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By Mike Murphy
Ontario Finance Minister Ernie Eves recently unveiled the province's first balanced budget in 30 years, but education officials took less than a week to deem the plan as severely flawed.
Deborah Flynn, president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, said the budget, presented May 2, will do little to help out university faculties.
"For universities, this budget is a no-news budget," she said. "The budget gave money for buildings and research, but no money for teachers to work in those buildings."
Flynn also said the budget does not adequately address the funding problems the double cohort could create in 2003.
Joel Harden, Ontario chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, also said the budget leaves university students out in the cold.
"There's nothing in this budget that will reduce tuition fees," he said.
Harden said while the Tories granted considerable one-time capital for the construction of university facilities, they have not pledged sufficient money to cover operational costs, such as faculty salaries and building upkeep.
"There's no promise for operating funding to keep these things going," Harden said.
In defence of the budget, spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, Dave Ross, said demands for operating funds are premature since the promised infrastructure has yet to be built.
"You can't put the cart before the horse," Ross said. "The students and the buildings are not there yet, but the government has made the commitment that, once they are, the funding will come."
Western President Paul Davenport said he had mixed feelings about the budget.
"We will certainly benefit from the substantial increases in research funding," he said, but added he does not think the budget awards enough operating funds or addresses the problem of rising student-teacher ratios.
Western's VP-research, Bill Bridger, said he liked how the new budget addressed basic research costs. "I think the most important thing for us is the recognition of our need for indirect research funding."
In the past, Bridger explained, Western has had to supplement government research funds by paying for incidental costs such as the upkeep of test-animal care facilities. As part of the budget, the Tories have created a $30-million Research Performance Fund to cover such costs, he added.
Still, Bridger voiced his concern over insufficient operating grants. "I have some reassurance by the comments, 'Be patient, it's coming,'" he said, "But at the same time, all other jurisdictions in North America are moving forward and we're falling behind."
Dave Braun, president of Western's University Students' Council, said he reacted to the budget with disappointment.
"I think that we need more core funding, and that they tried to just tinker instead of dealing with the real problem," Braun said.
"It's almost like you're in a car and it's going in the wrong direction and they start to fiddle with the air conditioning," Braun said.