Sector's shower of gifts

February 28, 1997

Canada's shell-shocked higher education sector has gratefully accepted a host of gifts from a government expected to call an election soon.

Liberal finance minister Paul Martin has unveiled the fourth and probably last annual budget of his federal government's mandate. Mr. Martin, a fiscal conservative, displayed rare liberal colours by setting aside money to upgrade laboratories in universities and teaching hospitals, and incentives to help ease student debt.

Robert Giroux is familiar with needy and aging research facilities. As president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), he knows labs where animals are not being properly cared for, where contracts have been lost due to insufficient research equipment and which do not meet health and safety standards. He also understands the attraction for researchers of richer American private hospitals.

With this new announcement, universities will now be eligible for Can$800 million (Pounds 370 million), for such things as properly wired communication systems or a quarantine room for genetic research. This research-infrastructure funding is one of the few new expenditures from Mr Martin's stay-on-course deficit reduction plan.

"There has been a lot of sacrificing in getting the economy into shape," Mr Martin told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Mr. Giroux calls the initiatives "a major step forward" for a research environment that was in "grave danger".

The AUCC, whose members are mostly university presidents, lobbied hard in a coalition including the country's two largest professor and student associations.

Donald Savage, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) said the gains made by the university community resulted from eight months of intensive lobbying on initiatives that the often divided organisations could all agree on. Mr Savage says future gains will "depend on how effective a lobby the university can make."

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