Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thanks to the members of the committee for inviting the Canadian Federation of Students to appear today.
I will be addressing three facets of the budget: the infrastructure for universities and colleges; research funding; and the student loan crackdown.
The 2009 budget allocation of $1 billion in 2009 and $1 billion in 2010 for campus infrastructure is a significant commitment to our public institutions. But for reasons that have yet to be articulated, only a quarter of this funding will be distributed to colleges and technical institutes. This is a regrettable apportioning of this funding.
Beyond the college and university split, the government has decided that there should be at least two caveats to receiving this funding, both of which the Canadian Federation of Students opposes.
First, the infrastructure funding will be directed primarily to research facilities. This is unhelpful. Research facilities already have a significant amount of federal funds flowing to them, including from the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Many institutions, large and small, but perhaps especially the small, will not benefit from the infrastructure funding because their needs lie elsewhere: in classrooms, residences, and offices, to name a few.
The second caveat--that federal dollars for infrastructure be matched--is also unhelpful. Many institutions with urgent needs will likely have difficulty leveraging that funding from provincial governments or, worse, from a private sector already limping because of a recession.
We urge you to remove these two criteria from the campus infrastructure funding.
I'll move on now to address the research funding in January's budget. In our pre-budget submissions, we were vocal advocates for increased graduate scholarships for Canada. However, we were very disappointed to see the government's proposal to increase social and cultural research funding for only a very narrow range of disciplines, just as we were disappointed to see $150 million in cuts to the granting councils.
Having business-only scholarships is a short-sighted initiative that is totally divorced from the realities of graduate student enrollment in Canada, not to mention an unnecessary departure from the spirit of the program when it was introduced. Roughly 50% of student researchers in Canada work in the social sciences and humanities, a majority of which are women. Of these student researchers, roughly 7% are students in the graduate business programs eligible for the federal research grants, and the majority are men.
It is not the government's role to direct the granting agencies as to what research projects to fund. This is precisely why such bodies are independent from government. Each of the granting councils allocates funding based on a peer review of applications. As such, each proposal is judged according to its merits. There is no good reason to discontinue this practice.
In forcing the granting councils to fund only certain disciplines of its choosing, the government is intervening in an area in which it has no expertise. As with the strings attached to the CFI in the budget, the Minister of Industry is masquerading as an expert where he is not, and bureaucrats in Industry Canada are taking on responsibilities that they have no business taking on.
The government's interference is unwelcome and is contrary to proper science. We implore you to let the experts do their work and give research grants to those who deserve them, business students or otherwise.
I'll finish my remarks today by discussing the unanticipated student loan crackdown that crept into the budget's Bill C-10. It's not so much that we oppose measures that increase the integrity of the Canada student loans program or that we would counsel anyone to commit fraud on their applications; what is frustrating about the legislation, starting at about clause 358, is how the government is diagnosing problems.
If students and their families are actually desperate enough to tweak their student loan applications to go even deeper into debt than they technically should be, their real needs are not the problem. The problem is the government's underfunding of an unaffordable post-secondary education. The problem is a flawed application process that does not meet the need of average income earners.
The budget's unanticipated student loan changes could target those for whom Canada's student debt-based system has failed. We encourage the committee members to make sure that the budget legislation attacks the causes and not simply the symptoms of an underfunded public university and college sector.
In closing, the government has correctly identified several areas of need in post-secondary education and research. However, the level of interventionism associated with the spending is either misguided or simply detrimental to the budget's stated goals.
Thanks again for this opportunity to discuss the budget. I look forward to your questions.