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Margin Notes

Research, student aid are budget’s key areas for universities


The federal government’s 2015 budget – the last before this fall’s election – contains a number of measures of interest to Canada’s universities. The two key areas highlighted as positive developments by stakeholders include sustained research support and changes to student financial aid.

I’ll start with student aid, with details courtesy of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Set to begin in 2016-2017, the federal government is investing $419 million over four years into the Canada Student Loan and Canada Student Grant Programs. “Students have not seen this kind of investment in financial aid in several years,” noted Jonathan Champagne, executive director of CASA.

Budget 2015 outlined the following 2016-2017 government commitments to financial aid:

  • Eliminating in-study income, ensuring that students are not penalized for earning an income while in school – $116 million over four years;
  • Reducing expected parental contribution, helping students make ends meet – $119 million over four years;
  • Expanding the eligibility of Canada Student Grants, allowing students in shorter (34-week) programs access to non-repayable aid – $184 million over four years. This is the first major change to the CSG since its introduction in 2009.

On a related note, the budget provides an additional $12 million over three years to Indspire, an Indigenous-led charity, to provide postsecondary scholarships and bursaries for First Nations and Inuit students. As well, the budget provides $56.4 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to Mitacs in order to expand the scope of its Accelerate Program, which supports graduate-level industrial research and development internships. The new funding to Mitacs “will see graduate students transfer their skills from theory to application while our partner companies grow through innovation,” said Alejandro Adem, the organization’s CEO and scientific director.

The budget also contains a number of measures related to jobs and skills, including a one-time investment of $65 million over four years, starting in 2016-17, to business and industry associations to allow them to work with postsecondary institutions to better align curricula with the needs of employers.

On the research front, the big news was the government’s announcement of $1.5 billion over five years to advance research and innovation. The bulk of that new money, $1.33 billion over six years starting in 2017-18, goes to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to support advanced research infrastructure at universities, colleges and research hospitals. This builds on previous research commitments now being rolled out, including Budget 2014’s investment of $1.5 billion over 10 years for the Canada First Research Excellence Fund. Budget 2015 also pledges $46 million for the granting councils, with the additional funding flowing in 2016-17.

“Investments in the Canada Foundation for Innovation will keep more top Canadian researchers here, attract world-leading international talent, train the next generation of discoverers and innovators, and enable us to pursue promising new areas of research – where Canada can lead,” said David Barnard, chair of Universities Canada (formerly the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada) and president of the University of Manitoba.

There is additional support to CANARIE: $105 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, to continue to operate Canada’s national high-speed research and education network; an additional $45 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, for TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics; as well as the recently announced funding of up to $243.5 million to secure Canada’s participation in the Thirty Meter Telescope.

Alex Usher at Higher Educaton Strategies Associates provides a detailed analysis of the budget, relative to higher education, here (PDF). His take is that the budget is is a mix of the “somewhat good” (primarily regarding student aid) and the “moderately disappointing” (in terms of research funding). The Federaton for the Humanities and Social Sciences also prepared a briefing note (PDF) with budget highlights. “Canada requires equitable, long-term and stable funding that improves access to education, mobility and people-centred, discovery-based research,” said Jean-Marc Mangin, executive director of the Federation. “Today’s announcements are a step in the right direction.”

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is the editor of University Affairs.
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