March 12, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 85  

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Prime Minister’s Western visit all about funding
Martin holds round-table at Great Hall

By Marshall Bellamy
Gazette Staff
Matt Prince/Gazette
“I WANT TO HELP STUDENTS” “OH YEAH? THEN HOW ’BOUT SOME BLING?” At left, Prime Minister Paul Martin talks to roundtable members from the corporate and academic intelligentsia. University Students’ Council VP-education Dave Ford poses questions (right).

Prime Minister Paul Martin visited The Great Hall at Western yesterday to sit on a roundtable discussion — made up of community leaders, Western academic members and student representatives — dealing with issues such as student accessibility to post-secondary education, research funding and university-community relations.

Western President Paul Davenport, the roundtable host, credited Martin with the investments made by the federal government over the last 10 years for university research. “All of us here are greatly honoured by your visit; all of us here at the table are your friends.”

Student accessibility rose to the forefront of the discussion when University Students’ Council VP-education Dave Ford thanked Martin for the reforms made to financial assistance, but expressed a need for changes to Registered Education Savings Plans, which he said tend to benefit middle income families rather than lower income families.

“We’re going to do that, we accept you’re right — where you are wrong is the RESPs,” Martin said, explaining lower income families often do not have the money to contribute to saving plans, while middle class families are capable of spending the money.

“When we’re talking about access, we’re talking about accessibility and retention,” Ford said, referring to the need for present grants for first-year students to be expanded to upper year students, as well as the need to reassess the efficiency of available student loans. “Twenty-nine per cent of students drop out after first year — for financial reasons,” he added.

“About restructuring the loans, I absolutely agree with you and we’re going to do it,” Martin replied.

Ford also cited the need for Martin to increase funding to universities. “We need a dedicated transfer from the federal government to the provinces in the form of an enveloped transfer,” he said.

“I’m not sure I agree with you about the transfer payments,” Martin said. “We’ve assumed they will go into education — but some of the provinces have scooped it up.”

Daryl White, president of the Society of Graduate Students, suggested that the Canada Student Loans Program should be revised, since students are not finishing their programs in the three years allotted for funding, but rather taking four years to complete their doctorate degrees.
Martin replied by saying he would look at the graduate funding issue.

Funding for research into the social sciences and humanities also became a topic of discussion, when Western political science professor Robert Young stressed the need for the government to continue to fund research through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. “Individual, curiosity-driven research is fundamental if we are going to maintain innovation in this country,” he said.

“But we’re still deep in our own end on the five yard line and moving slowly,” he said referring to the prevalence of excellent project proposals, but not enough funds.

“When we set up the [Canada Foundation for Innovation] we put a lot of money into physical sciences,” Martin said, admitting the social sciences and humanities were largely ignored.

“I agree with the benefits of curiosity in research,” he said, pointing out there are greater issues affecting Canada that could be possibilities for other practical areas of research.

After the roundtable, Martin met with members of the media to answer questions.

Concerning alternative direct federal funding for universities beyond envelope transfers, which he admitted could be used by some provinces, citing the example of the Canada Millenium Scholarship Fund, Martin said the current federal strategy has been largely successful.

The federal government has already directly funded universities through research grant programs, rather than through transfers given to the provinces, the prime minister pointed out.

“I do think direct funding is a good way to go — student loans are a major aspect,” he added.

“It is our intention to act reasonably quickly on the whole issue of student grants and student loans,” Martin explained. “I am telling you there are a number of issues in the current system that [are] deficient.

“We really do believe the Student Loan Program has to be revised,” he added, expressing the need to deal with accessibility in post-secondary education.

He said the discussion highlighted issues he was not aware of, such as the financial limitations experienced by graduate students today.

Martin also answered questions concerning Vancouver Canuck hockey player Todd Bertuzzi’s hit on Colorado Avalanche player Steve Moore. “I don’t think it’s given Canada a black eye, but certainly hockey.

“I think Canadians feel there’s a problem with hockey and violence in sports,” he said, hinting at the possibility the authorities may take an interest in the incident. “No sport is above the law of the land.”

Martin was also asked to respond to a memo that surfaced revealing that his closest advisor was implicated in the sponsorship scandal. “I think it shows the desperation of the opposition — read the memo and it will say the opposite,” he replied. “We want to see the process opened up.”

—with files from
Ben Fine and Sarah Prickett

Zarine Ruttonsha and Matt Prince/Gazette
STUDENTS ARE NICE, BUT UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS GIVE FREE LEATHER JACKETS... Martin is greeted by a throng of students outside Somerville House (left). Western President Paul Davenport presents Martin with a snazzy Western jacket (right).




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