March 17, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 87  

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NEWS

Martin’s Western visit well-received... mostly

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

Western is still aflutter after last week’s visit by Prime Minister Paul Martin, which left professors, administrators and students with different impressions of the future of post-secondary education in Canada.

Martin joined 25 prominent London and Western individuals in a roundtable to discuss university research, student accessibility and commercialization and its impact on the knowledge economy. Though many said the dialogue was positive and that Martin had a firm grasp of the issues, the lack of any firm commitments left critics hesitant to call the visit a complete success.

“I was impressed by how well briefed he was,” said Western VP-research Nils Petersen. “[I have] a sense of appreciation for the commitment this government has made to research.”

Though Petersen said he hoped more attention would be directed toward increased funding for social science research and the Canadian Institute for Health Research, he said the government’s innovation strategy was commendable. “I hope there will be an ongoing commitment to sustain what they have already started.”

Martin did find opposition to his plans from a local student leader.

“I was disappointed with the outcome of the meeting,” said Dave Ford, University Students’ Council VP-education. “Martin has repeatedly said he’s committed to the concept of accessibility of higher learning. The reality is that he did little to reform student financing when he was finance minister.”

Ford said he is not convinced Martin will actually reform the Canada Student Loans Program, adding the even larger concern of dedicated federal transfers to universities fell on deaf ears. “He didn’t think it was feasible,” he said. “If you don’t ensure there’s money going to universities, costs get passed along to students [through] higher tuition.”

Western professor of family medicine Moira Stewart said she was “pleasantly surprised” with Martin’s performance. “I thought his comments showed a great knowledge in the area,” she said. “He is very comfortable with an academic group. I thought he did very well.”

Stewart said she was convinced Martin’s intention to revise the student loans program was genuine, but added he did not take a stance on other issues brought up in the dialogue. However, Martin remained receptive to the concerns of the roundtable’s participants, she said.

Daryl White, president of the Society of Graduate Students, praised the prime minister. “I thought it was generally a good discussion; a lot of important issues were aired,” he said.

White said Martin seemed to listen attentively and acknowledged the concerns that need to be resolved, but was hesitant in completely supporting Martin’s agenda.

“The question is: ‘do you believe in what [Martin] says?’. I’m inclined to think that with an election coming up, he’s more likely to consider our issues,” he said.

—with files from Amy Ferguson

 

 

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