Federal budget encouraging for universities

The federal budget tabled Monday has earned the support of many academics.

While much of the attention went to the budget's tax cuts, there were welcome provisions for students and researchers -- a $2.5-billion increase over four years in transfer payments to the provinces for health and education, $900 million for scientific research over the next five years, confirmation of 2,000 new scholarly chairs, and a bigger tax-free deduction (from $500 to $3,000) for recipients of scholarships and bursaries.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) responded with enthusiasm, calling the increased funding "a much-needed boost for Canada's universities."

Robert J. Giroux, president of the AUCC, said, "Our members will now look to provincial governments to use this increase to enhance the core operating budgets of Canadian universities."

Rob Green, president of the Concordia Student Union, saw things differently. "I am completely offended," he exclaimed. "Tuition and user fees are going through the roof, and these tax cuts do nothing for the poor. It's nothing but a disgusting giveaway to the wealthy."

Put in perspective, Green said, the $2.5-billion increase in transfer payments is "a drop in the bucket" compared to the $7 billion in cuts to education throughout the 1990s, and the $55 billion in tax cuts Green claims are being given as a sop to the corporate sector.

Concordia Economics Professor Syed Ahsan welcomed the tax cuts, which he characterized as moderate, but said that the one-time transfer increase for health and education is far short of what was asked for. "I suspect that Mr. [Paul] Martin is looking for a co-operative response from the provinces," he said.

Concordia has done well in the competition for research grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, winning more than its share so far. The news that $900 million will be added to the fund and its life extended four years (to 2005) is welcome news to Concordia researchers. -BB

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