Point vs. Counterpoint

Counterpoint: 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.

uWaterloo seems to be forgetting their biggest financier, the undergraduate student. All of the money that the government should be using to help students fund their education (which is in itself quite expensive), is spent on facilities that benefit a very small fraction of uWaterloo’s population. Considering the amount of space allocated to the student every time a new Engineering building comes up, another engineering student will start to question if this school can cater to his/her needs.

For one, the statistic of having one-third of students starting off actually graduating when they intend to is nothing too proud of. For one, the fact that two thirds of students aren’t sticking with what they started with indicates that there is a problem in student retention. A student out of high school is used to nothing less of excellence; however, in their first term at university, they’ve learned that they’re many others like them and that excellence is a much harder endeavour than it used to be. Coupled with the many changes (and added anxieties) of moving to a new place to pursue an education, it’s not surprising that some students have decided to leave the university altogether. At a completely financial standpoint, Waterloo stands to lose a significant sum of money coming from the students who drop out.

In addition, a vast majority of Waterloo students are not involved in research because of their backgrounds and the time commitment it would take if a student were to embark on their own research project. Since undergraduates don’t get to see this side of Waterloo nor have access to the tools and resources available as a result of the research conducted, they are often left out of the loop in terms of what Waterloo is producing. Since there is almost nothing for undergraduates to claim as their own when new resources are introduced to the university, undergraduates can’t help but feel ignored. Furthermore, when the professors themselves, who conduct such research, are not interested in the subjects they teach and aren’t able to excite their students with the happenings around the university, there is no other motivation other than the piece of paper at the end of five years.

If the funding provided towards universities is skewed towards research, students will also run into a problem that’s already plaguing many post-secondary institutes, rising tuition. As more and more of the money gets pumped into the labs spread throughout the university, additional funding needs to be obtained to fill in that gaps, and who else can the university turn to, in such a short notice, but its beloved students? In other parts of Canada there are students petitioning for free tuition. Would free tuition be possible if majority of the money is being allocated towards research? Probably not.

However, universities aren’t the only facilities that conduct research. Research and development (R&D) is an important aspect of many companies.  So from a company’s point of view, would it be beneficial to skew their funding towards research? No, because this would limit companies to the number of employees, contractors, and even facilities they can financially sustain. Especially when hiring senior engineers, companies run into situations where many of these potential candidates are almost irreplaceable because of how deep and specific their knowledge is with regards to that field. Unfortunately, these one-of-a-kind candidates also come with a large price tag and, if a company has to put a significant portion of its budget into research, hiring a senior engineer would not be financially possible.

Still looking at an industrial company’s perspective, investing a majority of its budget into research is a terrible idea, when looking at the profitability of the company. This is because a good majority of industrial companies make its revenue through mass production of simple goods or smaller production of highly specific products. Either way, if money is taken away from the development of the plant floors and put into R&D, the revenue of the plant will surely decrease. Yes, there is the argument of the research increasing the efficiency of production, but how much more can you realistically improve the production method and how does a small plant with a more efficient system compare to a large plant mass producing the same product?

Since government funding is a huge part of research, in both academia and industry, consider where the money comes from and where it goes.  Government money is tax payer money and what do tax payers want with their money? They want it to be used appropriately for the needs of the public within Canada. Unfortunately though, the money allocated towards research may not always stay within Canada. Industrial companies often rely on cooperation from external firms to conduct research; however these external resources are often found in other countries such as USA. This means that Canadian tax payers are essentially paying American companies to conduct research that may not even benefit them. Therefore, as more money gets pumped into research, the more money companies use to build relationships with American firms, and the more Canadians end up sponsoring this.

Finally, the government also has its own research facilities throughout the country.  These facilities, however, experienced large budget cuts under the Harper government due to the organizations “being lost” and hoping that the budget cuts will help the groups find the right direction again. So the question is should more money be put into the research that is not going anywhere? How does this benefit anyone? Having that money go into health care would benefit Canadians much more than research that is assisting no one.

Research is an important part in development, but skewing the funding towards it is not a good idea and should definitely not be done.

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