U of C drops computer engg major

Computer Engineering will no longer be offered as a major program at the University of Calgary. The decision for the change from a major to a minor was made in Dec. 2010.

“It’s a combination of different issues,” said associate head of undergraduate studies for electrical and computer engineering Mike Potter. “First of all, the demand for the program has been very low for the last several years.”

“In the last two years there have been six students each year who have enrolled in it,” said Students’ Union vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy. “If you compare this to other departments it is a red flag.”

Engineering programs need to fill a quota of anywhere between 60 and 200 students.

The university has been struggling financially and the computer and electrical engineering department won’t be able to hire new instructors in the foreseeable future because of budget constraints, said Potter.

“Another of the driving factors is the hard economics of the university right now,” said Potter. “As a department we have to make some serious decisions about what programs to support based on what programs we can hire for.”

Potter states that if they were to hire new computer engineering instructors it would limit all other departments.

There are only three faculty members who feel comfortable teaching senior level courses,” said Stacy. “So we have a limitation of faculty members and specialization as well.”

A task force of five faculty members was set up to study similar programs at other universities in Canada. They also looked at what the trends were in the market place and enrollment trends in Canadian universities.

“They recommended [we] eliminate the degree program entirely, maintain the status quo or go with a minor,” said Potter.

The faculty decided the minor would be the best option.

Fourth-year computer engineering student Bashir Kazemipur thinks that the degree should still be offered at the U of C.

“I think it is still independent enough it should be its own thing,” said Kazemipur. “Computer science is more like theory and computation and electrical engineering is so diverse. There is nothing else that really encompasses computers with such a focus.”

Students currently in the program have been given the choice to finish their computer engineering degree, switch to electrical engineering, or do an electrical engineering degree with a minor in computer engineering.

President of the Engineer Students’ Society John McDonald supports the university’s decision.

“What the school is doing to make it a minor is in the best interest of students,” said McDonald. “I trust what the faculty is doing, whether it be because of resources or any other issues.”

A survey was administered to alumni and students by the task force.

“The biggest concern for students is, if the degree completely disappears, which technically it has, they are not quite sure how this will affect them on the market place,” said Stacy.

He agrees that this is a concern for students.

“Ideally we would offer the program but it really came down to the practical realities,” said Potter.

Potter does not believe the change will affect student’s employment opportunities.

“Nostalgically they are not going to be so happy to have a degree that is no longer offered,” said Potter. “But I don’t think that is going to affect them from an employment perspective or from an educational perspective going forward.”

Stacy also believes that the change will not harm students.

During the academic programs meeting last year Stacy voted against supporting the change of program to a minor.

“I did have to vote against it because none of the students supported a minor, so it wasn’t right for me to support it,” said Stacy. “But I do feel that the students are just scared because of the relevance of their degree at the moment.”

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