My name is David Paradis. I am the president of the Quebec Federation of University Students, the FEUQ. We represent 120,000 university students from across Quebec throughout the academic levels. We are also the only university student representative group recognized by the Quebec government.
I thank the committee for having invited us here today. However, I have to say that we are very concerned about the budget we were presented with on January 27. There is a serious lack of vision for post-secondary education. The budget is deplorable in three respects.
First, rather than dealing with the underfunding of post-secondary education, the budget interferes in areas of provincial jurisdiction. Second, it widens the funding gap between various university disciplines. Third, we deplore the budget because it reduces basic funding for granting agencies that support research.
In terms of funding—I heard some stakeholders speak to this—there is a consensus regarding the $3.5 billion shortfall in federal transfers for post-secondary education, that would be required to catch up to the 1994 level of funding. In our opinion, as is the case for all advocates for education in Quebec, restoring federal transfers to the 1994 level will provide the solution. It is quite simple, the provinces are responsible for expenditures and education, therefore it is simply an issue of common sense that the provinces should be given the means to exercise their jurisdiction in the field of education.
Rather than resolving the underfunding issue, the Harper government is infringing on the provinces' areas of jurisdiction. In fact, the budget provides for $2 billion over two years, managed by Industry Canada, and this is exclusively to speed up the repair and oversee the maintenance of university and college infrastructure, without any mention of the provinces. In short, this is $2 billion to repair the windows and mop the floors, but there is absolutely nothing with which to hire new professors. That is more or less what is in the budget. Let's say that this is a very narrow vision of universities because, we must not delude ourselves, improving infrastructure cannot be the solution to the problems that our colleges and universities are experiencing. We must hire professors, make studying accessible, and provide well-stocked libraries. These are critical elements in order for our universities to be quality establishments. And, let me remind you that our universities have an undeniable impact on the economy. It is therefore most unfortunate.
The provinces are in the best position to effectively respond to the reality of universities. It should therefore be their choice to decide in which way to use these resources, and not Industry Canada's, that much is clear. It is truly unfortunate.
Another deplorable aspect of this budget is that the government is temporarily topping up the Canada Graduate Scholarships Program by funnelling $87.5 million to it through the federal granting agencies. And yet, with the knowledge economy and competition from emerging countries, we simply cannot allow ourselves to take temporary or timid action. We will receive no gifts from the other countries of the world. We need long-term, strong and productive measures. This is not what we see. The government is indeed adding to the inequity between disciplines. The humanities are neglected. Not only are they neglected, the only sector being funded is the financial sector, which is somewhat problematic.
We see that the social sciences and humanities research council will receive $17.5 million in new bursaries, whereas the other two councils will each receive twice as much, that is to say $35 million. It makes us wonder whether the humanities, like economics, psychology, social work or public administration are of lesser interest. Is this to say that the disciplines of the social sciences and humanities that do not deal with business are without interest? This is, once again, a budget decision that reveals a very narrow vision and a disconnect, which we deplore.
Finally, we also lament the cutbacks to research granting agencies. We see that the budget provides for successive cutbacks of 17, 43 and $87 million over the next three years, without taking into account the suspension of funding for Genome Canada, which represents $100 million per year, 33 research projects and 2,000 jobs, and this at a time when the job market is shrinking.
Once again, in this global economic reality, with competition from emerging countries, and the realities of the knowledge economy, we will certainly not distinguish ourselves on the world scene by making massive reductions in research. Once again, this is most unfortunate.
As you have seen, we regret the lack of post-secondary education vision in this budget. We see some kind of very fuzzy idea of the knowledge economy in this budget, under which the government prefers to invest in concrete rather than in brains. We wonder if someone has mistaken one grey matter for another.
We thus encourage the members of Parliament to amend this bill to ensure that the reality of Quebec students is better taken into account, in accordance with the points we have just raised.