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21 September 2009
On Wednesday September 16th, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to provide an oral presentation of its 2010 Pre-Budget Submission.What follows are the remarks made by CASA representatives at that appearance.
Note: As per the directions of the Clerk of the Committee, presentations were each limited to 5 minutes so that time could be given to questions from the members of the Committee; thus CASA’s remarks were focused on the key points illustrated in our written submission to the Committee. ( French and English written submissions).
Introductory Remarks and Context
Thank you Mr Chair. We would like to thank you and the members of the committee for inviting the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations here today.
We’re an alliance of 24 student associations, representing nearly 400,000 university and college students across Canada.
Today we want to highlight why education spending in a time of austerity is a crucial investment.
To begin, I’d like to provide some context by discussing the OECD’s annual education report, issued last week.
Canadian university attainment has grown for 25-34 year olds but much more slowly than our peers, placing us 12th in the OECD, and near the bottom of the G-7.
Canada’s key education investments were made a generation ago and we cannot continue coasting if we want to continue this country’s knowledge advantage.
Furthermore, demographic changes are generating new challenges to Canada’s economic growth, making advances in innovation and productivity even more important than they are today.
By 2025, the number of persons retiring from the labour force will exceed newcomers by 34%. To continue funding health and social services, we need to substantially increase the value of our workforce.
Education is one of the best ways to do so – it provides technical abilities and develops critical thinking crucial to the development and adoption of new ideas and new technologies.
Choosing to not act is not a viable option.
The federal government chose to cut investment in education in the mid-90’s to help reduce a deficit. Due to these cuts, Canada faced a brain drain as researchers and highly indebted graduates left to find opportunities elsewhere.
We cannot afford to take the easy road out of deficit by cutting education spending. Investing in education is an opportunity to build human infrastructure and strengthen Canada’s economic position.
Spencer will be speaking on the specifics but these are the considerations informing our submission to the committee.
Increasing the Canada Social Transfer
I will be highlighting some of the key points in our submission.
First, the federal government announced in Budget 2007 an $800 million dollar “envelope” within the Canada Social Transfer for post-secondary education but we continue to have a $3 billion funding gap from cuts made in 1995, in real terms, not accounting for increased numbers of students. We estimate the actual gap to be closer to $3.5 billion.
Additionally, there is no mandated federal reporting structure coupled to the Canada Social Transfer; whether money is ‘earmarked’ for PSE or not, the federal government is unable to inform taxpayers about how much funding is actually spent on colleges and universities, as opposed to other provincial and territorial initiatives.
That is why we are asking for an increase of $800 million per year for the next five years, governed by agreements with the provinces to not reduce their post-secondary education spending.
This dollar amount is to address both the funding gap that has accrued over the past 14 years, and to place us in a better position to face the demographic crisis.
Post-Secondary Student Support Program
Second, we believe that Aboriginal funding should be a critical area for investment because they hold so much potential for increased participation. A third of Aboriginals are under 14 and will soon be at college and university age. Currently, only 3% of the First Nations population have earned Bachelor’s degrees or higher, compared with 13% of the general population.
In 2005, 23,000 First Nations and Inuit students were funded from the Post Secondary Student Support Program, down from 27,000 in 1996 when a 2% cap on program spending increases was put in place, forcing a small pot of funds to be spread among an increasing number of students.
Furthermore, the structure of PSSSP prevents bands from being able to effectively run the program – INAC considers paying program coordinators to be a misuse of funds.
Reserves with PSE coordinators can help young First Nations and Inuit navigate PSSSP and other programs such as the Canada Student Loans Program and increase the use of existing funds.
CASA believes the 2% cap on increased spending for PSSSP should be removed and that program funding should increase by 10-15% to allow band councils to legally hire and fund on-reserve program coordinators.
Increase Funding for the Indirect Costs of Research
Finally, I briefly want to highlight the student interest in funding the indirect costs of research.
Every dollar that goes to funding the indirect costs of research is a dollar that need not be taken from the teaching and learning component of a university.
The UK and European Union fund indirect costs in the range of 50 to 60%. Canada currently funds less than 25% of these costs with the remainder carried by students through their tuition.
Essentially, we believe the amount that students are subsidizing research in Canada should be reduced.
In closing, our thanks again to the committee for allowing us to present before you today, and we look forward to answering any questions that the committee may have.
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