The federal government’s 2010 budget promises for post-secondary education are getting mixed reviews from faculty and students.
The government announced $32 million for research grants and $20 million for the Pathways Program, which helps economically challenged groups reach post-secondary institutions.
Ontario Undergraduate Student Association (OUSA) Executive Director Alexi White said he doesn’t think this year’s federal budget does enough.
White was the AMS Academic Affairs Commissioner in 2007-08 and the Journal’s opinions and letters editor in 2008-09.
“They cut $148 million from the same groups last year,” he said. “They didn’t do any large-ticket stuff.”
White said he’s surprised universities received any additional funding considering the tough economic climate in Canada.
“There are plenty of other sectors that got nothing, so even though there is nothing groundbreaking here, it shows the government is recognizing post-secondary education as a way out of the current economic situation.” Most of the government investments in post-secondary education this year are research-focused, White said, adding that this often doesn’t benefit undergraduate students very much.
“Research helps undergrads if their professors choose to bring it into the classroom,” he said. “It’s going to benefit graduate students.”
Vice-Principal (Research) Kerry Rowe said he didn’t see anything in the budget which was cause for alarm.
“Certainly from the research portfolio we were very pleased to see the government continue to support research and innovation,” he said.
The budget allocated an additional $32 million to three major granting councils. Rowe said these grants are distributed to individual researchers based on an application process.
“This is probably the one of the most significant aspects for Queen’s because it has a very good reputation with the granting councils and, based on our historic success rates, I think we will do well,” he said.
The budget also allocated $8 million for the indirect costs of research, Rowe said, adding that these costs include things such as lighting and heating in labs and paperwork for ethics reviews and grant applications.
A $45 million post-doctoral fellowship program has been created and $220 million has been pledged over five years to fund TRIUMF, a group that does particle physics research.
“TRIUMF is doing some basic research; they’re trying to understand fundamental issues relating to particle physics,” Rowe said, adding that Queen’s has a strong reputation in the field.
Law professor Kathleen Lahey said she thinks the budget is detrimental to Queen’s on the whole.
“It will push Queen’s even further down the path of trimming its educational mission to fit the conservative ideologies of the federal government,” she said.
Lahey said one of her biggest problems with the budget is the gender imbalance it helps to perpetuate.
“The overall infrastructure stimulus aimed at the tech sector is $1.9 billion that is almost completely defined … in terms of research areas which continue to be extremely gender-imbalanced,” she said. “Women make up only 21 to 23 per cent of all the students enrolled in all of those departments in the University, which means Queen’s mission to be a general education university including the humanities and sciences and tech is being funded in a very lopsided fashion.”
Lahey said the effects are amplified at Queen’s, which has a lower percentage of women in traditionally male-organized areas of study than at other universities. Male-organized fields include areas like math and engineering.
Lahey said in 2001, female university graduates earned 18 per cent less than their male counterparts, meaning the gender pay gap is wider than it was in 1981. Combined with the fact that women have a harder time finding funding for their areas of study, post-secondary education becomes more difficult to attain for a woman than for a man, she said.
“If you’re going to earn less once you graduate and have more trouble finding financing while in school, you’re facing an uphill battle,” she said.
Lahey said in the short term she would like to see more money directed towards women’s resources, such as childcare centres. She said longer-term solutions include having more women involved in university governance.
“I think it’s important for students to understand that it’s all well and good to have a critical understanding of how race, gender and ability shape knowledge and social functioning,” she said. “But nothing is going to change until the economic underpinnings that give these hierarchies meaning change, and that means learning to read budgets and become involved in governance.”
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