Ahead of the fall election, the federal Liberals tabled a budget on March 19 focused on skills, employment and youth, along with other items related to affordable housing, pharmacare and seniors. The budget contains several key items for the postsecondary sector, including a target to create 84,000 new student work placements across the country by 2023.
Roughly half of those placements would come through federal investments over five years starting in 2019: $631 million to expand the Student Work Placement Program to create 20,000 placements per year for students in all disciplines, and another $150 million over four years to Employment and Social Development Canada to create 20,000 more placements per year starting in 2020. An additional target of 44,000 work-integrated learning opportunities would be matched by the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER), to which the government allocated $17 million over three years.
The funds for BHER will go toward coordinating evaluation efforts, expanding employer outreach and scaling up a digital matching platform developed by Magnet and Orbis Communications called Campus Connect, according to Valerie Walker, executive director of BHER. Dr. Walker, who is also co-chair of the recently inaugurated Future Skills Council, said she sees investments in the budget as “unprecedented” in terms of federal support in helping students in Canada prepare for the workforce.
“We’re ecstatic,” Dr. Walker said. “We at the Roundtable have been pushing, since 2016, for 100 percent of students to get that opportunity to get a work placement before they finish school, so it’s great to see that the feds have committed to the same goal and are putting real money behind that.”
Sophie D’Amours, rector of Université Laval and vice-chair of Universities Canada, said she was pleased the budget would help further the “enrichment of the university experience through work-integrated learning for students of all disciplines,” expanding access beyond the STEM fields to the arts, humanities and social sciences. She also praised commitments in the budget to continuous learning “at a time of digital transition and disruption in the workforce.”
The federal budget, which projects a deficit of $14.9 billion this fiscal year falling to $9.8 billion in 2023, proposes several skills-related initiatives, including a non-taxable Canada Training Credit for workers between 25 and 64. Each year, eligible workers could accumulate a balance of $250 per year, capped at $5,000, that can be used to upgrade their skills at universities, colleges and other eligible institutions, starting in 2020.
Scholarships and student loans
Building on a promissory note in the previous budget, the government has allocated funds to support graduate student scholarships. Over five years starting in 2019, the budget earmarks $114 million, with $26.5 million per year ongoing, to the federal granting councils to create 500 new master’s level scholarships awards and 167 more three-year doctoral scholarships awards annually through the Canada Graduate Scholarship program.
“We were in need of more scholarships and capacity, and this is a part of it. It’s not to the scale of what was asked but it is an appreciated step towards that,” Dr. D’Amours said.
Student researchers and postdoctoral fellows who receive granting council funding will also get 12 months of parental leave coverage, up from six months. Postsecondary students will also benefit from a lower interest rate on Canada Student Loans starting this fiscal year, along with a six-month non-repayment grace period after graduation and measures to modernize the Canada Student Loans Program that are favourable to students with disabilities – all of which are welcomed by students, according to Manjeet Birk, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.
“Overall we’re very pleased by this budget, and we’re very pleased to see the government spending money investing in students and in the future,” Ms. Birk said. “This is especially important as we plan our non-partisan Get Out the Vote campaign where we will be mobilizing student voters across the country to get out and vote in the next federal election.”
Indigenous student access
The federal budget places emphasis on support for Indigenous peoples, including students, through investments for increased access to postsecondary education and support during their studies.
Dr. D’Amours acknowledged that Indigenous youth are the fastest growing segment of the population in Canada, and “there’s a real need to provide support for Indigenous students: young, talented, capable people who should have better access to education.”
The government has pledged $328 million over five years targeted at First Nations communities through expansion of the Postsecondary Student Support Program. It also promises $126 million over 10 years for an Inuit-led postsecondary education strategy and $362 million over 10 years for a Métis Nation-led postsecondary education strategy. Indspire, an Indigenous-led charitable organization, will receive an extra $9 million over three years to provide additional scholarships and bursaries for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students.
The budget pledges $148 million over five years starting in 2019 toward a new International Education Strategy, which includes an outbound student mobility pilot program providing international work and study opportunities. The funds would also go toward promoting the merits of Canada as a destination of choice for international students.
Additional budget highlights related to research
- Stem Cell Network: renewed funding of $18 million over three years, starting in 2019-20.
- Brain Canada Foundation: Up to $40 million over two years, starting in 2020-21, for Canada Brain Research Fund, to be matched by funds raised from other non-government partners of the foundation.
- Terry Fox Research Institute: Up to $150 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, to help establish a national Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network. The institute would seek matching funding through a combination of its own resources and contributions that it would seek from other organizations, including hospital and research foundations.
- Ovarian Cancer Canada: $10 million over five years beginning in 2019-20 to help address existing gaps in knowledge about effective prevention, screening, and treatment options for ovarian cancer.
- Genome Canada: $100.5 million over five years, starting in 2020-21, to launch new large-scale research competitions and projects, in collaboration with external partners.
- Let’s Talk Science: $10 million over two years, starting in 2020-21.
- TRIUMF: $195.9 million over five years, starting in 2020-21. Combined with an additional $96.8 million from the existing resources of the National Research Council, federal support for TRIUMF will total $292.7 million over this five-year period.
- Strategic Science Fund: To make federal investments in third-party science and research more effective, Budget 2019 proposes to establish a new Strategic Science Fund starting in 2022-23. This new fund will respond to recommendations that arose during consultations with third-party science and research organizations.
- Natural Resources Canada (federal research): Up to $10 million, over two years, starting in 2019-20, to help the Polar Continental Shelf Program to respond to growing demand.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada (federal research): Up to $21.8 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, for the Eureka Weather Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. This investment will support critical repairs and necessary upgrades to the station’s systems.
It is great to see that the Federal Government has increased the funding, but my main concern is whether the government will have a strategic plan to meet those needs. For example, while there are many international opportunities are available for students in undergraduates, graduates and MBAs, there aren’t a lot of students are taking advantage of the opportunity mainly due to the structure of the program.
I see there are more supplies in short term programs such as international field trips for few weeks or exchange program for a few month (3 to 4 month) and while the cost will be cheaper, I don’t think this will benefit in the long run when it comes to language and culture exposure. I’ve heard that other countries would provide opportunities for students to study for at least two semesters at a different country as well as scholarship programs and for career professionals, which might be a good option to consider in order to provide a meaningful experience. In addition, it would be a great idea to start to think about how the future of work will change and what are some of the skills that would benefit individuals to develop to stay competitive as the nature of work will become more complex due to disruptions. As Canada has more supplies than demand, I don’t feel that doing the same way as before would make a huge difference and I hope that the government will be able to come up with an alternative strategies to make it more effective.