Budget a First Step to Good University Funding: Critics

Federal budget separates PSE money, promises increases

OTTAWA (CUP) — Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion says there is nothing in the federal budget for students, but some groups are hopeful increases to provincial transfers will mean money for universities.

?The dedicated transfer is kind of a macro issue, It’s providing reliable transparent funding for provinces, which is going to force them to improve post-secondary education for students,” said CASA director Phillippe Ouellette.

?It’s kind of a couple steps away from helping students, but this is one of the major problems in post-secondary education–lack of accountability.?

Other groups are disappointed, but still encouraged by the spending on transfer payments, scholarships and research. The Canadian Association of University Teachers and the Canadian Federation of Students both criticized the budget for not providing enough money for students and universities.

?I think It’s a positive first step but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in terms of making sure that money reaches students,? said Amanda Aziz, national chairperson of the CFS. ?The budget was very silent on issues of a national grants system for students.?

The big debate is on change to the Canada Social Transfer, money the federal government gives the provinces pay for social assistance, social services and post-secondary education.

This budget changes the transfer by giving provinces money on a per-capita basis, and by saying that 25 per cent of each province’s payment should be spent on post-secondary education.

CASA and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada argue that setting aside a quarter of the transfer for universities is a positive step towards a dedicated transfer for post-secondary education, while the CFS and CAUT say there is not enough money.

Ouellette says showing exactly how much federal money the provinces should spend on their universities will make the system much more accountable.

?Now students can really point the finger at provinces if tuition goes up,? Ouellette said.

A dedicated transfer payment has been a common demand from all university and student lobby groups since health-care groups won the Canada Health Transfer from the federal government.

The budget increases university funding by $800 million next year, after a consultation with the provinces. It also plans to increase the Canadian Social Transfer by three per cent for every year after.

?I’m not sure why It’s going to take them a year to do, their projected surplus is more than any other government has ever had, the priority is to do it now, ? Ouellette said.

Robert Best, vice-president of national affairs for AUCC, says it will be important for students and professors to watch the negotiations between the federal and provincial governments over the next year.

?It will be very important for the governments to negotiate mutually agreed objectives to ensure that the dollars really are spent on post-secondary education,? he said.

Aziz says the CFS will be pressuring the provinces to pass the money along to universities. But the amount of the money in the transfer will be still $1 billion short of the amount spent in 1992 on post-secondary education, according to James Turk of CAUT.

In two years the provinces will receive $3.2 billion for post-secondary education. Turk says that if the government was spending as much as they did in 1992, accounting for population and inflation, the amount should be $4.2 billion.

?In terms of what is needed for post-secondary education [the budget] was a disappointment,? Turk said.

Denise Savoie, the NDP critic for post-secondary education, hopes the government will consider her Canada Education Act, a private members bill, as a way to ensure the money is spent on maintaining national standards for post-secondary education. But she says the promise of funding for universities is empty without an agreement from the provinces.

?There is so much room to fudge, because if It’s not a dedicated transfer we don’t know where it is going,? Savoie said.

The decision to give provinces per capita funding based on population is also drawing criticism because it is not reflective of the number of universities in the provinces. Provinces such as Nova Scotia — with many universities but a low population — will receive less per student than other provinces.

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