By Kathryn Dunmore
The federal government introduced its vaunted Millennium Scholarship fund last week in its budget.
The fund wowed some but others were not impressed with the government’s attempt to placate students.
Finance Minister Paul Martin announced on Feb. 24 the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation will be set up in 2000, giving $2.5 billion to 100,000 low-to-middle income students. These grants could provide students as much as $3,000per academic year.
Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse said the fund is welcome news for students.
“That’s a significant step, provided it’s properly integrated with the provincial loans program,” Lajeunesse said.
Martin’s budget was deemed an education budget for its measures to help ease student debt loads.
Other plans announced include:
- A tax credit on student loan interest payments
- Extending the repayment period to 15 from 10 years if students can’t make payments on their Canada Student Loans and the 30 months of interest relief offered by government is exhausted
- Penalty-free RRSP withdrawals to pay for education
- Grants to single-parent students
- The expansion of the education credit for part-time students
- The elimination of employment insurance premiums for employers who create jobs for Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24
Despite these measures, Gord Tanner, RyeSAC’s VP education, was among those unimpressed with Martin’s budget.
“It would be the education budget if they put more money back into education,” Tanner said.
Lajeunesse agrees. “It doesn’t provide any of the funding necessary to pay salaries and other expenses,” he said. “The fundamental problem with universities is not having enough funding to operate properly.”
By not increasing transfer payments, the government is “paving the way … to tuition fee increases,” said Tanner.
The Millennium Scholarship fund, Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s pet project, offers “no relief for students now graduating,” Tanner said.
He said calling it a scholarship leaves it open to ambiguity. “The problem is, is it solely going to be provided on income or needs-based, which we hope, or is it going to be provided based on academics.”
Wayne Poirier, chair of Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, is not pleased students won’t see the money until 2000.
“By the time it works its way through, nowhere near that much money will meet the students,” said Poirier.
“Anyone right now facing debts will have absolutely no relief for the next two years,” he said.
“Basically, the federal government is trying to take credit for introducing this program when they’re the ones who are creating the debt loads.”
The CFS was lobbying the federal government for a national system of grants for students applying for loans.
“This [budget] isn’t that, for sure,” Tanner said.