The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance tabled its report yesterday, Dec. 9, on the pre-budget consultations it conducted over the past three months. The report touches on a number of areas of interest to the postsecondary education community, with recommendations related to research funding, student debt, and promoting the export of education services.
For those of you who might not know the rituals of Parliament, this is an annual event. The finance committee holds hearings in the fall, at which numerous groups appear to suggest where the government may wish to direct its funding in the next budget. The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, for example, appeared before the committee on Nov. 18. AUCC’s pre-budget submission can be viewed here.
The committee then deliberates and produces a report, which is what it released yesterday, grandly titled, A Prosperous and Sustainable Future for Canada: Needed Federal Actions. Interested groups comb through it like a soothsayer reading tea leaves for clues to the next budget, and then we all wait to see what is actually contained in the budget, which is usually tabled in February or March.
The committee says that investments in research and development, as well as in commercialization activities, are important if Canada “is to be positioned for prosperity and sustainability.” The committee thus recommends that:
[T]he government should increase its support to research through federal granting councils and research agencies as well as for the indirect costs of research. As well, the government should encourage universities and colleges to partner in complementary areas of research as well as commercialization of research.
The committee also recommends that the government should “create a specialized fund for medical research for children’s health.”
The committee says that students “need to be supported in their studies” and believes that “additional assistance would be desirable, particularly for graduates to locate in areas of the country that may have difficulties in recruiting and retaining employees.”
Thus, the committee recommends that, “The federal government create a refundable tax credit for new graduates. The proposed tax credit should be available to those who move to designated regions and engage in employment in their field of study.”
Promotion of education services exports
The committee states that “our education system is stronger, educational outcomes are better, and everyone benefits, if foreign students are welcomed into our education system and Canadian educational institutions have a foreign presence.” For this reason, the committee recommends that, “The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, explore the development of a national strategy to promote greater emphasis on Canadian education services exports.”
So, how likely is it that any of these recommendations will make it into the next federal budget? It’s hard to say, but there may be a clue in the “supplementary opinion” appended to the document by the Conservative members.
It reads in part:
“The Government’s focus in the upcoming federal budget … should not be on new additional stimulus but getting existing stimulus measures into the economy. Additionally, any spending commitments must be limited and aligned to ensure a timely return to balanced budgets.”
To underline their point, the Conservatives state that “now is not the time to undertake major new spending initiatives” and reaffirm their belief “that lower taxes are good for families, business and Canada’s long-term economic growth.”
So, there are the tea leaves. Make of them what you will.