Enrolments in software engineering and computer science programs are rising. Photo: Kevin Gatera.
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Popularity in these fields has drawn many international students to the programs

The University of Ottawa has recently seen a significant rise in international student enrolment, specifically within the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

According to Claude D’Amour, director of the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the international student component of the first-year class has risen from 33 per cent in 2016 to close to 40 per cent this year—a 25 per cent rise in enrolment.

The school, which once faced a shortage of students when Ottawa’s IT sector collapsed following the demise of Nortel in the early 2000s, is now making accommodations to increase the enrolment capacity.

Following the Nortel collapse, the program generally accepted 150 first-year students in each of the software engineering and computer science programs, but the school will now allow an approximate enrollment of 200 students per program.

“We have carefully planned this growth not to exceed the capacity of our infrastructure,” said Marcel Turcotte, vice dean of the Faculty of Engineering.

Despite the rise in enrollment, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science was created in 1997, during the high of the dot-com era, and can accommodate these kinds of numbers.

The school also boasts the SITE building, which was inaugurated in 2002, at the height of enrolment in computer science and computer engineering.

“Our facilities were designed for that kind of enrolment, and we are now back to the same level of enrolment in these two disciplines,” said Turcotte. “Although the demand is high, we have done a good job anticipating it. We have modulated the required admission averages so the number of enrolled students match the capacity of our infrastructure.”

According to Turcotte, the upward trend of international students can be explained by a number of factors, such as a rise in jobs in the computer science and engineering sector, particularly in Ottawa. There has also been a recent focus on the computing industry in the media. Companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon are valued brands and have a huge market value.

Turcotte also drew attention to the fact that former U.S. president Barack Obama was “making quite a bit of noise promoting computer science in high schools.” This, combined with the Faculty of Engineering’s outreach programs may have caused a spike in international numbers.

Lastly, there is what Turcotte calls “the rock star factor.” People like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk are leading names in the technology sector. They have become celebrities and role models for the field, which may have influenced incoming generations of students to explore these fields.

As the fall semester commences it will be exciting to see what the different engineering students will bring to the U of O campus.