HESA

Higher Education Strategy Associates

HESA’s 2016 Budget Analysis

The team at HESA towers was up late last night putting together – as we do every year – a review of the Government of Canada’s Budget 2016, specifically as it relates to higher education and training. You can read our full analysis, here. Below are some of our key takeaways and conclusions from Budget 2016.

It’s very difficult to call this anything but a very good budget for the higher education sector, albeit more so for universities than for colleges and polytechnics. That said, there is clearly a lot of clean-up work still to be done. If this analysis tells us anything, it’s that the new government remains not entirely in command of all its files.

On the student financial assistance front, the government did what it said it would do: axe the education and textbook tax credits, while increasing up-front grants to low- and middle- income students.  That’s excellent news, even though it creates some winners and some losers (and possibly more losers than winners, until 2017-18 at least).  The system will provide money to students faster and more transparently, and that can only be good for accessibility.  

On the granting councils, the news is extremely positive. Where the Liberal manifesto promised no new dollars at all, this budget provides the councils with the largest single increase in over a decade. In contrast to the previous government, the Liberals seem content to let the councils themselves decide what to do with the new money. Additionally, the Budget promises that the Minister of Science will conduct a comprehensive review of federal support for fundamental science. This will please many, but the lack of any specific support for applied research is sure to make colleges and polytechnics nervous.

On innovation policy, there are a lot of fine words and a few large numbers as placeholders, but an astonishing lack of detail. From the specifics available, the sentiment of the Liberal policy largely follows from that of the previous government (though the promised funding to support “innovation networks” – whatever that may mean – could represent a different path).

On skills policy, the change in tone between this government and its predecessor is dramatic. Not only is there less money available, but the government also seems to not be terribly fluent with either the language or the issues. Again, colleges and polytechnics may react negatively to this (as indeed may employers’ groups). One announcement in particular allocates $73 million for “co-operative education,” but is so light on details that it’s not even clear if institutions or businesses will receive the money.

On infrastructure, there is plenty of money for universities and colleges, totaling nearly $2 billion over the next three years. However, as with the Budget’s innovation section, there is a serious lack of detail here about how the money will actually be administered.

If there is a false note in this budget, it is with respect to Aboriginal students, as the manifesto promise to increase funding to the Post-Secondary Student Support Program for First Nations by $50 million/year was not fulfilled in this budget.

In sum, the Liberal government has shown generally good instincts concerning PSE. On one hand, funding provisions are mostly generous to the sector. On the other hand, these provisions remain largely superficial in key areas, as the government struggles to get a hold of its own machinery and sketch in the contours of its policy framework. Details, we are told, are forthcoming. Time will tell. In the final analysis, this budget deserves a solid “A” grade for sentiment. On execution, however, the government might need to “revise and resubmit.”

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