There is unprecedented cooperation in federal lobbying between higher education organizations in Ottawa this academic year. This cooperation is evident in such areas as research, student aid, copyright and opposition to the GST being charged on books and magazines.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), CAUT, and the Canadian Consortium for Research jointly created a proposal this fall for federal funding of research. It called on the federal government to bring in an infrastructure program for university research.
It asked for funding for new researchers, transition awards to allow postgraduate students to do practical work in business or in the community, support for the decaying physical research infrastructure of universities, assistance in commercialization of research, and community research shops as recently suggested by the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada.
The group also favours renewed funding of the three granting councils and of the Centres of Excellence.
A joint brief was presented by the organizations to the Commons Finance Committee, whose report in December was sympathetic to many of these proposals.
CAUT, AUCC, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), and the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators agreed in January on a series of recommendations concerning federal policy on student aid which recognized the seriousness of the student debt crisis.
The document called for increased grants for specific groups such as single parents and low-income first year students, amelioration of the repayment arrangements for those who are unemployed or seriously underemployed immediately after graduation, a loan forgiveness program based on student debt ratios and changes to the tax treatment of students and of RESPs.
CAUT is exploring with its partners the extent to which we can work together to publicize research and student aid issues in the 1997 federal election. As well, for the past two years CAUT has participated with CFS in the work of the group preparing the alternative budget headed by Cho!ces and the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
CAUT, AUCC, the Canadian Library Association, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, the Canadian Teachers' Federation and the Canadian School Boards Association agreed in January to a common position on the federal government's copyright proposals. They created a joint brief rejecting many of the proposals of the Heritage Committee of the Commons and recommending other changes to the act which the committee had chosen to ignore (see copyright p).
Don’t Tax Reading Coalition
CAUT has long opposed the application of the GST to books and magazines. We support the Don’t Tax Reading Coalition which is led by Canadian publishers and booksellers. The coalition scored a recent victory in the Atlantic provinces in the fight to exempt reading materials from the GST.
Why the new partnerships? Terror is the first reason. The impact of the massive cuts in federal transfers and the effective removal of post-secondary education from that transfer is now becoming apparent at the local level. Paul Martin has cut billions from the transfer payments — a cut, in fact, of 40 per cent. All the organizations recognize that it is imperative to get as much of this funding back as possible.
Secondly, the organizations know that the scale of the crisis in higher education is so severe that there is no time any more for inter-organizational gamesmanship. The federal government has long practised the policy of playing the various parts of the university community off against each other. "We should recognize that trap, and await it," said CAUT President Dr. Bill Bruneau.
Furthermore it is clear that the federal government will only act where it has traditionally involved itself such as student aid and university research, so it is a logical step to focus on these areas.
All the higher education organizations in Ottawa face tighter budgets and it makes sense to pool lobbying efforts as much as possible.
CAUT has long believed that the organizations representing higher education in Ottawa should be able to agree on such matters as federal transfers, research funding, student aid, support for First Nations students, and the area of policy for international students.
"We recognize," said Dr. Bruneau, "that there will continue to be disagreements at the local level about the distribution of funds. However, there should be no disagreement about the need to get the funds in the first place and the pressing need for unity in that lobbying process. Then we can agree to disagree locally, if necessary.
"Furthermore we should not rely on the provinces to lobby Ottawa for us. They have been totally ineffectual for the past 20 in this regard and many of them are more interested in plotting to dismantle federal power than in creating effective financial federal/provincial arrangements for the universities."