Volume 96, Issue 95
Friday, March 28, 2003

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Tories budget for starving students

By Paolo Zinatelli
Gazette Staff

After weeks of controversy surrounding the staging of its delivery, the Ontario budget was presented yesterday live from the Magna Technical Training Institute in Brampton.

"We wanted to give you (Ontario's voters) the chance to give us your feedback," said Premier Ernie Eves, in explaining why the budget was delivered outside of the provincial legislature.

"We will make significant investments in our colleges and universities," he said, adding this is the fifth balanced budget the government has delivered in a row.

While the main focus of the budget was on tax cuts, there were some new spending initiatives announced by the government. This included multi-year stable funding on which services could depend, explained Finance Minister Janet Ecker.

"[We have made] strategic sectorial investments [in post-secondary education]," Ecker said. The budget proposed that 20,000 new spaces be created across Ontario from the province's SuperBuild fund for colleges and universities, she explained, adding the new funding will bring the total new spaces created for students come September to 135,000.

Operating grants will also rise by $75 million this year, for a total of $443 million in 2003/2004, Ecker explained.

"Our new multi-year funding commitment will provide a 21 per cent increase," she said, adding there is a quality assurance fund being established for universities.

This fund amounts to $75 million, and will increase each year for a total of $200 million in 2006/2007, Ecker stated. "This will fund new learning resources, student services... faculty and teaching assistants," she added.

Western President Paul Davenport said the quality assurance fund is an initiative the university has been requesting for some time.

"[This is a] substantial new investment that will allow Western to hire new faculty and staff," Davenport said.

Josh Morgan, University Students' Council VP-education, said the quality assurance fund will have implications for Western's own budget. The rationale for tuition increases have been for sustained quality assurance, he said.

"Now that the government has guaranteed quality funding, it is time for our own university to freeze tuition fees," Morgan said, adding he will be submitting a proposal to administration before the next Senate meeting, on Apr. 11.

Davenport said his focus at the moment is on recruiting new faculty and staff. "That is not normally consistent with a tuition freeze," he said, adding he would wait to see Morgan's proposal before commenting further.

There were some positive initiatives in the budget, Morgan said, citing the quality funding and increase in base operating grants. "[They] will still leave Ontario universities behind the national average, but [the initiatives] were a much needed first step."

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2002 THE GAZETTE