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Microsoft's grant has strings attached?

The company sets up a $10 million fund to support research and development at Canadian universities--with a required course in a Microsoft programming language.

A collegiate grant from Microsoft has created an uproar after one of the recipients agreed to require a class in a Microsoft programming language as part of the deal.

The software maker's Canadian subsidiary has established a $10 million fund to support technology research and development at Canadian universities. The Microsoft Canada Academic Innovation Alliance was formally launched Wednesday, with a $2.3 million grant to University of Waterloo.

The grant will fund, among other projects, a research program developing a mathematical recognition engine for the Tablet PC, for which Microsoft has developed an operating system.

The grant includes access to other Microsoft technology, such as .Net.

But it's a new class that has caused the stir. As part of the deal, the university will offer a programming course in Microsoft's new C# language. The class will be available online for about 1,500 high school students applying to the electrical and computer engineering department--a first for the university.

The class will also be mandatory for the 300 students per year who are accepted. The new class would replace an existing course that taught C++.

C# is a Java-esque language that Microsoft has developed as part of its Web services strategy. Microsoft, like other companies, competes for programmer "mindshare." By convincing universities to teach classes on their technologies, companies hope to inspire loyalty to their products.

Students and faculty posted sharp criticism of the new course at an online student news site.

The deal shows "that the university admin. will do just about anything for money," one alumnus posted to the news site. "They will change the curriculum, they will place whatever pressure is necessary on students and they will sacrifice the university's role as an institution of knowledge."

The deal also met with criticism from the university's Federation of Students, whose vice president of education said it "sets a dangerous precedent."

"This illustrates that when external organizations offer the university money, they can effectively purchase their way into the curriculum," Ryan O?Connor said in a statement.

Microsoft and University of Waterloo officials denied Friday that there had been any quid pro quo to the deal. Use of the C# language was not mandatory to get the grant, said George Kyriakis, director of education for Microsoft Canada.

Waterloo's "independence is not for sale," President David Johnston said in a release.

Johnston said that the University decided to use C# as a "tool" to help teach students programming concepts, algorithms, and data structures so that they are prepared to use several languages.

"By no means is it the only tool that will be used to educate our students," he said. "The primary focus of our collaboration with Microsoft Canada is not programming languages, but rather research and development."