Fur flies over budget

By Joel McNally

With the federal budget announcement due on Dec. 10, two federal student lobby groups are at odds over the report released by the Standing Committee on Finance. The report, entitled Securing our Future, details recommendations to direct the formulation of the federal budget.

Included are two recommendations of particular interest to post-secondary students: extended post-secondary debt relief and increased funding for the indirect costs of research. These were included as a result of lobbying by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, the only student organization quoted in the document.

"We’re seeing real results," said CASA National Director Liam Arbuckle. "CASA works with the government to ensure that post-secondary education remains a priority."

However, the Canadian Federation of Students does not see these recommendations as a significant step forward.

"Students are immensely disappointed with the Committee’s recommendations," said CFS National Chair Ian Boyko. "The report was silent on the issue of skyrocketing tuition fees and student debt."

The Committee recommended that the federal government re-evaluate the criteria for debt relief initiatives as only a few hundred students have benefitted from the Debt Reduction and Repayment program since its inception in the 1998 budget.

"In order to assure Canadians’ prosperity, access to post-secondary education should be on the basis of skill, not ability to pay," reads the report.

Boyko perceives this statement as a minor concession at best.

"The things mentioned for post-secondary education were pretty modest," he said. "It’s a step to see the eligibility reviewed, but it is by no means a major victory for students."

"There are some things [about the DRR program] that need to be improved," agreed Arbuckle. "But, it would be difficult to scrap the entire system and I don’t think that the government would ever view that as feasible."

The Committee also recommended that the federal government commit to funding the indirect costs of research.

"Currently the indirect costs of research are borne mostly by the universities themselves, placing a significant burden on their finances," states the report. "This also robs some non-science faculties of operating funds so as to finance scientific research indirect costs."

"This is a good move," said Arbuckle. "The research done in our universities needs this funding and we’re happy to see the finance committee recognize this critical need."

"Funding indirect costs is fine," Boyko agreed. "I think a more comprehensive way would be to make sure that core operating budgets of universities and colleges are up to an adequate level."

The report can be viewed at www.parl.gc.ca/InfoComDoc/37/1/FINA/Studies/Reports/FINARP10-e.htm.

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