Despite recent drastic cutbacks in federal support for higher education, Ottawa remains a substantial player in the funding of post-secondary education and research.
For many years the single largest source of federal support for post-secondary education was the Established Programs Financing system of transfers to the provinces. During 1995-96 the cash transfer included under Established Programs Financing for post-secondary education was $2.2 billion.
This changed in 1996 when the Liberal government rolled together into one undifferentiated sum all the previous transfer arrangements for health, post-secondary education and social assistance, re-named the consolidated block transfer the Canada Health & Social Transfer, and announced that the cost-sharing approach was a thing of the past.
The conditions and principles of both the Canada Health Act and the Canada Assistance Plan underlie the new Canada Health & Social Transfer but the government is mute on principles and objectives for post-secondary education — in fact most of the time the government treats the transfer as one for health alone.
Since announcing the new Canada Health & Social Transfer the Liberals have cut the cash portion of the transfer by more than 30 per cent. The Liberals, in their election platform, have promised to ease this cut slightly by setting the new floor at $12.5 billion instead of $11 billion.
The creation of the Canada Health & Social Transfer meant that CAUT and the other stakeholders in the university community have understandably focused on regaining lost ground by lobbying for substantial increases in federal funding for university research and student aid.
The main agencies for the support of university research are the three federal granting councils (MRC, NSERC, SSHRC) and, in the fine arts, the Canada Council. All have suffered cuts under the Liberal government’s austerity measures.
The current cost of the Canada Student Loans Program, the main vehicle for federal support of students, is $619 million. Early in their mandate the Liberals increased payments to students which had been frozen for 10 years under the Tories.
The stakeholders are continuing to press for the support of more programs in these areas since the sums made available in this year’s budget by no means offset the cuts in transfers to the provinces.