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Support For MEng Students Reduced

By Matthew Kwan

Because of the economic downturn in recent years, many Masters of Engineering, or MEng, students in Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science) have found themselves without any funding or stipends for their time here.

Course VI was one of the hardest hit departments in terms of income when the stock market began to fall.

Students met with department leaders to voice their concerns over the matter. However, the matter is still unresolved as the economic outlook remains unchanged.

Funds issue only arose recently

Ever since the MEng program’s initiation in 1993, MEng students had few problems finding funding, which included tuition, room and board, and a stipend.

A graduate student would usually sign on with a professor to assist with research, and the professor in turn would grant the student funding as a research assistant. Otherwise, a graduate student could go to the department and ask to be a teaching assistant for an undergraduate class.

Anne M. Hunter, Course VI administrator and secretary, said there are 250-300 MEng students enrolled in the department.

Of these MEng students, about 100 are RAs and over 35 are TAs. This is a dramatic decrease from last year’s numbers. Last spring, 211 out of 277 MEng students had either RA or TA positions.

Upset students organize meeting

The funding problem and frustrations led some of the Meng students to set up an appointment to meet with Course VI Department Head John V. Guttag.

Christian Baekkelund G said that he initiated the setup of the meeting because he had problems finding funding for the term and had talked to other students who had similar problems. “We all heard different reasons why there wasn’t any funding going around,” Baekkelund said.

“Students came with real concerns,” Guttag said. “I tried to be as honest as I could. I thought that the meeting with the students was effective in communicating the situation.”

Baekkelund characterized the 30-minute meeting as fairly brief and frank. “[Guttag] said things that weren’t very optimistic, but I can’t really blame him for it,” he said.

Guttag said that though the meeting clearly didn’t resolve the situation, it did confirm the existence of the problem. ‘This year there is less money available to fund the MEng students than I recall,” Guttag said. “Funding will be difficult. [Students] need to look very hard at where they’re going to get it.”

A solution for the department does not seem to be in sight. “Unfortunately, there’s very little we can do to solve this problem,” Guttag said. “It depends on the money. We can’t spend money we don’t have.”

Some students were understanding. “There were never any written guarantees anywhere,” Baekkelund said.

But many MEng students are incredibly disappointed. “I feel our year got the raw ending of the deal because pretty much everyone got funding last year,” said Judy L. Chen G. “I hope I can find a job.”

Students blame economy for woes

Many graduate students blamed the funding shortage on the bad economic situation. Chen, who got half of her funding through an research assistantship, said, “It is harder for groups and departments to give out [research assistantships] because of the economy.”

Unfortunately, not everyone was able to get funding like Chen, or even a stipend. “I’m a bitter grad student with no funding,” remarked one Course VI MEng student. Several others reiterated the same similar sentiment.

But now that there is not much funding left for students, some students are also blaming the system.

Guttag said that while some students are blaming the system, it is not a fair criticism to make. “It’s very explicit in the literature that [MEng students] shouldn’t expect funding for that fifth year,” Guttag said.

“Go out aggressively and try to speak very forwardly about [research assistantships] and [teaching assistantships],” Guttag said, offering some ideas for the students.

However, some of the students maintained a negative attitude. One graduate student said that if a student couldn’t pay for the MEng program, he would not do it.

Undergraduates majoring in Course VI also expressed concerns about the tough situation. “I don’t want to end up like [them],” said Eric T. Syu ’04.