérieur (UQAM), where there are 1,400 co-op students. He asked whether the Concordia program is geared too much to our top students.

In a sense, co-op in Engineering and Computer Science has become like an honours program, he reflected. If we are going to expend the resources we should to make the program work, we should have many more co-op students to warrant such an investment. The dean would like to look at ways to expand the program to make it worth the effort.

Faculty council will revisit the issue of teaching load and the supervision of graduate students after more discussion at the department level.