If you build it…

By Collin Gallant

A new building might be sprouting up on campus. No, it’s not a ballroom-it’s a temple of high technology.

An Alberta Government announcement on Tues., Feb. 9 solidified plans to involve the University of Calgary in a $51 million program to increase Alberta’s technological output. The U of C won the lion’s share of the funds, garnering almost $20.5 million. The University of Alberta also figured prominently in the funding scheme with almost $19 million.

The government’s recent allocations have come with the stipulation that the money go toward expanding the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and the incoming Department of Software Design.

Under conditions of the program, the U of C would attempt to double the size of the present programs by accepting an additional 325 students to enroll, with an eventual goal of 1,000 additional students in the departments by the year 2004. The funding includes money for a new building to handle the expansion.

"This is a very positive step," said U of C President Terry White at the press conference. "We need a new building in the computer and electrical engineering side of things. Plus, at the end of four years, we want 250 more graduates [per year]; that means that in the four years you need 1,000 additional spaces. We have to expand the number of courses we have, the number of professors we have, the number of labs that are operating and so on."

The announcement is part of a continuing Alberta Government policy to promote the province’s high-tech industry. In the summer, the provincial government, the U of C and several members of the high-tech industry announced that Calgary would host to the World Teleport Association’s smart2000 conference.

"We are responding to what the private sector has been telling us for some time now," said Minister of Advanced Education and Career Development Clint Dunford. "There are jobs that are going unfilled in this province, and certainly we have to provide Albertans with the opportunity to have access to those particular areas of employment."

"I want to say to industry that we need partnership to do this and government and education are stepping up to the plate," challenged Minister for Science Research and Information Lorne Taylor. "It is an industry that expands 12­15 per cent every year. We have an opportunity to provide training to these highly skilled people that this industry needs."

Department Head of Electrical and Computer Engineering Dr. R.H. Johnston outlined problems with the current situation.

"We’ve been bottlenecked on the incoming side," said Johnston, adding that four competent students are turned away for every successful applicant. "We’ve also been bottlenecked at the outcoming stage as far as industry looking for more graduates than we can produce."

The departments’ remaining funds will be used to increase staff to support the student increase, said Johnston, who feels that funding cuts have left everyone working at full capacity.

The possibility of a new building to house the departments has Electrical Engineering and Computer Science majors excited. While the possibility of a new building has been rumour mill material for a few months, the announcement was meet with pleasant surprise.

"It’s nice as an Electrical Engineering student to have the backing of the government in this way," said Engineering Students Society Vice-President Academic Sharman Andrew.

"We’re in a space crunch for sure. Many of our classes are outside of Engineering Block and some students have to stand during lectures."

Both President White and Students’ Union President Paul Galbraith expressed their support but they also expressed a need for general operating funding to increase alongside the conditional funding from the government.

"I think that this is the first step in the reinvestment by the government in post-secondary education," said Galbraith, who is looking toward the upcoming provincial budget. "Since the cuts, the engineers have been suffering with terrible conditions. Twenty million dollars for the U of C is a big deal."

In regard to expected increases to post-secondary education funding, Minister Dunford would only comment that there will be more announcements forthcoming after the Alberta budget is presented.

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