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Thursday, January 27, 2000

  • UW is lowest in loan defaults
  • Library stresses electronic information
  • 'Something weird' in university funding
  • Happening today and tomorrow

UW is lowest in loan defaults

Universities have the lowest "default rate" on Ontario student loans, and UW has the lowest rate among universities, according to figures issued yesterday.

The UW default rate was 4.9 per cent: of 2,304 graduating students who got loans in 1996-97, 112 were behind in their payments in 1999. Queen's and Laurier were second and third; the average for universities was 8.4 per cent.

Last year UW also had the lowest rate in the province, at 7.1 per cent (against an average of 12.3 per cent). People said then that the low default rate for Waterloo graduates might have something to do with the low unemployment rate for Waterloo grads ("90.9% after six months and 96.4% after two years"), since young graduates who have jobs might find it easier to pay off their loans than those who don't.

Dianne Cunningham, the minister of training, colleges and universities, said in a news release that "Although the number of students defaulting on the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) has declined almost four percentage points over last year, there is still more work to be done. . . . The overall default rate at colleges, universities and private vocational schools was 18.2 per cent in 1999, down from 22.1 per cent in 1998." For students from the colleges, the default rate is 20.1 per cent, down from last year's 25.4 per cent. For students from private vocational schools, it's 31 per cent, down from 34.5 per cent last year.

The government's goal is to get the average down to 10 per cent.

"It's encouraging that more students are paying back their loans," says Cunningham, but default rates are still too high. More can and must be done. Most students do repay their loans and it’s not fair to them or to the taxpayers who are funding the system when other students default."

She pointed to various steps taken in the past year to reduce the default rate, including credit screening of new loan applicants; recovering defaulted loans from income tax refunds; introducing the Ontario Student Opportunity Grant, which reduces a student’s debt to no more than $7,000 per year of study; requiring institutions to provide students with "accurate information about the default rates, graduation rates and graduate employment rates of the programs they offer, which allows students to make a more informed choice of studies"; and requiring institutions with high default rates to share the cost of defaulted loans.

“These initiatives are essential to our efforts to reduce the number of students defaulting on their loans,” said Cunningham. “As well, our focus on a strong economy and job creation means there are good jobs for students when they graduate.”

[Nabalamba with graphic data]

Library stresses electronic information

Assembling the data needed for her dissertation has taken PhD student Alice Nabalamba (left) more than a year, but it might have been an even bigger job, says a feature in the annual report of UW's library.

Nabalamba is one of five people featured in the report, which was written for the library by UW's publications office.

Says the page about her: "She's investigating the spatial characteristics of pollution in the Hamilton, St. Catharines, Niagara, and Toronto regions using three main types of data: demographic data from the 1996 census, land use data from individual municipalities, and pollution data from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy. It would have taken her much longer to collect this data without the help of Richard Pinnell, Head of the University Map and Design Library, and Margaret Aquan-Yuen, the Liaison Librarian for Planning, Geography, and Environment and Resource Studies."

The report quotes Nabalamba: "Richard has helped me with census data on numerous occasions, not just with technical issues, but with substantive issues as well. And Margaret has been very, very helpful. She'll go to any length to get the information I need."

It says she has made extensive use of the Library's Electronic Data Service (UW-EDS), downloading both numeric and geo-spatial data, including census data and maps, to support her research. "In the past year, the Library's electronic data location, retrieval, and delivery service became a partner in the TriUniversity Group Data Resources (TDR) project, an increasingly popular service that allows qualified users to access and retrieve large data files over the Web. . . .

"Electronic data, however, hasn't eliminated the need for conventional research materials, says Alice, who often visits the Dana Porter Library to study census maps in paper form or to check out the periodicals. She notes that the design of the periodicals floor has improved in the past year: 'There's lots of seating and comfortable space now. And there are big tables for people doing photocopying.'

"Though she appreciates these comforts, Alice identifies the improved linkage between libraries at the University of Waterloo, the University of Guelph, and Wilfrid Laurier University as the most important development in the past year. 'I used to travel to Guelph regularly to get journal articles I needed,' she says. 'Now I can request them online, and have them delivered to me.'"

