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Friday, May 11, 2001

  • Gas prices squeeze UW's budget
  • Co-op employment higher than in 2000
  • More about Durham's new university
  • Notes on the Mother's Day weekend

[In close quarters]
Midnight Sun VI, UW's solar car, yesterday qualified for the American Solar Challenge race in July. The car and the student team behind it are in Topeka for preliminary tests and competitions, and have surmounted stormy weather and major problems with the protection circuitry on the lithium-ion batteries that store the car's power. They missed Thursday's laps, but yesterday covered 125 miles around the track at Heartland Park, with Kumi Yamamoto driving, and qualified to enter the race -- the only Canadian team to do so. Crew members are seen working on the car inside the rental truck that is its home at their campground.

Gas prices squeeze UW's budget

Rising prices for natural gas -- burned at the central plant to heat buildings and water across the campus -- are putting pressure on UW's spending, and there's not much the university can do about it, says Gene Starchuk, director of business operations for the plant operations department.

He's estimating that in the coming year UW's gas bill will reach $3.1 million -- three times what it was just five years ago. In the past year the total was $2.6 million.

"It's a supply and demand issue," says Starchuk, pointing to national and international economic factors to explain why prices have risen dramatically. Most importantly, a new pipeline from the Alberta gas fields to the Chicago area means that Canada and the United States are now one big market for natural gas. When the heating season is over in Canada, California's air conditioning season is beginning, and that means a rising demand for gas to burn in electrical generating stations.

"We're pretty much paying US prices now," says Starchuk.

Big customers buy their gas by the gigajoule, a unit equal to 26.6 cubic metres of gas. A few years ago, Starchuk recalls, prices were in the area of $1 per gigajoule. This January, the price hit a peak of $13, before falling back to current levels of around $7.

"It can fluctuate a dollar or more in a day," he notes. For protection in that volatile market, UW has been buying some of its gas at daily spot prices and some through long-term contracts. Starting next fall, he expects to settle into a three-year contract at a fixed price, "in the low six dollars".

"When we buy gas, we buy it at a location in central Alberta," Starchuk notes -- so there are transport and storage charges on top of the initial price of the gas. That doesn't actually mean that the gas reaching UW's furnaces comes all the way from Alberta; it could be from Ontario or Texas, but the prices are based on the Alberta depot.

He says there isn't much opportunity for UW to move away from gas to other forms of energy. Prices for electricity, for example, are also rising -- the hydro bill is expected to go up by $500,000 in the coming year. And while the central plant can burn oil instead of gas, "oil isn't always cheaper -- it varies from day to day."

Co-op employment higher than in 2000

As the spring term got under way, there were 3,527 students in co-op jobs, an increase over last year's figure of 3,188, the co-op education and career services department says.

However, there were still 406 students looking for work who didn't have it. "The co-ordinators and the CECS staff will continue to work with these unemployed students," says a memo from co-op director Bruce Lumsden.

He notes that the percentage of students who have jobs is ahead of last year's figure -- 89.68 per cent, up from 86.77 per cent -- even though there are "approximately 250 more students in the employment pool" than there were a year ago.

"These figures," says Lumsden, "demonstrate the strength of our field force of co-ordinators. They also demonstrate the support of industry and business for co-operative education in spite of some dramatic fluctuations in certain sectors of the economy."

The largest number of unemployed students as of April 28 were in engineering (160 out of 1,470) and mathematics (157 out of 1,275).

More about Durham's new university

They're just a bit excited at Durham College in Oshawa, east of Toronto, where the provincial government says it will establish a new degree-granting "Ontario Institute of Technology" in time for first-year students to register in the fall of 2003.

[Durham logo] In Wednesday's budget, Ontario treasurer Jim Flaherty described it as "a new university to be located on the campus of Durham College. The OIT will focus on providing students with a seamless transition among college and university programs. It will provide one-stop shopping for students looking for a mix of academic and hands-on experience."

The initial grant to get the OIT started is $60 million.

Yesterday, Durham's web site labelled the institution "Home of the University Centre" and called the announcement "colossal news". News releases promised that "This new university will emphasize market-driven programming leading to high wage careers. Linked college and university curricula give individual students more choice in their learning and the best of both worlds.

"The Ontario Institute of Technology will co-exist with Durham College and be founded on the college's track record as a Canadian leader. . . .

"For 10 years the people and industries in our region have been working together towards the establishment of a university that links learning to the marketplace and provides access and opportunity for the young people of Durham. We are pleased the government recognizes this need and shares our vision.

"Congratulations and thank you to everyone who has contributed to making this vision a reality. This is a new way of delivering post-secondary education in Ontario and, indeed, across Canada."

That's almost the sort of thing some people said when the Waterloo College Associate Faculties introduced co-op education to Canada in 1957. The OIT also fills something of the niche formerly occupied by what's now Ryerson University, in its earliest incarnation as "Ryerson Institute of Technology".

Notes on the Mother's Day weekend

Today and tomorrow, UW's department of Germanic and Slavic Studies hosts the Ontario Provincial German Contest, involving 32 top high school students of German and their teachers from across the province. "A number of professors and graduate students will also be involved to set and grade the oral and written examination," says Hildegard Nabbe of the G&S department. "A gala banquet on Saturday evening, May 12, will crown two days of German-related activities, the highlight being an array of prizes, including flights to Germany from Lufthansa, and tours and courses in Germany from the Goethe Institute. This event will be hosted by the University of Waterloo for two consecutive years, in 2001 and also in May 2002."

The campus recreation program's Summer Active promotional program starts today and runs for six weeks. "If you are active for at least 12 times between May 11 and June 22," says campus rec, "you'll receive a free T-shirt." And there are a number of prizes, including a $500 "shopping spree" from Foot Locker. But the big reward, I suppose, is greater fitness.

Co-op students should hand in a resume package at Needles Hall by 8:00 tonight, if they're planning to take part in the employer interview process that begins later this month.

Events scheduled for today:

A little further afield, UW is represented by a booth today at the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education annual conference, being held in Scarborough, and Waterloo math alumni have been invited to a luncheon there today with the dean of math.

Saturday, "Dance Extravaganza" occupies the Humanities Theatre all day.

A note from the staff association to its members this week: "Discount tickets are beginning to arrive. This year we will be selling discount tickets to Wonderland, African Lion Safari, and Sportsworld. Bingemans will be providing us with Splash Cards again, and Marineland will be supplying us with discount coupons. Flyers will be sent out soon listing the tickets and their prices."

And a note from the Education Program for Software Professionals about an event next Wednesday:

On May 16, the university and Communitech will be jointly hosting an IT Leaders' Breakfast. UW president David Johnston will be speaking on "The E-learning E-volution," and Don Cowan, distinguished professor emeritus and founder of the Education Program for Software Professionals, will be speaking on "The RE-volution in Professional Education." The breakfast will be at the Waterloo Inn from 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. The cost is $20. The purpose is to bring interested members of the local business community up to date on developments in professional education and e-learning. Specifically, of course, we would like to raise awareness of UW's own EPSP and other programs being developed on the EPSP model. More information is available online.


[UW logo] Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
http://www.bulletin.uwaterloo.ca | Yesterday's Bulletin
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