By Rob South
"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind."
As both our federal and provincial government grapple with what to do with the huge surpluses they are projecting, questions arise as to what our priorities are as a society. One of those questions is what role should universities and colleges play in our nation’s future? More specifically, what role should government play in funding post-secondary education?
While we deal with these questions frequently with the province, the federal government is often the forgotten partner in post-secondary funding. Under the constitution, education is provincial responsibility. But did you know that roughly 50 per cent of the money that the province puts into the post-secondary system comes directly from federal transfer payments? The same transfer payments which were cut by 40 per cent since 1996.
Some of the ways that the federal government affects education are not so obvious. Think about GST for a minute. We are so used to paying it that we see it as normal when it is tacked on to our textbook purchases, but what it is, in fact, is a tax on our education. GST is not supposed to tax certain things, one of them is education; that is why there is not GST on our tuition. If we assume that the average U of C student pays $700 a year on textbooks, this means that U of C students are being taxed a total of more than $1 million a year.
And of course those of us with student loans know about 60 per cent of the loan comes from the federal government. Clearly Ottawa plays an important role in determining out ability to access university education and the quality of it. That’s why VP External, Nassr Awada, and I will be in our nation’s capital next week to lobby the federal government with other student leaders from across the country. We will be asking for a restoration of transfer payments, a tax credit for the GST spent on textbooks, lower student loan interest rates, and a stop to differential fees between provinces.
To deal with affordability and the financial health of our institution we have gone with a more multi-faceted approach this year. Large portions of our time are spent not only lobbying the university, but also the community, the provincial government, and the federal government. As always, I am interested in what you think: are we spreading ourselves too thin or is it only by outlining the roles and responsibilities of every group that we can make continued progress?