Four provincial budgets tabled in March served up mixed offerings for post-secondary education.
In Ontario, the focus of the Liberal government’s budget was on rebuilding the province’s infrastructure, but universities and colleges received $290 million more in operating grants for 2006–2007 as the next installment in the government’s “reaching higher” plan.
That plan, announced in the 2005 budget, will set aside a projected $6.2 billion over five years to provide more university and college spaces, hire more professors and reduce student debt.
This year’s budget will also double student aid spending by 2009, and will increase the number of students who receive up-front grants. Additionally, the government plans to raise the income threshold at which a two-child family qualifies for grants, from $35,000 to $75,000.
While the extra funding for financial support programs is a welcome nod, its benefit will be offset by the government’s plan to raise tuition fees between 4 and 8 per cent, following a two-year freeze, said Jesse Greener, Ontario chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.
“The government is attempting to deflect anger over tuition increases by pointing to changes in student aid,” she said. “But the fact is the tuition fee increase over the next four years will effectively wipe out more than the student financial assistance investment to be phased in over the same period. In fact, for every dollar invested in student aid more than a dollar will be clawed back through tuition fee increases.”
In Quebec, the education community accused the Charest government of ignoring post-secondary education in favour of debt reduction.
The 2006–2007 budget includes an additional $660 million for education, an increase of 5.4 per cent from last year. Of this amount, $224.5 million is devoted to post-secondary education, of which universities receive $148 million, an increase of 7 per cent.
The Fédération québecoise des professeures et professeurs d’université said the extra funding for postsecondary education is insufficient and does little to redress the chronic underfunding of universities and colleges in the province.
“The budget is focused on being responsible toward future generations and puts the priority on reducing the debt,” FQPPU president Cécile Sabourin said. “But the most responsible thing we could do for future generations is to invest in education, health and social services.”
The reaction from the education community was markedly different in Alberta where the government, flush with revenues from soaring oil prices, announced an 18 per cent increase in funding to post-secondary operating budgets over the next three years.
“This is a home run for advanced education,” said Art Quinney, deputy provost of the University of Alberta. “It recognizes that catch up was required.”
Other budget highlights include $90 million to add 15,000 new spaces in Alberta’s post-secondary institutions over the next three years, an additional $7.5 million for scholarships, bursaries and grants for 2005– 2006, and a $250 million contribution to the previously announced $3 billion endowment fund for post-secondary education.
Newfoundland & Labrador
Finance Minister Loyola Sullivan’s 2006 budget unexpectedly added millions of dollars in new funding for universities and colleges — well beyond increases promised in last year’s White Paper on post-secondary education.
“Students applaud government’s efforts to improve the quality of our post-secondary education system,” said Jessica Magalios, Newfoundland and Labrador chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students. “The new funding, combined with what was outlined last year in the White Paper, will go a long way to ensuring that students receive excellent education and skills training in this province.”