Fed Watch!

Manitoba Universities Save on Taxes

The Manitoba Government has announced (http://www.gov.mb.ca/chc/press/top/2002/01/2002-01-11-04.html) a five year plan to phase out property tax being paid by Universities. This means there are only three provinces that still require Universities to pay property tax (http://www.canoe.ca/NationalTicker/CANOE-wire.Mba-Tax-Breaks.html). Those three are Quebec, New Brunswick, and Ontario. Curiously, it is Ontario that has spent much time promoting their “Red Tape Commission”, a group supposedly devoted to eliminating wasteful bureaucracy. So it seems that funding the university from the one hand while taking taxes off with the other is not considered wasteful bureaucracy yet.

Ontario Teachers get Checked

The Ontario government has announced (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/nr/02.01/nr0107.html) a new requirement for all teachers beginning this year. Before being allowed to teach students, prospective teachers will have to undergo a criminal background check. What is concerning is that up until this year, there was no such requirement. When we send our children to school we naturally hope that the school
board has done everything possible to ensure students’ safety. A criminal background check on the person who is going to be spending six hours a day with our children would seem to be a minimum requirement.

Interestingly, a report (http://www.nswtf.org.au/world/20001211_subs.html) from the New South Wales Teachers Federation charges that the reason teachers are being hired without criminal background checks in the first place is not because it has not been the policy of the schools to do so, but rather because the Harris governments’ funding cuts to education. These cuts have encouraged a large number of teachers to take early retirement and simply not leaving enough time for the administration to do all the necessary checks on people before putting them in control of a classroom of kids. This is the same Harris government that is giving tax breaks to people sending their children to private schools, thus pulling money out of the public system, and increasing demand for teachers in the private system. All combined, it looks like a dedicated effort to tear down a publicly funded education system.

Funding the Education Industry?

In Newfoundland & Labrador the government has announced (http://www.gov.nf.ca/releases/2002/indrural/0108n06.htm) a $25,000 investment into the Humber Education Alliance, a non-profit organization devoted to attracting international students to the region. While this is certainly commendable, and I’d love to see something similar happening in Alberta, specifically with reference to Athabasca University, it was disturbing to see the statement, “Education as an industry, with potential to generate considerable economic wealth, was one of the themes that emerged during the province’s public consultations on Jobs and Growth,” within the release. While education certainly does bring many benefits and jobs to a region if the public becomes to complacent in thinking of education as simply another industry, I fear we will lose something critical.

An industry’s main goal is profit. The easiest way to make profit is to concentrate on the areas which have the most demand, such as Computing, Medical, or Business oriented degrees. Would education as an industry really see a need for such diverse programs as Women’s or Native studies? Looking at private institutions like DeVry suggests that it would not. Education may be a wonderful industry, but it is also something much more. We should make sure we remember that.

University for the Rich

It’s often been said that nobody should be restricted from attending a University solely because of financial hardship. In fact, this is the very thing that student loan programs are designed to help. Unfortunately, the latest statistics (http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/020109/d020109a.htm) suggest that this goal is not being achieved. The statistics show that if your family income when you are 16 is in the lowest quartile, you only have half the chances of attending University as your peers whose family income is in the highest quartile. It seems we still have a long way to go.