University receives $5.1 million boost

It wasn’t quite a typical weekday morning at Stauffer Library on Wednesday as Chris Bentley, the Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities, visited the Learning Commons. Bentley arrived on campus to unveil a major cash infusion for Queen’s from the provincial government.

From behind a podium near the library’s stairwell, Bentley announced to the small crowd assembled that the McGuinty government will be giving $5.1 million this year to Queen’s in order to enable the University to hire faculty, bolster student services and improve learning facilities.

According to a University press release, the funds will cover what the University has already spent this year in hiring four new full-time faculty members and additional support staff. Now, the University is planning to hire 21 additional faculty members, and the provincial money will be used to ensure better student access to services like career counselling and financial assistance guidance. Finally, the University will also invest the money in upgrading equipment and classrooms on campus.

“It’s all about improving student success for the future … Ensuring those who learn today have a greater chance of success tomorrow,” Bentley said. “We know that 70 per cent of the jobs we create today require post-secondary education and only 55 per cent of [Ontarians] have it.”

Before the announcement, Kingston and the Islands MPP John Gerretsen said the money will directly benefit students and indirectly benefit the Kingston region.

“We know we simply wouldn’t be the area we are without these three excellent institutions,” Gerretsen said. “[RMC, Queen’s and St. Lawrence College] give us a dynamism that is unique in the province of Ontario.”

Bentley also announced $2.5 million in funding for St. Lawrence College to hire nine new faculty members and 12 support staff.

Principal Karen Hitchcock also thanked the province for its commitment to post-secondary funding, which she said will make a difference on campus.

“I’ve had the pleasure over the past months of meeting with Mr. Bentley several times,” she said, adding that “we look forward to future announcements of this sort.” After the announcement, Hitchcock told the Journal the new faculty hires and other expenditures will “cross all faculties, Arts and Science particularly [and] across many of the departments.” She added that faculty needs “were addressed in most if not all of our areas.”

The $5.1 million for Queen’s is just part of the $211.5 million the provincial government has committed to Ontario colleges and universities in 2005-06 as part of its Quality Improvement Fund. The fund is part of the McGuinty government’s Reaching Higher plan, which has earmarked $6.2 billion for the province’s post-secondary system over the next five years.

After stepping away from the podium, Bentley told the Journal that the provincial government plans to make another announcement in the coming weeks regarding a new university tuition framework.

Bentley said the province needs a framework that improves both students’ experiences while at school and access to post-secondary education.

“No framework that addresses one of those issues is good enough,” he said.

AMS VP (University Affairs) Shiva Mayer said that while he welcomes the millions Bentley announced on Wednesday, the province’s stance on university tuition will be telling.

“The real test of where this government is [on student issues] will be when the new tuition framework is announced.” Mayer is the AMS’s external representative to the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), which has been lobbying the provincial government to keep annual tuition increases capped.

“What we’re asking for is a tuition increase limited to the Canadian Price Index [of approximately two per cent] and the reason for that is [OUSA] has been told quite frankly there isn’t going to be a freeze ...

“If lowering or eliminating tuition were a sustainable or viable option, that’s what OUSA and the AMS would be for.”

Hitchcock said she is hopeful the province’s tuition framework will assure a quality education and support access to it.

“Basically, I’m looking for a tuition framework that provides for continuing accessibility to our institution from all socio-economic backgrounds. I’m looking for flexibility within that tuition framework … one that does recognize that funding of higher education is a partnership between government and institutions and private giving. It’s a shared approach that is very common and necessary given the tremendous demands or costs.”

Hitchcock said that all in all, the funding announcement bodes well for the University.

“Having a priority put on post-secondary education … is a very good sign for the future of the system and a very good sign for the future of Queen’s.”

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