Behind the Scenes of the Budget

Universities, colleges, and their students in Canada were not anticipating much in the way of increased funding for postsecondary education initiatives because much of the talk leading up to this year's federal budget focused on health care.. But the widely touted "health" budget, which was released on 18 February, contained several pleasant surprises for postgraduate students and the academic community in the form of new investments in science, technology, and postsecondary education. (Read about the budget highlights on Next Wave)

One of the many individuals who worked tirelessly behind the budget scenes is Peter Adams, chair of the Government Caucus on Post-secondary Education and Research. For Adams--Member of Parliament for Peterborough and professor emeritus at Trent University--the months of backbench lobbying paid off in a budget that he believes is firmly on the plus side for postsecondary education and research.

The caucus is currently composed of two senators and 20 Liberal MPs from across Canada and is, as Adams puts it, "a lobby group within the system." The committee came into existence during the period of deficit reduction in the mid-1990s "as a way of minimizing the impact of the budget cuts" on Canadian research and researchers. It has become a very effective group in parliament, according to Adams, meeting regularly with advocates for postsecondary and research interests (such as the Canadian Society for Chemistry, the Canadian Association of Physicists, and the Canadian Federation of Biological Sciences) and assisting them in communicating their views within the federal system. "Caucus members have worked steadily over the years to address the needs in their communities, so it is particularly satisfying to deliver a budget that is favourable for universities and colleges," Adams tells Next Wave Canada.

Over the last several years, the caucus has lobbied hard for the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), the Millennium Scholarships Foundation, the Canada Research Chairs program, and the newly established Canada Graduate Scholarships, among other initiatives.

But Adams says that the caucus isn't about to rest on its laurels. He hints that there's more funding for education and research in the pipeline. And he stresses another of the caucus's priorities: developing a systematic overview of postsecondary training and research in Canada. To that end, CA$100 million was set aside in the recently approved budget to create a Canadian Learning Institute that will involve both federal and provincial governments and function to assemble and process data on education, training, and learning from across the country. "The Canadian Learning Institute represents substantial federal investment and is a good example of what we have achieved" on the way towards establishing a national overview of the education system, says Adams.

While welcomed by the academic community, the newly created graduate scholarships and the much-needed additional funds to cover the indirect costs of academic research are only on the books for the next 3 years. Adams acknowledges that it is difficult to maintain momentum for programs like this, particularly given the limited "shelf life" of governments; however, the caucus, he says, "will be pressing for them to be made permanent." Whereas programs like these are temporary in nature, the foundations are, as Adams suggests, good examples of getting around the problem of transient governments. He uses the example of CFI, an independent not-for-profit corporation established by the government in 1997, which has already given away CA$3 billion and "has enough money to keep giving away funding for research infrastructure for many, many years." The CFI, Adams says, is "a publicly endowed foundation out of reach of Parliament ? but not out of reach of public accountability," one that--he hopes--will become a part of the caucus's legacy.

Read a profile of Peter Adams here.

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