By Sarah Boesveld
The Conservatives promised $800 million to post-secondary education in their budget speech on Monday and President Sheldon Levy said it will mean many good things for Ryerson — despite the fact that the school will have to wait a year to see any money.
Levy discussed the budget with presidents of the Council of Ontario Universities Tuesday morning, and afterwards said the budget was “considered positively overall.”
“It spoke to the ability for the universities and colleges to provide a higher quality education to students,” he said.
Levy said whatever amount Ryerson gets will go to improving the graduate and undergraduate experience at Ryerson, as well as allow the university to hire more full-time faculty. More space for students can be created too along with improvements to labs and the purchase of up-to-date equipment.
All the money will be distributed in the form of equalization payments, which is why Ottawa is taking the year to decide how to dispense it.
Levy is concerned that since universities outside of Ontario traditionally receive more from Ottawa, Ryerson will receive a small chunk.
“All Ontario universities are funded poorly compared to Alberta, BC, Nova Scotia, etc. So we want to be brought to their average,” he said.
“Everyone will be monitoring and watching, trying to participate in the discussions on how the $800 million should be divided and allocated, and what measures of accountability should go into it to ensure that, in fact, the universities and colleges receive it,” he said.
Ryerson will receive some funding this year. Graduate student scholarships got a boost with $35 million over two years. Federal granting councils also received $85 million.
Research and Innovation Chair Anastasios Venetsanopoulos is pleased with the federal budget’s increase of funding for research councils, from which many Ryerson professors receive grants, but believes it could have been better. “I think it’s a good amount, but it’s not perfect,” he said. “It wasn’t bold enough.”
Venetsanopolous was also dismayed by the meagre $2 million in funding for international graduate students who want to do research in Canada.
“Two million would only really help 100 students in the whole of Canada,” he said. He was quick to add, however, that Ryerson will indeed benefit from $510 million the Canada Foundation for Innovation received.
“That’s money we can apply for to fund labs,” said Venetsanopolous.
Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Bentley said he will wait for the Ministry of Finance to crunch the federal budget numbers before concluding whether the $800 million will truly help Ontario post-secondary schools, but said it’s a move in the right direction.
“The preliminary indications are that the federal government has started to follow the leadership of premier McGuinty in terms of identifying post-secondary education and skills training as places to invest in,” he said.
New Democratic Party MP Olivia Chow said the money does little to help students who have to pay their own way through school.
“Students have missed out on it. There is no plan to help ordinary students with their debt and tuition fees,” she said. She suggests the creation of a post-secondary education transfer to help make education more affordable.
Ontario chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students Jesse Greener also considers the $800 million promise nothing more than a baby step towards improvements in Ontario’s education system.
“I think the federal government has taken a small step to recover the overall funding levels to closer,” he said, noting the government should be “prioritizing affordability through tuition fees reductions.”