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U of T team wins top prize at KPMG’s international AI competition

Paramount AI team created device that sorts waste with 94 per cent accuracy

U of T team wins top prize at KPMG’s international AI competition

A team of five U of T graduate students named Paramount AI won first place in KPMG’s 2019 Ideation Challenge, a worldwide competition to develop solutions to problems facing businesses using artificial intelligence (AI). KPMG is one of the world’s top four accounting firms.

The U of T students faced off against 600 participants from top universities across nine countries, including Canada, Australia, China, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

The final round was held from May 10–12 in Amsterdam, where the students — Maharshi Trivedi, Nikunj Viramgama, Aakash Iyer, Vaibhav Gupta, and Ganesh Vedula — won the top prize for their innovation, which used AI to automate waste segregation.

Paramount AI’s innovative solution

The winning innovation is a sorting system able to distinguish between three different categories of waste: recycling, organic, and garbage.

Iyer, who is specializing in data analytics and financial engineering, explained that the initial prototype of the system used LED light bulbs and basic circuits to classify the waste.

The five students worked continuously, with little breaks and limited sleep during the three days of the competition, which came at the expense of exploring Amsterdam.

The reward for their efforts came in the confirmation of the practicality of using the system in real-life situations. The device completed both a financial and market analysis by the end of the competition.

The importance of waste segregation

Viramgama, who is specializing in data analytics and data science, explained that the team chose to focus on the issue of waste segregation because they were concerned about improper sorting in Toronto.

He noted that about one in three residents in Toronto contaminate the waste they place in recycling bins, and that 20 per cent of waste placed in blue recycling bins ends up in a landfill.

Since there is limited landfill space, this has motivated government spending on improved waste management. An increase in spending may lead to a raise in taxes,which makes the emergence of automation in waste segregation something that can greatly benefit our waste management.

The U of T team tackled this issue by creating a system that accurately sorts waste about 94 per cent of the time. Current waste systems have an accuracy of only up to 74 per cent, and each percentage of accuracy translates to significant savings for spending on waste management.

The pressing need for a solution to this environmental problem, which has economic consequences, could be a reason why Paramount AI won the competition.

The other reason, explained Vedula, was that the team was “not only thinking about saving the environment, but… also trying to help businesses [maximize] profits.”

The future of Paramount AI

The next step for Paramount AI is to present their prototype to experts at KPMG’s annual AI summit in October. By then, the team hopes to further develop their model, aiming to continue increasing the accuracy of their system, while likely adding new features to increase the value of the product for potential clients.

The students currently have the intellectual property rights of their invention. With the support of KPMG, the team is interested in looking to commercialize their product.

They are also optimistic about the future of AI in positively shaping the lives of Torontonians, as a whole. “We completely believe that in the next few years, we will see AI being integrated in every part of our lives, because there is a huge potential,” said Vedula.

“[AI] is already involved in making our lives easier.”

U of T receives more money from international students than from Ontario government

International student enrolment has skyrocketed in the last decade, now greatest source of revenue for university

U of T receives more money from international students than from Ontario government

Ten years ago, U of T’s international student population was about 10 per cent of total enrolment, and non-citizens were not allowed to serve on Governing Council, the university’s most powerful administrative body. By 2015, the University of Toronto Act had been amended to allow non-citizens to serve on Governing Council, and by 2017 international students accounted for 22 per cent of U of T’s student body.

Today, money from international students makes up 30 per cent — $928.61 million — of the university’s revenue, above the 25 and 24 per cent that provincial grants and domestic tuition provide respectively.

Since 2007, the university’s operating budget has increased by 89 per cent, corresponding with the rapid rise in the international student population. As the university has rapidly expanded in the past decade, international students have become U of T’s only consistently growing source of revenue.

Operating grants versus tuition revenue

Operating grants are the main source of funding provided by the provincial government and are conditional upon institutions following through on government mandates.

Recent examples of these mandates include the Student Choice Initiative and campus free speech policy, under which institutions would face cuts to their operating grants for non-compliance.

Since 2006, provincial operating grants have stagnated, holding steady to inflation in the range of $700 million. However, since the domestic student population has only increased, per student funding by the province is in decline.

In U of T’s Long Range Budget Report, the university points to the Ontario government’s worries about a province-wide decline in the 18–20-year-old population.

The report goes on to say that by 2019–2020, provincial operating grants will only make up 25 per cent of U of T’s revenue — less than the 30 per cent that international students contribute.

