Point vs. Counterpoint

Point: Government and Private Funding Should be Skewed Towards Research

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

The current atmosphere and state of affairs in any post-secondary institution is much like a rat race to get to the top. The race of choice? Research. With the Quantum Nano Centre that had opened last term, it seems that there has been a significant investment towards finding new discoveries and continuing with cutting-edge research. Considering that the number of classrooms in the QNC can fit in one hand, there doesn’t seem to be much to gain for the average student.

However, with the new research being conducted and grants being given to those who conduct it, a circular trend has begun where both begin to benefit each other. However, the first step has to be taken where one is more expensive than the other in relation to the returns it gets. Fortunately, Waterloo is on the cusp of such a trend; considering the relatively young age of this university compared to others who have established themselves as the best in the world (MIT is young at 150 years old), Waterloo seems to be on the fast track.

The problem is that either research or attracting the best of the best in terms of prospective students is what’s needed to have Waterloo climb up the rankings. The marketing required and the resources required to appeal to prospective students on an international scale would be monumental. In addition, bringing the school up to par (in terms of student facilities, quality of teaching, and even aesthetic) to appeal to those students looking to the world for a school to go to would be ridiculous. Making these changes to attract sponsors and students from outside Canada would require a significant investment on the part of the student; this means a rise in tuition for the average student is inevitable. With that said, this change would occur quickly and would benefit future students greatly if successful. Furthermore, these changes would also directly impact the students. The question is, is the return worth the investment? If the return is the influx of international students and larger sponsors to fund every service in Waterloo, how long would it take before there is a visible benefit to the average student? The truth is, with this methodology, it would take years for this to come to fruition.

Now, if research was made the primary investment, then there is still a significant amount of money being put into the university that would not reduce tuition. However, the difference is that the average student doesn’t get to see where this money goes. Instead, professors and graduate students use this money to conduct research. Like before, the rat race of choice between universities is found in research; the more papers published or the papers with the highest impact, will generate more attention and attract more money to those conducting it. If the research is of a high impact, those in the scientific community will take notice. For any sponsor investing in a piece of research, this is a great incentive to provide in order to continue the work or take steps to commercialize it. For a student, the promise of becoming a part of this success becomes greater.  While the cost of research is expensive (what with all the equipment and ingredients), the number of research groups to which this applies is far less than the number of students in the university. Sure, one grant could pay for upwards of tuition for several people, this still doesn’t make a dent in the grand scheme of things for one out of thirty thousand students. Sure, there will be two lecture halls in a entire building while the rest is outfitted for the research groups thereby not providing for the average undergraduate.

At the end of the day, what’s the easiest way and most cost effective way of increasing the amount of coming into the university? How about the easiest way to market Waterloo as the school of choice for post-secondary studies? It’s the way MIT does it, work on the reputation of the school. Yes, while you may cater to the students who provide the money required to run the university, the school does not grow when looking at a long-term basis. In fact, universities who are looking to make a name for themselves will race ahead such that Waterloo stands to lose the reputation it has currently. The way to make Waterloo known as the school to attend is to make the tools and resources available for distinguished academics so that their work has the opportunity to progress to the point where worldwide recognition is possible. In short, publishing many high quality papers is the equivalent of money in academia; publishing more and publishing better acquires more attention and, with that, more money into the university.

With this boost in reputation, a highly accomplished international student who has the whole world to choose from will look for reputation first when making this choice. When the international student attends, this person is paying fees two to three times higher than the domestic student. If the number of international students were to increase, eventually, a part of that capital will be used to subsidize the tuition of their domestic peers. More importantly, this attraction of highly accomplished individuals will also increase the likelihood of great accomplishments being produced at the university. Considering the collaborative nature of breakthroughs today, one more great mind could do nothing less than help this endeavour. Now that this scenario has come full circle, Waterloo will only benefit from putting their time, money and energy into research.

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