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More work-integrated learning, research funding among the major themes of pre-budget submissions

University groups also call for the next federal budget to include additional help for Indigenous students and more support for study-abroad opportunities.

By LÉO CHARBONNEAU | OCT 09 2018

In an annual ritual, hundreds of institutions and organizations prepared briefs for the Standing Committee on Finance outlining what they’d like to see in the next federal budget. The deadline for submissions was August 3 and the Finance Committee received a total of 480 written briefs from across Canada.

Many of those same groups have been invited to present their pre-budget submissions in hearings that began on September 18 and continue until October 18. The hearings took place in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario over the first two weeks and now shift to Western Canada.

The university sector is well-represented, with submissions from Universities Canada, the U15 group of research-intensive universities and 17 individual universities, among others. It is customary for briefs to present from three to five “asks,” and several recurring themes have emerged.

One of the top priorities this year for many groups representing the postsecondary sector is a more investment in work-integrated learning, or WIL. Universities Canada, which presented to the Finance Committee on September 26, called for expanded federally funded WIL programs across all sectors and disciplines, with a particular emphasis on under-represented groups. It also asked for increased funding to support employers who offer “meaningful” WIL placements, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises and companies new to work-integrated learning.

That call was echoed by the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, a national group which seeks to strengthen cooperation between employers and educators. The group aims eventually for 100 percent of all postsecondary students to have the opportunity for a WIL experience. Among other groups supporting expanded WIL programs are Colleges and Institutes Canada and the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, or FedCan. The latter group argues that WIL must be extended to students in all fields of study and to not-for-profit organizations.

Investments to increase postsecondary education access and success for Indigenous students is also a priority for many groups. The University of Toronto, for example, calls for “the expansion of university-led equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, including student funding and institutional partnerships for Indigenous students.” Universities Canada advocates specifically for increased funding for Indspire’s scholarship and bursary program, while FedCan proposes sustained funding for culturally relevant programs that address barriers to success for Indigenous postsecondary students.

Several groups call for increased support for Canadian students wishing to study abroad. Universities Canada is one of several groups to support a new national initiative, Go Global Canada, to support 15,000 Canadian postsecondary students per year to go abroad within five years, rising to 30,000 per year within 10 years. The Canadian Bureau for International Education also strongly endorses efforts to boost the number of students going abroad both as a way to nurture future “global leaders” and to boost Canada’s international competitiveness.

Meanwhile, in the wake of large increases in research funding in the February 2018 budget, many groups are calling to extend these gains in the next budget. The Canadian Association of Graduate Studies, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, Universities Canada and the U15, among others, all call for increased investments in graduate scholarships and fellowships across academic disciplines, with some groups also calling for an expansion of undergraduate student research awards. Citing the recommendations of the 2017 Fundamental Science Review report, these groups seek an additional $140 million per year by 2022-23 for this purpose.

Also building on the Fundamental Science Review’s recommendations, many groups are calling for significant, multi-year increases to the Research Support Fund. The fund assists Canadian postsecondary institutions with the costs associated with managing their research activities.

The federal government has not yet set a date for its next budget. Traditionally, the budget is presented sometime between mid-February and late April.

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