Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has outlined a C$355 billion (£201 billion) budget for the coming year that includes hefty increases for university students to study abroad and get on-the-job work training.
“A number of the things that we were pushing on did come to fruition,” said Mike Mahon, president of the University of Lethbridge and chair of Universities Canada. “We’re very pleased.”
The major areas of expanded federal investment affecting universities, Professor Mahon said, include C$631 million over five years to support work “integrated learning experiences”.
The goal is to provide every Canadian university student with some type of on-the-job work experience, with the government matching corporate sector investment. Student workers provide value to the companies, Professor Mahon said, but the additional federal money was necessary, especially for smaller employers, to help them meet the timescales and regularity in schedules that student workers require.
The budget presented by Mr Trudeau’s Liberal Party also allocated C$148 million over five years for an internationalisation strategy to help more Canadian students go abroad and to attract more accomplished foreign students to Canada, Professor Mahon said.
About 11 per cent of Canadian students travel outside the country for education or work, a rate that Professor Mahon described as unacceptably low by global standards.
The Trudeau budget also promised money for hundreds of additional master’s and doctoral degrees, Professor Mahon said.
Mr Trudeau and his ruling party face elections in October, and the robust federal budget – promising an additional C$22.8 billion in new spending government-wide over six years – was described by analysts as a tool for boosting their electoral prospects.
Although the government is currently reporting enough increased revenue to support the plumper allocation, some analysts have warned that the increases may be tough to sustain if the positive economic projections do not materialise.
Higher education in Canada is funded primarily through tuition fees and by provincial budgets, which have held steady in recent years. The federal government’s contribution is confined largely to the areas of research and innovation, and to student movement across national borders – all of which the Trudeau government has been boosting. Mr Trudeau emphasised increases in university research funding last year, and infrastructure spending the year before.
This year’s budget plan also included a modest boost in general student support through a cut in student loan interest rates. That, however, appeared to be “pure politicking”, as it would create no meaningful gains in student access, said Alex Usher, a Toronto-based higher education consultant. “Money could have been better spent,” said Mr Usher, the president of Higher Education Strategy Associates.
The government’s prioritisation of greater on-the-job student work experience also appeared to be misplaced, serving mostly to distract attention from the more important job of modernising university curricula, Mr Usher argued.
A potentially more significant move in the budget, however, was the government’s commitment of resources to improve teaching at the post-secondary level in indigenous languages, Mr Usher said. Ontario has led the way in that realm, and Mr Trudeau’s moves on that front appeared highly promising, Mr Usher said.
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