Canada budget boosts student aid and biomedical science

Trudeau backs spending despite deep deficit, yet still disappoints academic researchers

April 22, 2021
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada - October 7, 2016 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepares to tap the keg to open Oktoberfest.
Source: iStock

Canada’s first new federal budget plan in two years is promising new support for university students, while disappointing researchers, who fear a decline in their global competitiveness.

The C$500 billion (£288 billion) budget’s highlights include more than C$3 billion over two years in student financial aid, primarily to double the value of the annual Canada Student Grant to C$6,000.

The proposal by prime minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party government also offers student loan repayment extensions, and gains for the Student Work Placement and Canada Summer Jobs programmes.

Across higher education, said Universities Canada, the nation’s main higher education association, the “biggest commitment has been made to students”.

The Trudeau budget also allocates C$2.2 billion over seven years for biomedical research. But it avoids major increases outside the life sciences, leaving academics warning of a potential slip in global competitiveness.

“Canada faces intense research competition for talent, and continued investments will be necessary,” Universities Canada said in its statement.

The overall budget was nevertheless regarded as ambitious, given that it proposes C$100 billion in new spending, while Canada is projecting a C$155 billion deficit in the current year, one of the largest among developed nations.

The Liberal Party plan will need the support of at least one other party to win passage in the House of Commons, with that likely coming from the progressive New Democratic Party.

Universities stand to be helped in the budget by its expectation of creating 500,000 new employment and job-training positions over five years. The government anticipates that growth through an emphasis on areas that include student placement and apprenticeships. Mitacs, the government’s research and training agency, was listed for a new C$700 million investment.

The new federal budget also would extend to March 2023 the government’s waiver on interest on federal student loans.

Key new research investments include C$400 million for genomics and C$360 million for quantum science. The plan also envisions significant new investment in fighting infectious diseases, with nearly C$60 million for work and facilities at the University of Saskatchewan.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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