EDMONTON (CUP) – Last week was the most important time of the year for observers of post-secondary education in Canada and Alberta. The federal budget, released Tuesday, and the province’s budget, released Wednesday, received more criticism than praise from student groups hoping for increased spending on grants and scholarships.
The federal budget, which promises more support for students of low-income families, an increase in weekly student loan allowances, an increase in the maximum amount of debt reduction for students facing financial difficulty, and an increase of $20 million to offset the indirect costs of research, failed to impress the University of Alberta student council.
“Merely increasing the loan limits isn’t really going to help that many people,” said Mat Brechtel, student council president. “Putting yourself in further debt when you’re in dire need anyway is not going to put you in a better position after you graduate. That’s very much a double-edged sword.”
Vice-president Chris Samuel was similarly negative about the federal budget. “It disappoints me in a lot of ways,” he said. “One of the main things that we were advocating and that students across the country have been advocating is increased funding to the institutions on the federal level, and there have been opportunities for that. We would have liked to see, bottom line, more dollars going to the institutions.”
Rick Telfer, Ontario representative for the Canadian Federation of Students, agreed. “What we would have preferred to see, and what we’ve been calling for pretty much since this organization was founded in 1981, is funding that should come in the way of a separate envelope of money for post-secondary education,” he said.
“Right now, the more you let students borrow, the more of an incentive you offer to institutions to raise the cost of post-secondary education,” he said.
The U of A administration was more positive about the federal budget, particularly over the $90-million increase in the amount of funding allocated to the three large post-secondary granting councils: the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
“This is important to us for many reasons; as we renew the professoriate, we have an increased demand on funding from the three granting councils for basic research expenses and, most importantly, this is a very important source of funding in graduate student packages,” said U of A Provost Carl Amrhein.
“All in all, the federal government had some good news for us, and the provincial government, our primary source of income revenues, had even more good news for us,” he said.
The highlights of the provincial budget for post-secondary institutions include an increase in funding for Alberta institutions of 7.5 per cent, or $85 million, the creation of 2,000 new spaces for students in the province, and an increase in funding for scholarships, bursaries, and grants of $6.2 million. “I always hope for more, but all in all, we are pleased with the budget and we hope to see more in the future,” said Amrhein.
According to Alberta Learning spokesperson Josepha Vanderstoop, this year’s budget illustrates the provincial government’s “strong commitment towards the learning system.”
“This is just a continuation of the government’s commitment to ensuring that students have access to an excellent post-secondary system here in Alberta,” she said.