Student groups critical of budget

By Chris Dart
News EditorWith the double cohort threatening to crush Ontario’s post-secondary institutions like insects under the feet of a disgruntled two-year-old, it’s not surprising that Ontario finance minister Jim Flaherty’s budget, unveiled May 9, was rife with promises to increase spending on post-secondary education.
Flaherty promised to up post-secondary spending by 12.5 per cent over the next three years, including $60 million on an ambitious plan to create a new university within the campus of Oshawa’s Durham College. The Ontario Institute of Technology (OIT) will focus on providing a “seamless transition among college and university programs” within technology related fields and “will provide one-stop shopping for students looking for a mix of academic and hands-on experience,” according to Flaherty.
Flaherty also promised $100 million for maintenance of existing colleges and universities, $50 million over five years to update equipment and facilities for college apprenticeship programs, $12 million over three years to retrain foreign professionals and $33 million in 2004-05 to double the number of entrants into the skilled trades. Most importantly, an approximately $293 million increase in operating grants will be allocated by 2003-004 to accommodate increased post-secondary enrollment.
Despite the seemingly cheery news, many student leaders are unimpressed by the promises.
“Although today’s $293 million investment is a step in the right direction, it is designed in a way that will ultimately cost the students of this province,” said Ryan Parks, executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Students Association (OUSA). “The model the government is using … is directly proportional to the projected enrollment numbers, but fails to take inflation into account.”
This means that despite the increase in spending, actual per-student funding will decrease.
“While the government has increased operational funding for universities, it has not made money available to combat student debt, despite recent studies that show participation students from lower income families has decreased since recent tuition deregulation,” says OUSA President Mark Schaan.
Student leaders at Brock also expressed a degree of dissatisfaction with the provincial budget.
“One of the main problems with the $290 or 280 million that we got was that it’s going to be dispensed as the students come in,” said Mark Baseggio, Brock University Students Union (BUSU) vice-president, university affairs. “It’s a good thing that we got the money — don’t get me wrong — but we’re going to need to hire professors before that. The administration at Brock even said ‘How are we going to hire profs when we don’t have the money?’ So that’s going to be a problem. going to be a problem.”
Baseggio also noted a Canadian Association of University Financial Officers statistic saying that Ontario universities have over $1 billion in deferred maintenance costs, meaning that the $100 million allotted in the budget is only a fraction of what’s required.
Duncan Small, BUSU president, expressed concern over the new budget’s lack of funding aimed directly at students, as opposed to at institutions.
“Whether you’re from an upper-level income family or a lower income family, [post-secondary education] is still an expense to the family. Hopefully it will be an investment for the family, but at the time you’re paying your tuition, it’s still an expense or a debt incurred,” said Small. “We need to bring levels of government support, at least, back to on par with what they were in ’91. This is an investment.”

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