Federal Budget 2016: Small steps forward for post-secondary education

Yesterday’s federal budget was a modest step in the right direction, a start to addressing some of the pressing problems after a decade of Harper’s Conservatives, but it falls short in some key areas.

Here are some of the highlights – and lowlights – for post-secondary education and skills training:

  •  We join our allies in the labour movement in commending the government for the five-year, $245 million commitment toward resettlement of refugees. This is a significant investment, yet it doesn’t include any mention of language training. Since the previous government cut the $22 million transfer payment to BC, public post-secondary institutions no longer offer tuition-free English language programs to domestic students, including refugees. At a time when we’re seeing wait lists for community-based English classes offered by non-profit agencies, it is short-sighted to neglect funding for post-secondary institutions to once again offer these programs.

·         There was some long-overdue funding for research granting councils, to the tune of $95 million per year, starting in 2016-17. Together with the funding promised last year, total support for the granting councils will increase by $141 million per year.

·         Also included was an additional $2 billion over three years for a Post-Secondary Strategic Investment Fund to support research and infrastructure renewal, with the first $500 million available this year – which sounds like a lot, but when you consider how much that could equate to on a per-institution basis, it only works out to about $7 million for Canada’s 280 public post-secondary institutions spread over three years, or $1.78 million this year.

·         The loan repayment income threshold under the Repayment Assistance Program was raised from $20,210 to $25,000. It’s great to see some attempts to address the student debt crisis, but a $25,000 per year income threshold for loan repayment just isn’t realistic – that’s about $12 an hour for a full-time worker, nowhere close to a living wage.

·         A 50% increase in Canada Student Grants brings the maximum from $2000 to $3000 for low-income students; $800 to $1200 for middle-income students; and $1200 to $1800 for part-time students.

·        The election platform promised $500 million per year for skills funding through Labour Market Development Agreements, but the budget commits only $175 million this year, with no promises for future years.

·         The platform also promised $25 million a year for union apprenticeship training facilities, but the budget only commits $85.4 million over five years.

·         The platform promised $50 million a year for Aboriginal skills development but delivered only $35 million over three years.

·         No commitment was made to lift the 2% funding cap on the Post-Secondary Student Support Program for indigenous students, despite being an election promise. Although the budget commits over $8 billion in spending for Aboriginal communities, this critical program was left out. In fact, the budget sets more aside for Canada Day celebrations than it does for indigenous learners.

 Bearing in mind that this budget is for all of Canada, it remains to be seen how much BC’s colleges and universities will benefit. Overall, it appears that there were some positive steps forward after a long drought for post-secondary education and research, but we will be watching closely to see if the government will move to close the gaps. 

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.