With the government set to fall, Finance Minister Ralph Goodale used this year’s federal fiscal update to stake out the key elements of the Liberal Party’s coming election campaign platform.
The cornerstone of that platform is nearly $30 billion in tax cuts, but the update also contains promises to spend more than $6 billion on post-secondary education over the next five years.
CAUT’s executive director James Turk said the planned extra funding for universities and colleges is welcome, but fails to address the overriding problem of inadequate core funding.
“We’re pleased the Liberals are interested in expanding access to post-secondary education and we welcome the expansion of the Canada Access Grant program to cover all years of study,” Turk said. “However, this has to be accompanied by a coordinated strategy with the provinces to freeze and eventually reduce tuition so that fee increases don’t offset the value of the grant. This can only be done through an increase in the core operating budgets of universities and colleges.”
In addition to improvements in grants to undergraduate students, the government also promised to double the number of graduate scholarships awarded, boost funding for the Canada Student Loan Program, and provide more support for aboriginal students and students with disabilities.
“All these initiatives are important steps in expanding access to post-secondary education, but we also need to see a more direct federal commitment to core operating funding through a dedicated transfer to the provinces for post-secondary education,” Turk said. “Without that, it’s just tinkering around the edges of the real problem.”
The update also proposes to substantially increase research funding over the next five years, including $1.2 billion in additional funding for the indirect costs of university research and an increase of $85 million to the granting agencies’ budgets.
But Turk said he is concerned about the government’s continuing narrow focus on the commercialization of university research and its intention to require the granting councils to develop and report annually on a standardized set of measures to track research outcomes.
“These types of performance indicators applied to research have proven disastrous in other jurisdictions,” he said. “In the United Kingdom, it has skewed research toward short-term publication results at the expense of more long-term and fundamental research.”