The Cost of Tuition Savings

A few weeks ago the Ontario government mandated a 10% tuition roll-back for domestic (i.e. Canadian and Permanent Resident) students.  I wrote a brief blog post about first impressions.  Although the government is on a deficit reduction path, this move was kind of strange since it doesn’t seem to directly save the government much, if any, money.

I guess the intention is to save the student and families some money, which is nice, but it comes at a cost.  That cost is now becoming clearer, according to internal news at Waterloo.  Basically, to deal with the cut in the 2019/2020 budget year (just about to start), there needs to be about a 3% cut in expenditures.  This is just the start for this year, as there is still an ongoing deficit in the following years to be dealt with.

A cut of 3% doesn’t seem like too much in the corporate world, where there is usually some profit margin and other reserves to work with.  Universities, being non-profit, have much less flexibility though.  So there are two main areas where cuts can take place within an academic department like Chemical or Mechanical Engineering…

Discretionary Spending:  this would be stuff like photocopying (already largely gone), refreshments at seminars and events for students, support for student travel to conferences and competitions, telephones for graduate student offices (already gone in my department), travel costs to bring in seminar speakers from other universities and countries, various other little things like these.  There is actually not a lot of money spent in these areas, as far as I am aware, so not a lot of savings are to be had.

Faculty and Staff Positions:  The vast majority of spending in an academic department is on salaries, something like 80%+ if I recall.  Therefore to hit a 3% cost savings likely requires something close to a 3% reduction in personnel.  The news article refers to this as a “return of open positions”, which essentially means permanently shrinking the personnel levels by not replacing people who leave or retire (unless new funding becomes available at some future point).

For the Faculty of Engineering, with 318 faculty members, this would mean dropping about 10 positions through attrition.  Roughly speaking, that is equivalent to 26 courses that can’t be mounted, as well as fewer available supervisors for student projects and graduate student research.  For an engineering program, you can’t stop teaching the core undergraduate courses, so the loss of courses would be primarily in electives and graduate courses.  The overall effect will probably not be immediately noticeable to most students, but eventually there may be fewer elective courses to pick from in upper years.  There are some mechanisms to try to reduce the impact on course availability, but we’ll see what happens next I guess.  According to the news item, the 2020/2021 budget year may require further cuts because of an ongoing structural deficit.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned above is research.  That’s because research isn’t directly funded from tuition, it comes from government and industry grants and contracts for specific projects.  So I wouldn’t expect any immediate effects on research activities and conference participation by graduate students and faculty.

Co-op student creates “bot-tender” on his first work term

An interesting story about a co-op student’s first work term. Getting that first job can be a struggle, but first-year students can be much more innovative than some people give them credit for.  


By Jillian Smith.

Caleb Dueck, a first work-term co-op student in mechatronics engineering, created not one, but two robot bartenders while working at Eascan Automation in Winnipeg. The pair of robots, one for pouring and one for serving, can pour a perfect pint in just a minute and a half.

Eascan Automation partnered with a local brewery where the “bot-tenders” made their first public appearance last month. Dueck spent hours programming the robots before the launch and said “I was so pleased to see how many people took videos and enjoyed using the robot. What I enjoyed most is when co-workers were impressed. It made me proud of the hard work I had put in.”

When searching for his first co-op job, Dueck reached out to many companies in Winnipeg before securing a job at Eascan Automation. “Though I had to wait longer than I would’ve liked for this job, I’m very glad that I did. I have learned so much about industrial automation, the different methods and components that are employed, and how to program collaborative robots and PLC’s,” said Dueck. Dueck shared that he feels happy to be a part of the University of Waterloo’s co-op program and to have such an impactful and innovative experience in his first work term.   Dueck’s contributions to his co-op employer don’t end with the robot bartenders. Dueck said, “My next large project is to make a cart that has all the necessary electronic components necessary to run tests on in-house projects. Today I’m off to help at a milk bottling company by programming a servo that will adjust the weight of milk put in.”

Dueck is looking to have a future career in product development, where he can continue to use the skills he has learned at Waterloo and on his co-op work term to help make more physical system designs.Learn more about Eascan Automation.

Source: Thursday, March 28, 2019 | Daily Bulletin | University of Waterloo

What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Life, Learning, and Creativity – John Spencer

A resting Greyhound.

The lessons listed in this blog link are good for students, and anyone for that matter.  Plus it features a greyhound, one of my two favourite dogs.

I wasn’t always a dog lover. I used to be a dog-liker and most of the time a dog-tolerator. I never understood why people would get bumper stickers with their favorite dog breed and I …

Source: What Our Rescue Dog Taught Me About Life, Learning, and Creativity – John Spencer

Ontario’s Refundable Fee Plan

The Ontario government recently announced a 10% tuition discount, as I mentioned earlier.  Along with that, they also announced that many fees will have to be made refundable for any student that doesn’t want to pay them.  The theory is that it will give “students more choice over the fees they pay” and save students money on top of their 10% discount.  It’s quite unusual for governments to start micro-managing university fees, many of which were set up to address local conditions and concerns with student support via a referendum.  There is an exception in the announcement however, and fees that “fund major, campus-wide services and facilities or fees which contribute to the health and safety of students are deemed mandatory”.  These mandatory fees include walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support.  So, I was interested in how this affects engineering students at Waterloo, and compiled a list of fees (to the best of my ability).  It’s complicated but here they are with some comments and observations. Continue reading

Watching the earth move | University of Waterloo


An interesting story from one of our Geological Engineering students…

Seismically monitoring an active volcano in Spain? That’s last thing I thought I was going to do when I first started at the University of Waterloo five years ago! Whenever the choice for a new opportunity crops up, I always ask which option scares me most. And that’s the one I choose. This has been the fundamental question I ask myself every term when choosing a co-op job, and it led me to my recent position as a seismology intern in Europe.

Source: Watching the earth move | Alumni | University of Waterloo

Engineering 101 Welcome

Engineering 101 is a type of orientation event held in July for new admitted students.  It’s an opportunity to come to campus and look around, meet some fellow students, get some tips for success, and get some errands done before the rush starts in September.  There is an online guide summarizing everything, which is good for those who can’t make the trip or who want to review some of the advice.

I was asked to make some opening remarks, so following is a version of what I said. Continue reading

Co-op students build first-of-its-kind machine in Canada | Engineering | University of Waterloo

An interesting article about some co-op student efforts in one of our research labs.  I learned about Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition, which is an interesting application of nanoscience and materials engineering.

With the help of seven University of Waterloo co-op students, Canada’s first Spatial Atomic Layer Deposition (SALD) system is up and running. At the celebratory ribbon cutting on May 10, 2018, project leader Professor Kevin Musselman said he couldn’t have done it without the co-op students who helped design and build the machine. “I was sitting at my desk the whole time. I don’t think I ever lifted a finger so it was entirely built by the students,” laughs Musselman.

Source: Co-op students build first-of-its-kind machine in Canada | Engineering | University of Waterloo