"No vacancy" sign posted on undergrad courses

February 05, 2004, vol. 29, no. 3
By Diane Luckow



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Undergraduate course availability at SFU is at its lowest point since 1993, according to the annual SFU undergraduate student survey, undertaken last fall.

The survey sampled 1,200 students who are representative of the undergraduate student body registered in the fall semester.

Eighty-five per cent of students were able to register for the number of courses desired in the fall 2003 semester and only 54 per cent were able to register in all of the specific courses desired. Course availability has been on the decline at SFU since 1997, when 89 per cent of students could register for the number of courses desired and 65 per cent could register for specific courses.

Not surprisingly, more than half (52 per cent) of all students pursuing a degree are taking longer to complete than initially expected.

Almost 20 per cent of students said that full courses were one of the primary reasons for extended degree completion time, with 15 per cent mentioning courses not offered in the desired semester and another 15 per cent saying that they changed their program or area of specialization.

John Waterhouse, VP, Academic, says the issue is of great concern. “We recognized the deteriorating situation last year,” he says and, in an effort to improve course access last fall, distributed considerable new funds to the faculties to hire more instructors and tutorial assistants. “We are currently investigating why the new resources appear not to have had the impact that we expected,” says Waterhouse, who has formed a committee to focus on the issue and offer advice for rectifying the ongoing problem.

The survey also examined English language and academic English skills, revealing 71 per cent of students exclusively speak English on campus, with 60 per cent primarily speaking English at home. The top two non-English languages spoken at home are Cantonese (16 per cent) and Mandarin (12 per cent). Among those students who primarily speak English, 10 per cent reported a lack of confidence in their ability to write academic English while 45 per cent of primarily non-English speakers reported a lack of confidence in academic English writing skills.

In the survey, domestic undergrads estimated their annual academic expenses at $5,300 (median of tuition, student fees, educational materials and supplies) while international students spend $12,500.

Fifty-eight per cent of students live at home with their parents and spend between $1,000 and $4,000 on non-academic expenses versus $8,000 -$12,000 for students living away from home.

While most students reported employment income ($3,400 a year) as the source of their education funding, 31 per cent report using government loans, valued at a median $8,500 a year.

Students said they will respond to rising tuition fees by asking for, or borrowing more money, cutting back on living expenses or earning more money. They are least likely to leave or quit their university program.

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