Education News – Sustainability money remains untouched

MONTREAL (CUP) ? Nine months ago, the Quebec government pledged $250,000 to fund student-run sustainability initiatives at universities across the province. To this day, not one campus has seen a single dollar of that money.
And they might never if an extension for the July 2009 deadline to appropriate the funds isn’t approved.

Line Beauchamp?Quebec’s minister of sustainable development, environment and parks?announced last April the government would match the sustainability funds raised by students, and put it toward campus sustainability projects.

The $250,000 was taken from the Fonds d?action québécois pour le développement durable (FAQDD) budget.

The FAQDD, created in March 2000, is a non-profit organization that offers financial support to groups wanting to develop sustainable projects in Quebec.

In order to fulfill its mission, the FAQDD was given a $51-million budget from the government of Quebec.

One of the conditions to receive funding was that projects would have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Two more restrictions were that the project would have to be innovative and the funding could not be injected into projects that were already under way.

The minister’s announcement came at the end of the Generations Pact tour, an initiative spearheaded by graduates of Montreal’s Concordia University.

The tour, which visited 10 of Quebec’s 18 universities over 10 days, aimed to get the provincial government to match student-raised sustainability funds dollar-for-dollar.

Concordia University, McGill University, Bishop’s University, and several other universities each submitted proposals for projects to receive funding from the Generations Pact, but not a single one was approved.

?The process was rushed and unclear,? said Concordia’s sustainability action fund co-ordinator, Jasmine Stuart.

Although the funding was announced in April, students had to wait until they had a co-ordinator to work with, then submit their proposals in time for the October deadline.

When Pascale Geoffroy was hired as the Generations Pact project co-ordinator in August, her role was to develop the project and support students throughout the application process.

The students involved with campus sustainability acknowledge she has worked hard, but even her guidance wasn’t enough.

?There was a lack of communication,? Geoffroy said. ?It didn’t appear anybody was clear on the information at any step of the process.?

Nicolas Girard, FAQDD’s program director, agrees with Stuart and Geoffroy.
?There are a lot of parties involved in this project,? he said. ?Passing the same information to everybody was very difficult, and it was all going too fast,? said Girard.

Montreal’s McGill University asked for funding to help develop a 100-tonne composting facility downtown.

?We applied with that because we thought it was a good project and we were able to pull the proposal together fast enough,? said Maggie Knight, an environment ambassador with the Student Society of McGill University.

?We put a lot of work into it, and it was just turned down. It was really frustrating and disappointing,? she added.

Geoffroy says the proposals were not accepted because of discrepancies between the way students presented their projects and the conditions and requirements for funding.

At the request of some students, a representative from the provincial government and FAQDD held a video-conference with university representatives and Geoffroy. During the conference, the government representatives outlined the criteria they were looking for.

?At that point it was more clear there was a difference between the way the proposal of the government investment was presented to the ministry during the tour and what was actually announced by the ministry,? Geoffroy said.

Knight’s partner, Nathan DeBono, got the impression the government didn’t really want to give the schools the money.

?The criteria were really difficult to understand. It was totally confusing,? he said. ?We asked for examples of what they would accept, and they wouldn’t give us any. They said if they did, then the projects wouldn’t be innovative.?

Unappeased, DeBono, Knight, and Stuart decided to write a letter to the minister during the last provincial election campaign expressing their frustrations and disappointments.

They eventually got a letter back from Geoffroy, informing them actions were being taken to extend the government’s deadline for appropriating the funds by a full year, to July 31, 2010.

Geoffroy says the new deadline hasn’t been approved yet, but she expects it should be.

Girard, who said the FAQDD is ?really just a financial partner in the project,? would not comment on the deadline extension.

?We are in discussion right now,? he said. ?Our priority is to get this going. We want to give the students time to use the money, but we’re also concerned the projects meet all the requirements.?

Girard expects to have an answer on the extension within the next two weeks.
Geoffroy says she is committed to doing her best to see that students? projects are accepted this time around.

?I really believe in the students and their empowerment and their ability to do this,? she said.

But some students aren’t motivated to re-apply for funding after seeing all their efforts go to waste last semester.

?Students will be slower to put in the big effort again,? Knight said. ?The students in charge of the composting project are already looking elsewhere for funding.

?They were really discouraged after being turned down. I mean, we’re all students, we have full course loads. It’s really hard to convince yourself to dedicate that much time to something That’s so uncertain.?

Stuart, who remains hopeful, has several projects she is considering to use on Concordia’s application.

?I think everybody’s on the same page now. Everybody wants the project to be successful,? she said. ?We just need to figure out how to work through the bureaucratic system.?

%d bloggers like this: