Provincial investment expands tech training at UBC but doesn’t fully address the capacity gap

The UBC Vancouver campus will see 624 new seats for the programs of biomedical engineering, manufacturing engineering — which is still being created — and computer sciences, out of 2,900 undergraduate spaces in engineering and computer sciences across the province. This was recently created by the provincial government to meet the demands of the BC tech sector.

According to BC Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston, this represents the largest expansion of tech-related programs in the province’s public institutions in 10 years. But he also acknowledged that it is not enough on its own to match the pace at which the industry is set to grow.

“It doesn’t address all the labour challenges, but it is a huge step forward,” Raston said.

More specifically, 160 seats will be added to the manufacturing engineering program and 355 to the biomedical engineering program across four years.

According to James Olson, dean of the faculty of applied sciences, the funding for these seats will come from the province — but it is likely that there will be a shortfall with UBC having to make up the difference. He also said that the $750 biomedical engineering program fee — which has raised concerns in the past about “circumventing the spirit of the domestic tuition cap” — will remain constant regardless of the larger batch of incoming students.

With 109 new seats for computer sciences — a program that has faced extensive waitlist issue in the past due to shortage of lecturers, TAs and space — Department Head Chen Greif is confident that it will be able to accommodate the influx of new students from this expansion.

“In the past academic year we have made significant progress in addressing waitlist issues, and we expect to be able to handle the introduction of additional seats,” he said in an emailed statement.

In particular, Greif noted that the department has “done exceedingly well in hiring,” with eight new faculty members joining in the past academic year — but the shortage of physical teaching space due may continue to be a challenge.

“We are pursuing additional initiatives — both on our own and in collaboration with various other units on campus — to further grow access to the computing and data science knowledge and skills that are in such demand from students and local industry,” Greif said.

This article has been updated to clarify the status of the manufacturing engineering program.