China and U of T

Chinese international students made up about 65 per cent of the international undergraduate student population last year. In the shadow of the diplomatic tensions between Canada and China over the arrest of a senior executive from Huawei, credit rating agency Moody’s warned of the devastating financial impact on the university’s cash flow if Chinese students are pulled out of Ontario universities, highlighting their dependence on international students.

The concerns are not unfounded — in August, Saudi Arabia declared it would withdraw all of its international students from Canadian universities, of which there were about 300 at U of T at the time, because of a tweet made by Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland condemning the arrest of a Saudi women’s rights activist.

Lynette Ong, Director of the Munk Asian Institute China Initiatives and Associate Professor of Political Science, believes that the likelihood of China pulling its students out of Canada is fairly low.

Ong, in an email to The Varsity, writes that other major destinations for Chinese international students — like Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — are all experiencing tense bilateral relations with the Chinese government, leaving few options for the country even if it were to pull students out of Canadian universities.

However, the recent Scarborough Campus Students’ Union election did see the mobilization of Chinese international students in a petition to remove the President-elect Chemi Lhamo for her support of the Tibetan independence movement. The Chinese embassy denied allegations of involvement, but its statement iterated the embassy’s support for the “patriotic actions of Chinese students.”

International student tuition and tuition cuts

Meanwhile, international tuition has continued to rise for Canadian postsecondary institutions.

When adjusted for inflation, the base domestic Arts & Science tuition at U of T has increased by about $1,000 over 11 years; international students have seen their tuition rise by more than $25,000 — a 127.5 per cent increase — during that time.

In an interview with BBC and then The Varsity shortly after, U of T President Meric Gertler justified the university’s need to raise international tuition in order to match peer institutions, fund initiatives, and offer offices specifically aimed toward international students.

As a consequence of rising tuition costs, Gertler also said that the university saw a rise in the quantity and quality of international applicants to the university, another driver of international enrolment.

The main guideline for domestic fees is the Strategic Mandate Agreement, a three-year mandate signed by both the Ontario government and the university in 2017 that outlines the objectives and enrolment guidelines for the university.

Part of these guidelines includes limiting the amount of domestic students that can be enrolled. However, international student enrolment is mainly decided by individual programs, guided by a five-year international enrolment plan made by Governing Council.

While the university and the province have agreed to decrease domestic enrolment at UTSG by 1,700 spots and maintain current enrolment levels at both UTM and UTSC, international enrolment over the next five years is projected to steadily increase, with an average six per cent increase in international tuition per year.

In the wake of the provincial government’s directive to cut domestic tuition by 10 per cent next year, U of T said that international students will not see a tuition hike, but it may accelerate plans to increase international enrolment.

UTM Vice-President and Principal Ulrich Krull suggested this as part of a mix of solutions to accommodate for the domestic tuition cut.

The 10 per cent cut to domestic tuition followed by a tuition freeze will affect each program differently — if a program has a higher proportion of domestic students, it will lose a larger source of revenue and face steeper cuts.

The Varsity’s analysis of 2017 enrolment numbers estimates that second-entry programs will be the most heavily affected due to the high number of domestic students taken in.

The Arts & Science programs at all three campuses will see a lower percentage of their students receiving the cut; however, just by sheer size, they will face the brunt of the tuition cut — for UTSG, the Faculty of Arts & Science will lose an estimated $20 million off of its $495 million net expense budget for next year.

In an earlier interview with The Varsity, U of T Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr said that the university hopes to “find solutions that minimally impact students, staff and faculty, and programs.”

Data at U of T: gender demographics, donations, wireless connections

Breaking down the publicly released data the university collected in 2017

Data at U of T: gender demographics, donations, wireless connections

Every year, the Office of Planning and Budget Office releases a report on the demographic data that U of T collects, including figures on international enrolment, the number of degrees awarded by field, and even the average number of wireless connections per day.

Notably, engineering and science degrees were heavily skewed toward male recipients, while education and physical education degrees were mostly given to female students.

The report also shows that an overwhelming amount of international students at U of T are from China, with other countries making up a small percentage in comparison.

Here’s a breakdown of what that data shows and what stood out.

Student gender balance

Of the 65,051 full-time undergraduate students last year, 55.7 per cent identified as female, 43.7 per cent as male, 22 students as another gender identity, and 341 students’ gender identities remained undisclosed. In its collection of data on student gender, the university only started including the category of “another gender identity” in 2017.

In comparison to figures from 2007, the university has maintained the ratio of female to male full-time undergraduate and graduate students.

