Education gets financial boost from government

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Both the federal and provincial governments pledged big dollars to post-secondary education last week.

Last Monday, the federal Conservative government proposed a budget they said included $39 billion to redress the fiscal imbalance between the provinces.

The Conservatives said an $800-million increase in annual support for post-secondary education was part of correcting the fiscal imbalance.

Western Liberals president Kevin Spafford was critical of the federal budget.

“[The money] won’t start flowing until 2008,” Spafford said. “With a $13-billion surplus, it’s disappointing that the federal government’s education funding pales in comparison to the $6.2 billion put forward by the Ontario government.”

The $6.2 billion Spafford referred to is part of the Ontario government’s Reaching Higher plan.

The provincial budget, announced last Thursday by the Ontario Liberal government, continued into year three of the five-year Reaching Higher investment, said Chris Bentley, minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

“The budget was very good news for university students, including those at Western,” Bentley said.

He said there was an additional $390 million in funding for post-secondary institutions on top of the money previously promised in the Reaching Higher plan.

Bentley said a new program will be introduced to help students understand the costs of post-secondary education.

“We’ve brought out an access window so [students] can check the costs of programs at an institution and the amount of assistance they are eligible for,” Bentley said.

“It was a lot of money, but it wasn’t new money,” said Paris Meilleur, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance President and Western University Students’ Council VP-education.

“The $390 million is money that the provinces should have had two years ago,” Meilleur said. “We didn’t see that money until it could be a nice boost in a pre-election budget.”

Meilleur said some of the money is intended to help universities cope with over-enrolment.

“One of the biggest concerns is Western didn’t over enrol,” Meilleur said. “We don’t know if we’ll be getting this money. It will have to be universities fighting each other for the money, so that’s a problem.”

Meilleur said another concern is that no changes were made to financial aid.

“Students receiving OSAP are only able to earn $50 per week during the academic year,” Meilleur said. “Anything above that amount is clawed back [from their OSAP].

“Students take a double hit in that they often don’t receive enough assistance from OSAP to fully meet their need, but they also cannot earn enough income to make up for the shortfall.”

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