Unsurprisingly, those hoping for the federal government to take a robust role in higher education will have to wait. At least that is the view of the Standing Committee on Finance, which filed its pre-budget report yesterday. The report contains a litany of recommendations, including a few of direct interest to students and universities, that may or may not pop up in next year’s budget.
Though the committee met with several “witnesses,” or gaggles of interest groups, there doesn’t appear to be much connection between what the committee was told and what it recommended.
On education, the primary concern of witnesses were measures that would require the federal government to intervene deeply into provincial jurisdiction, and coordinate higher education policy from Ottawa. Chief among these measures would be a “Post-Secondary Education Act.”
Modeled on the Canada Health Act, a PSE Act would require that the Canada Social Transfer be divided between social services and post-secondary education. Stipulations would be put in place to make the funding contingent on the provinces actually spending the money on education, rather than on roads and other items. Presently, the only requirement placed on provinces with respect to the CST is that eligibility for services, like social assistance, not be tied to residence. They are free to make residence a requirement when concerning admission to university, however. While the federal government announced such a change in 2007, it was all but forgotten a year later.
After reviewing witness submissions, the committee instead recommended:
The federal government, in partnership with the provinces and territories, explore the development of a national strategy to promote greater emphasis on Canadian education services exports.
So while the committee did recommend the government explore a “national strategy” of sorts, and though universities may welcome it, it is not the type of strategy witnesses advocated. Why even bother calling for submissions from Canadians?
As for student aid, the committee advocates a new refundable tax credit be created to encourage graduates to relocate to regions having difficulty recruiting workers:
[It is recommended that] the federal government create a refundable tax credit for new graduates. The proposed tax credit should be available to those who move to designated regions and engage in employment in their field of study.
The question that comes to mind is, wouldn’t this duplicate policies already in place? Sasaktchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick–who all have trouble attracting workers–already provide tax credits (or rebates) to graduates who live and work in the province, no matter where they went to school. And generous ones at that.
Finally, on the subject of funding for research, the committee asserted that research “must be commercialized” and reccommended that:
The federal government simply the administration of the Scientific Research and Experimental Development investment tax credit, and expand the range of expenditures eligible for the credit to include, for example the costs of patenting and training employees to work on innovative projects.
Moreover, consistent with the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, the government should increase its support to research through the federal granting councils and research agencies as well as for the indirect costs of research. As well the government should encourage universities and colleges to partner in complementary ares of research and as well as commercialization of research.
Finally, the government should, recognizing the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, create a specialized fund for medical research for children’s health.
Whether or not these policies will appear, in one form or another, in the budget, they are consistent with how the Harper government views higher education. That is, each one of these reccommendations would seem to be designed to fit neatly within the federal government’s constitutional responsibility to create a national economic space. As for viewing education as a social service, or a social good beyond economic considerations, that is for the provinces to address. In other words, no shockers here.