By McGill Reporter Staff
The Quebec government on March 17 tabled a budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year that includes a set of measures – including tuition increases – to bolster revenues for the province’s universities over the next six years.
And the federal government on March 22 announced some important initiatives to support university-level research in Canada, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum said after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget was presented in the House of Commons.
While the budget measures announced by Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand don’t go as far as the heads of Quebec’s universities had called for, several welcomed the moves as a step toward addressing chronic underfunding of the province’s universities compared with peer institutions in the rest of the country.
“We are pleased to see this recognition on the part of the Quebec government of the needs of universities, as well as a plan that provides universities with stable and predictable funding over the next six years,” said Munroe-Blum. “The increases are coming not only from increased tuition fees, which we have been urging the government to adopt for a number of years, but also from increased government investment in universities, something we had also been recommending.”
In all, the budget measures announced by Bachand would boost universities’ funding for teaching and research by $850 million, or 25 per cent, over six years. Of that total, $320 million would cover inflation and changes in the size of the student population. Over half of the total increase in revenue would come from government, “and students will be asked to pay their fair share,” the Finance Ministry said.
The budget provides for an annual increase of $325 in tuition for the five years starting in the fall of 2012. The annual increment of $325 works out to $6.25 a week over the course of a calendar year. By 2017, university tuition in Quebec would reach $3,793 a year – still more than 30 per cent below the average amount for the rest of Canada in 2010. Under this plan, tuition would eventually cover close to 17 per cent of Quebec universities’ revenues – up from 13 per cent in 2008-2009, but still well below the mid-1960s level of 26 per cent, Bachand noted.
In order to maintain accessibility, some $118 million, or more than a third of the revenues derived from tuition increases, would go into increased bursaries for needy students.
But the tuition increases drew protests from some students. The increase of $1,625 over five years represents “an attack against our generation and against the middle class,” said Louis-Philippe Savoie, president of the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ).
More support needed from private sector
Bachand’s six-year “Quebec University Funding Plan” also includes an initiative aimed at spurring the private sector to increase donations to universities by 50 per cent, to $165 million in 2016-2017. To that end, the government would match increases in donations, up to an overall cap of $40 million a year.
In addition, the new six-year plan also provides for “partnership agreements” between the government and universities to ensure that additional revenues translate into improved performance.
“The new measures to encourage philanthropy are most welcome, as is the recognition from the government of the need to move to results-based funding through specific performance agreements between the Ministry and the universities,” Munroe-Blum said. “We have been suggesting for some time that this is the way of the future in terms of improving accountability and performance. While we might have preferred a more tailored approach on this issue and several others, overall we feel the government is moving in the right direction.”
Exciting new federal programs
With regard to the proposed federal budget, Munroe-Blum singled out three important programs that between them add $165 million in research funding and also noted that other funding increases add up to a significant amount of support for research in the context of a necessarily austere budget that works to reduce Canada’s deficit.
The three major programs were:
• A new institute to allocate, on a competitive basis, $12 million over five years in research dollars for joint projects with India;
• Ten new Canada Excellence Research Chairs (or CERCs) in which the government provides $53.5 million over five years to bring the world’s best researchers to a Canadian university through a competitive process;
• A new, $100-million “Canada Brain Research Fund” program under which research projects will apply for funding (matched by Ottawa to a maximum of $100 million) under a competitive process.
“These are exciting new programs with substantial backing,” said Munroe-Blum, who chairs the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada’s Standing Advisory Committee on University Research. “They will create important new opportunities for universities across the country and will continue the work the government has already done to boost research and innovation in Canada and to ensure we remain competitive with the best in the world.”