Part-time undergraduates were 61 per cent female in 2007. The 2017 data shows a slight majority male student population among part-time undergraduates.

Part-time graduate students had the largest disparity in gender, with 64.4 per cent of the population identifying as female — two per cent up from 2007 numbers.

Data on the number of degrees awarded by field of study for the 2016 calendar year shows large gender disparities in the areas of engineering and physical sciences, education and physical education, and mathematics and physical sciences.

Engineering and physical science degrees overrepresented male students, with only 380 undergraduate degrees out of 1,186 being awarded to female students, amounting to less than 33 per cent.

Disparities are especially apparent in doctoral engineering and physical science degrees, where only 26 per cent of the 156 degrees awarded were to female students.

Among the 1,115 undergraduate mathematics and physical science degrees awarded in 2016, 39 per cent were to female students. These same disparities appear for doctoral degrees as well, with only 24 per cent of the 105 doctoral degree recipients and 31 per cent of the 118 master’s degrees being awarded to female students.

Education and physical education degree recipients also showed gender disparities, where female students are overwhelmingly represented. Across 1,287 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees awarded, three-quarters were female, with the largest disparity among the 759 masters students, where only 21 per cent were male.

International student enrolment

International students who attend U of T are overwhelmingly from China.

With 65.1 per cent of the undergraduate international student enrolment, the 10,463 Chinese international students made up 14.6 per cent of U of T’s total undergraduate population in 2017.

The second-highest international population was from India, with a comparatively few 677 students enrolled. Students from South Korea, the United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Nigeria made up the remaining international undergraduate student population with roughly 12.8 per cent share of total international undergraduate enrolment.

Trends remain similar for graduate international enrolment. Students from China made up 34.7 per cent of the graduate international student population — with students from the United States and India having made up 11.4 and 11.2 per cent of international graduate students, respectively.

By geographic region, undergraduate international enrolment has fluctuated. Enrolment from North America has increased from 281 to 449 students since 2013, while international students coming from the Caribbean and Latin America are on a rapid decline, with 2017 seeing about half of the 2014 enrolment. However, European international student enrolment maintained high levels, at around 800 students per year.

The Asia and Pacific region’s enrolment has seen a 68.9 per cent increase since 2013, more than any other regional division of international enrolment for undergraduate students.

Again, these trends are mirrored in the graduate student population. Of the 3,118 international graduate students in 2017, more than half were from Asia and the Pacific, with North America and the Middle East making up the next largest populations.


In the 2016–2017 school year, U of T received $274,854,977 in pledges and gifts, with 37 per cent of donations coming from alumni. Research grants also made up a large proportion of donations at $62,535,116. The university also received money from various corporations, foundations, and “friends.”

The largest donors are listed online. Donors who have gifted $25,000,000 or more include Paul and Alessandra Dalla Lana, Sandra and Joseph Rotman, John H. and Myrna Daniels, and Peter and Melanie Munk.

If an individual donates $1,827 or more, they can join the Presidents’ Circle club. The club holds special lectures and events presented by “the University’s most celebrated, insightful and inspiring professors.”

Donations are also accepted online, where various funds can be selected to specify where the donor would like their money to go. This includes funds specific to programs, institutions, campuses, and colleges. There is also a President’s Fund for Excellence, listed as part of the Boundless campaign’s “area of greatest need.”

Student Residences

New College had the most students in residence in 2017, holding 900 students with a 901 capacity.

Of the 6,616 residence spaces for students at U of T, 4,017 were occupied by first-year students. University College held the highest number of first-year students relative to its capacity. Besides graduate and family housing, Trinity College held the lowest number of first-year students among the 460 spaces available.

All residences at UTSG were operating at 95 per cent capacity or above in 2017. Chestnut Residence, University College, and Victoria College were all operating at 100 per cent capacity last year.

UTM’s undergraduate housing had a 1,462 student capacity with 642 first-year students. Residences at UTSC housed 754 students of its 767 spaces available, with 613 first-year students in residence.

Wireless connectivity

The university also collects data on the number of connections to U of T’s wireless network across all three campuses. Similar data also shows how students use university-provided web services such as ACORN, including the number of students changing or choosing academic courses, how many students have added bank information, and the number of credit card fee payments that declined.

The average number of connections to U of T’s Wi-Fi per day has doubled since 2013. In 2017, 59,636 unique users accessed U of T’s network per day, with an average of 95,578 devices connecting.