Student groups are calling for more student debt relief after the announcement of the so-called "Education Budget" by Finance Minister Paul Martin Feb. 24.
The budget establishes a $2.5 biliion Canada Millennium Scholarship fund, creates a tax credit for taxes paid on repayment of student loans, increases the maximum contributions allowed to the Registered Education Savings Plans, and restores federal research funding to 1994/95 levels.
Twenty-five spending areas totaling $10.9 billion in new spending were included in the budget.
"This is the single largest investment by a federal government [in education)." said Martin regarding the Millennium Scholarship Fund. 'Too many are deterred from education because of fear of large debt."
"We are giving [the federal budget] a positive rating this year, but there are a few aspects of the budget that we are concerned with," said Canadian Alliance of Student Associations National Director Hoops Harrison. "We want [student] debt reduction right now," said Harrison, adding that a new university grad earning $30,000/year will, based on the repayment schedule for student debt and federal taxes, earn less than $17,500/year. This amount is below the poverty line.
"Students were looking for debt reduction measures," said National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students Brad Lavigne. "Debt levels are an international embarrassment."
At the University of Calgary, administrators and researchers are pleased that the federal budget had a post-secondary education focus. U of C President Terry White said that the budget was what "we have been waiting for."
"This is a good first start in showing that the government realizes the importance of post-secondary education," said White. "We will continue to look at governments to help us in being partners."
Dr. Marvin Fitzler, U of C associate dean of Research and Medicine and regional director of the Medical Research Council, said that although he is pleased to see research funding back at 1994/95 levels, it might be too little, too late.
"The federal government is targeting the year 2000/01 to achieve that level and that may be too late," said Fitzler. "It doesn't address our major concerns to be competitive with other G-J nations in the field of research.
"The MPs in Calgary, particularly the Reform MPs, have helped us lobby for this," said Fitzler, adding that the impact of these funds on the U of C remains to be seen.
Opposition MP'S commended the balanced budget but expressed concern with some student issues.
"The Millennium Scholarship Fund will only effect six per cent of students," said Reform Finance Critic Monte Solberg. "We would rather see this money going to provincial transfer payments for education to help reduce tuition for all students. This is really not an increase in funding' they just aren't cutting as much."
"If the government had a real commitment to higher education, they would have restored funding to education rather than establishing a Chretien Memorial Fund that helps only a fraction of students and is even taxable federally and provincially," said Reform Human Resources Development Critic Diane Ablonczy.
Although some of the changes to areas like RESP contributions will kick in during this fiscal year, the Millennium Fund and research funding will not come into effect for a few years. Budget debate will continue in the House of Commons for the rest of the week.