There was a time when being in graduate school had some sort of meaning. There often weren’t that many students, and those that were there, wanted to be there to achieve something, and broaden their knowledge. When I was doing my PhD at RMIT University in the late 1990s, this was a case, a small cohort of like-minded individuals from many places, all working in a small office. It was fun, but also everyone was dedicated to what they were doing. There was also a masters (by coursework) program in our dept (Computer Systems Engineering) that was course based, and full of overseas students. It would be a harbinger of what the Australian education system would become – a broken business model reliant on overseas students to make it function. It is a model that does not work, and one that is slowly being adopted by some universities in Canada as well. Sometimes not even educational institutions are good at learning lessons others have endured.
The problem is that now some CS graduate programs seem to have a reasonable number of less-than-stellar students, some of whom are not really there for educational purposes, but rather an easy way to immigrate. I noticed this a few years ago when I taught a grad course on programming languages. Few of the students taking the course seemed to have much of an understanding about programming languages, or indeed an interest in learning. To me, any degree in CS requires you to be proficient in programming, and I’m not talking about HTML. Every week I get bombarded with emails from students who want to work in my research group, or are looking for a supervisor. Most don’t even take the time to properly read anything, just send emails saying how good their grades are, and how interested they are in doing research in topic “Z”. 99% of these emails I delete immediately, partially because I’m not interested in taking on students anymore. Many have never even programmed in C, or are interested in some “flavour-of-the-month” topic or AI, which I have no time for.
But even if I were looking for grad students, it’s unlikely many would make the cut. Grad students require far too much advisor-based funding these days, and I think this funding, a good amount of which comes from the Canadian Government should be focused on students that show real talent. I also would want a student who is a *really good* programmer. Like exceptional – and able to program in numerous appropriate languages, i.e. nothing with the word M****soft in it. We’re talking C, and Python, and the ability to adapt to new and old languages (e.g. Fortran). They would also have to be a good writer. No one has the time to teach someone to write. If a student doesn’t have much experience writing, a graduate degree will be a struggle. In addition, I would want students who don’t need to be spoon fed, i.e. can actually think for themselves.
The problem with academia in CS is that many of the good undergrads do not want to go to grad school, because they get jobs, and frankly grad school does nothing to better that (I have covered this before, there is just very little difference in $ earned between undergrad and grad degrees in CS). Sure, a graduate degree is not suppose to be about the money, but instead about the specialized knowledge… that being said two more years in academia for an MSc. versus a real job? What can you really learn about a topic that you can’t learn on-the-job? So due to the lack of domestic students, grad programs fill up with overseas students. Relying on overseas students to fill programs can be a bad idea, especially so when faculty are required to basically fund them. Now funding comes in many forms, one of which is Teaching Assistantships – the problem being that if students cannot really program or communicate properly, it reduces the quality of education our undergraduate students receive. Then there are the ethics involved in having international students pay exorbitant fees to study.
All-in-all, I see Canadian universities falling down the same rabbit hole Australian ones have – a reliance on overseas students to fill shortfalls. Look I am not against overseas grad students, I too was an international grad student once, but it is better to have a system which is much more balanced.