A BILLION-DOLLAR scholarship fund was the centre-point of a good-news budget from Canada's federal government last month.
Finance minister Paul Martin's budget included a rise in research funding, tax credit on student loan interest, grants for needy students with children and tax incentives for college-fund investments.
The Canada Millennium Scholarship Fund, a ten-year Can$2.5 billion (Pounds 1.1 billion) endowment, will award grants of Can$3,000 to about 100,000 university and college students from 2000. Mr Martin touted the fund as the largest single investment ever made by the federal government.
Although called a scholarship fund, many education lobby groups, worried about rising tuition fees hurting university accessibility, are insisting that eligibility criteria for the grants be based on financial need and not scholastic merit. Little information has been released on what type of student will benefit.
Mr Martin said provincial ministries and education groups will be consulted. A managing board is to be set up under Chrysler Canada chief executive Yves Landry.
Canadian Federation of Students chairman Brad Lavigne queried the two-year wait before any money handouts when so many students are in urgent need. Although he welcomed many of the measures, he said the budget will not end rising tuition fees.
Canadian students on average paid 9 per cent more for university than they did last year and 45 per cent more than in 1993.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada described the budget as a landmark.
Concordia University rector Frederick Lowy said the measures would ease the pain, especially the promise of Can$114 million over the next three years to the medical, science and engineering and social sciences research councils.
But the budget does not solve his big headache: lean operating budgets. "What has been left out is the core, the institution," he said.