Federal budget 2003

Academics concerned with post-secondary education in Canada were pleased with $2 billion promised for research and innovation in the federal budget, released on Tue., Feb. 18. Students in particular will appreciate the $225 million investment in “skills and learning.”

“Investing in post-secondary education is one of the most critical and important investments the federal government can make,” said Canadian Alliance of Student Associations spokesperson Erin Stevenson in a press release. “Government has shown leadership today in listening to groups like CASA and investing in the future by investing in students.”

Over the next two years, the Canada Student Loans Program will have available an additional $59.2 million to ease the burden on students. According to the budget document, some students with loans can net up to $20,000 over three years through a combination of loan remissions, interest relief and debt reductions. In addition, students will be able to earn up to $1,700 per year-up from $600-in employment income while in school before that income counts against their loan eligibility. The first $1,800 in merit-based scholarships will also be exempt.

While this aspect of the budget allows university professors and researchers to pay their students more, the budget should also help researchers. New graduate scholarships, increased funding for national granting councils and more contributions towards the indirect costs of research are intended to increase and sustain Canada’s research capabilities.

“This budget will help universities to raise the bar on research,” said Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada president Robert J. Giroux. “As the federal government continues to increase its investments in research, we would expect that funding for the indirect costs of research will also grow. With a permanent program like this in place, we look forward to the federal government building on this investment to ensure our future competitiveness.”

Three national granting councils will share in the $105 million in annual funding to support 2,000 new masters’ students and 2,000 doctoral students each year. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada will receive 60 per cent of the funding, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada will receive 30 per cent, while the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will receive 10 per cent.

“Canada Graduate Scholars will help renew faculty at Canada’s universities and will be the research leaders of tomorrow,” according to the budget. “The new program will complement the government’s initiative to create 2,000 Canada Research Chairs, supporting excellence at Canada’s universities.”

Granting councils will also be responsible for distributing $225 million per year to help fund indirect costs of federally supported research, in addition to a payment of $200 million for the same purpose last year.

Canadian Association of University Teachers President Victor Catano believes more funding should go towards non-research areas.

“The real problem we’re struggling with is the reduction in core operating grants to universities and colleges,” he said. “As long as the federal government continues to ignore this reality, there just won’t be enough funds to keep tuition fees down or to hire the faculty we desperately need to provide the teaching and research.”

Catano’s remarks echo those made by The University of Calgary Faculty Association’s President Dr. John Baker who last week decried a seven per cent cut to the U of C’s academic budget over two years.

“Potential faculty members thinking about coming to the University of Calgary will see four- and three- per cent cuts, [and] will ask themselves ‘Do I want to go to a university facing a seven per cent budget cut when I have two other offers?'” said Baker. “One worries that if these cuts are necessary, will we be able to meet the goals of the university and senior administration in implementing the changes envisioned in the academic plan?”

Catano and Baker are both concerned at the limited government aid directed at universities.

Catano criticized a $425 million federal allocation to the Canada Education Savings Grant Program, which matches 20 per cent of parental contributions to a child’s Registered Education Savings Plan. He said the program does nothing to improve access to post-secondary education.

“For the same amount of money, we could immediately cut tuition fees by nearly 15 per cent across the board, or we could hire up to 3,000 full-time professors,” he said.

Restoring post-secondary funding to the levels of the early 1990s would take five times what is announced in the budget and not just to research areas, according to Catano.

Students’ Union President Matt Stambaugh could not be reached for comment.

To view the 2003 federal budget, go to http://www.fin.gc.ca/budtoce/2003/budliste.htm.

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