Monday, March 19, 2007

Budget Highlights

Where I read it. So you don't have to!

The first thing to note is that post-secondary education (PSE) isn't the showpiece of the budget. But there are a few tweaks and spending increases that will be of interest. It's also important to note the possible implications of the equalization formula calculations - a province's "fiscal capacity," the extent to which they can be expected to contribute, will be based on property values. That valuation could seriously ding BC, with sky-high property values. So that has some in the provincial Treasury a wee bit frightened. I'll be honest - I don't understand what the "provinces able to choose" actually means, so I'll just leave that as a potential issue.

But on to the PSE sections. There are a few highlights:

  • $800 million increase in the Canada Social Transfer in 2008-9. This is money that the feds give to the provinces to fund provincial social spending in health care and education.
  • Making info about Universities available to Canadians (no further detail).
  • 1,000 new merit-based awards for graduate students. For Masters' students the awards are 17k, for Doctoral students they're 35. Awarded by the granting councils, this totals $35 million/year.
  • $2M international student recruitment campaign. Whoop-dee-doo.
  • A review of the Canada Student Loan Program, designed to simplify and integrate the myriad systems that students must navigate to get financial aid.
  • Increasing RESP contribution limits, which will really only benefit those in upper income brackets.
  • $105M to specialized research centres, including UBC's Brain Research Centre.
  • $85M in new funding to the granting councils: $37M each to NSERC and CIHR, $11M to SSHRC.
  • $15M to support the indirect costs of research. That's nothing.
There are a few worth further explanation.

1) Increase in CST. Good. More money = good. But let's put it in perspective. It's $800M nationally. If you were to (roughly) pro-rate that to UBC's size, it would wipe out our deficit. That's it. This ain't a huge sum of money. But it's definitely a start. I'd personally like to see a dedicated transfer, and bigger. But who wouldn't? It's also delayed a year in order to work out some accountability mechanisms. A response to Maclean's? Highly likely. Accountability has to be a good thing, but will it really be meaningful?

2) The grad student scholarships are big. Important. It's a 50% increase in the state's ability to offer huge chunks of cash to our country's best and brightest. One quarrel - 400 each will be funded by NSERC and CIHR; only 200 go to SSHRC. That means, once again, Social Science and Humanities research is at the bottom of the food chain. That's not how it should be. These are important disciplines, doing important if un-sexy research that too often goes unrewarded. (SSHRC also gets screwed throughout the granting council cash, too.) Also, this does nothing to address accessibility.

3) Loan streamlining. Sure, I suppose it's a good thing. But there's so much more that could be done. Grants. Elimination of parental income stipulations. Any measures targeting those groups that right now don't access PSE. A weak step, but a step nonetheless.

I know I missed something. But the budget's been out for 45 minutes. I'll update when/if I read it more thoroughly. But the headlines? Baby steps in the right direction. Unless you're in Arts.