The University of New Brunswick is looking to double the number of students in its Faculty of Computer Science by 2026, spurred partly by the information technology labour shortage and partly by its goal of improving tech sector opportunities for minority groups.

Dean Luigi Benedicenti said in an interview that to support an expanded student body, the computer science faculty plans to also double the number of professors it employs, as well as hiring more research chairs. He added the university believes its hiring plan is feasible because the labour shortage is less acute in academia than in industry, and because UNB’s computer science program ranks highly internationally.

“We want to be the beacon for the digital community and the most engaged computer science faculty with this community in Canada,” said Benedicenti. “And we want to be the centre of excellence for computer science research.”

UNB currently has 720 full- and part-time undergraduate students, the equivalent of 442 with full-time course loads. At the graduate level, it has 120 students. It hopes to increase those numbers to the equivalent of 943 undergraduate students and 275 graduate students on a full-time equivalent basis.

The faculty employs 22 professors — including one cross-appointed with the Faculty of Engineering — who work on two undergraduate programs and four master’s programs. Benedicenti plans to hire at least four professors every year for the next four years.

Benedicenti himself is an electrical engineer and computer scientist who has previously collaborated with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the global body that sets technical standards for computer networking systems.

His planned expansion of the computer science faculty is the result of talks with industry leaders, who said the best thing UNB could do to support the private sector was to help reduce pressure on the tight labour market.

In response to those conditions, part of the five-year plan created by the university also includes tripling the number of students in its graduate-level programs. It takes just one or two years to earn a master’s degree in computer science from UNB, meaning higher level students can enter or re-enter the workforce and fill job openings more quickly than undergraduate students, whose degrees take four years.

Also offering businesses a slight boost on the human resources front is an experiential learning program with what Benedicenti described as “our most trusted partners,” such as TD Canada Trust. Master’s students complete work terms, sponsored by the employer, and earn a “micro-credential” called RICKS, or Research Intensive Cyber Knowledge Studies.

On the diversity and inclusion front, meanwhile, Benedicenti said expanding its student body will help UNB accommodate more women, First Nations people and other underrepresented groups. To make the faculty a more welcoming environment for those students, he also plans to include more minority professors among those hired in the coming years.

“Frankly, this is not something that can be done only by ourself. We need some expert guidance. We need to have experienced individuals who have understanding of equity, diversity and inclusion, and who have experience what it means to, for example, fight unconscious biases.”

UNB has made progress on inclusion in recent years, he added, with indigenous students making a particularly strong showing in the university’s research programs.

The UNB initiative is happening as post-secondary institutions across the region work at increasing computer science enrollment. After receiving a $13.3 million funding commitment from the Nova Scotia government in early 2021, Dalhousie said it hopes to soon graduate 400 people from its Computer Science faculty annually. It previously graduated about 250 people a year. In the summer of 2021, Memorial University of Newfoundland recently unveiled three new master’s degree programs in the fields of software development, artificial intelligence and data science.