In January 2009, the federal government released its short-term economic stimulus package, which included a $2 billion Knowledge Infrastructure Program. The program, which invests in infrastructure developments for higher learning over a two year period, has recently been allocated to institutions.
The investment is a response to the accumulated deferred maintenance across Canadian universities. According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, $2.4 billion of the cost of deferred maintenance is considered urgent.
Accumulated deferred maintenance is the result of postponements made for the necessary upkeep of buildings and equipment. This has occurred at post-secondary institutions in Canada due to a lack of funds to support these expenditures.
“CASA is excited about this program, we’ve been advocating for this since 2001,” said Arati Sharma, national director for the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA). CASA is an alliance of student associations and unions which defends the interests of post-secondary students to provincial and federal governments.
“We don’t want students to be taking the burden on their tuition or their fees,” she continued.
The projects selected for funding are considered a top priority. The funding provided by the program constitutes half of the cost for each project, which leaves the remainder to be invested by the province or territory, post-secondary institution or private donor.
“We’ve committed to a $780 million infrastructure program working to compliment what’s happening with the federal government and their move forward,” said John Milloy, minister of training, colleges and universities, on behalf of the province of Ontario.
“What encourages me is seeing both levels of government working together,” said Kory Preston, Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union vice-president of university affairs and CASA delegate for WLU.
“I think we need to recognize that there is a role for the federal government to play in education, whereas a lot of the time we think of education as a provincial issue,” said Preston.
The role of education has become a crucial issue in combating the economic recession. “If we want to become the creative economy that it seems that Canada wants to become, we’re going to really need to invest in post-secondary education,” said Preston.
Yet, the recession that has had negative implications on the funds of these institutions. The costs of meeting pension obligations alone, according to the Council of Ontario Universities, will represent 20 per cent of the operating grants provided by the provincial government.
“I think where we are today, and where the economic situation is … we need to be thankful that the government is willing to invest in post-secondary education,” said Preston.
Although this is a positive step in improving post-secondary schools, there are still many issues that must be addressed.
“This is not the only thing we advocate for,” said Sharma. “We want to ensure that students are getting access grants and getting upfront grants to ensure affordability for their post-secondary studies.”