The report also features first-year student Clara Tam, whose biggest use of the library so far has been for study space, but who will soon be starting research projects; chemistry professor John Honek and his use of electronic journals; Joan Lam of the co-op and career services department, who relies on databases and Web information about employers; and student Marc LaPierre, with comments about remote access to library information.

The emphasis throughout the 12-page report is on electronic information, but a chart shows that the library spent $1,167,566 on "books and monographs" last year, $3,370,525 on "serials, including journals", and $481,857 on "miscellaneous" resources.

Also from the library's annual report:

'Something weird' in university funding

Ontario universities "are building huge war chests", Ronald-Frans Melchers of the University of Ottawa said here yesterday in a talk sponsored by the faculty association. "Something weird is going on," he added.

Melchers, who is spending this year as "visiting research fellow" for the Canadian Association of University Teachers, showed dozens of charts as he gave his audience a rundown on financing at UW and other universities in the province, based on numbers reported to Statistics Canada.

He said "unspent fund balances" -- which, he stressed, aren't the same thing as "surpluses" -- have been growing dramatically at universities, including Waterloo. He also told his audience that while institutions used to transfer money out of special funds into the general operating budget, to spend on "the core functions" of a university, now the opposite is happening: money that started out in the operating budget is being transferred somewhere else, either into building funds or into trust funds.

Institutions are building up their endowment funds, Melchers said, commenting that the University of Toronto in particular "has become a fund-raising machine . . . to the point where teaching will soon become a sideline activity".

Tracing income and spending at universities since the early 1970s, he observed that "Governments stopped increasing funds for universities about 1977." In particular, grants stayed about level from 1992 to 1996; then there was a dip with the "Harris cuts" imposed when a Progressive Conservative government took power in Ontario. Across the province, tuition fee increases have started to make up for the losses in grants, but at Waterloo in particular, "revenues have not recovered" from the 1997 drop, he said.

Similarly, he said, research funding at UW has dropped and not recovered. "I always thought the University of Waterloo was the research powerhouse of the Ontario university system!" he said.

Both at UW and elsewhere, spending on salaries and benefits has been dropping since 1993, and there has been a drop in what's spent on professors' salaries in particular. "The university is becoming a less labour-intensive industry," he said. But "The decline in academic salaries as a percentage of total university expenditures is not something that happened when Mike Harris took office."

Happening today and tomorrow

The senate graduate council meets this morning at 9:30 in Needles Hall room 3001.

Today and tomorrow, Nick Cercone of the computer science department leads a short course on "Data Mining: Classification and Association", sponsored by the Institute for Computer Research. The course carries a fee of $600 (but ICR-related faculty and graduate students pay only a token amount).

The survey research centre offers a seminar this afternoon by management sciences student Jagdeep Bachher. He'll speak (3:30, PAS building room 2030) about his web-based survey of "decision-making criteria used by venture capitalists".

The chemical engineering department will hold a Graduate Studies Fair today from 3:30 to 6:00 in the Laurel Room, South Campus Hall. "The major topics of research in chemical engineering will be presented for about one hour, after which a reception will be held," a memo says. "Students will be able to speak one-on-one with professors with research areas that interest them."

Similarly, the physics department will hold a "Guelph-Waterloo Physics Institute Information Night" from 4:30 to 7:00 in Physics room 145. Upper-year students who might be interested in graduate work in physics are invited to be there.

The Math Society is running Movie Nights each Thursday again this term: "Show up at 7:30 in the Davis Centre, rooms 1302/1304, to see two great movies for only two dollars! (On a big screen too!)" Tonight's features are "Matrix" and "The X-Files".

The urban environmental project workshop series continues. Tonight's topic, starting at 7:00 at the Adult Learning Centre, 185 King Street South, is "The Urban Environment as Hazard: Where Natural and Societal Forces Collide". Jean Andrey of UW's geography department will be among the speakers.

Tomorrow, the mathematics undergraduate office in Math and Computer room 5115 will be closed for the day because of renovations.

And tomorrow the career development seminar series continues, with "Interview Skills: Selling Your Skills" at 10:30 a.m. in Needles Hall room 1020.


Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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