Proposed federal budget brings breaks for part-time students

Despite HRSDC cuts on the horizon, feds slash in-study loan interest, expand loan and grant eligibility for part-time students

Photo by Alex Smyth/The Fulcrum
Photo by Alex Smyth/The Fulcrum

OTTAWA (CUP) — Education and training were of particular importance in the 2011 federal budget, entitled “A Low-Tax Plan for Jobs and Growth,” unveiled March 22.


“With the next phase of our economic action plan, our government is focusing on securing and completing our economic recovery,” Finance Minster Jim Flaherty told journalists in advance of his speech in the House of Commons.


“Our government continues to invest in innovation, so Canadians can prosper in the global economy. This will mean more investments in world-class research, higher education … as well as an enhanced Canada Student Loans Program for full- and for part-time students.”


One particular item that Flaherty highlighted in his speech was the government’s pledge to forgive student loans of up to $40,000 for new doctors and $20,000 for new nurses and nurse practitioners who plan to work in rural and aboriginal communities. The initiative — that was also leaked to media the night before — would launch in 2012–13.


The government will also invest some new money in up-front grants for students. An ongoing $2.2-million yearly investment will allow more part-time students to be eligible for Canada Student Grants, thanks to changes made to income thresholds.


Currently, about 4,000 part-time students benefit from this grant of up to $1,200 — these changes are expected to benefit roughly 1,600 more part-time students once the changes are fully implemented.


Additionally, part-time students will no longer having to pay interest on their Canada Student Loans while still in school. More changes to the Canada Student Loans Program will also allow part-time students to have higher family incomes without seeing their loan eligibility change, and will increase full-time students’ in-study income exemption from $50 to $100 a week.


In terms of research, an additional $37 million in annual funding has been earmarked for the three federal granting councils. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada in particular will benefit from added investments to support climate change and atmospheric research, its Ideas to Innovation program, and 30 new Industrial Research Chairs at colleges across the country.


The government will also pledge $53.5 million over five years to create 10 new Canada Excellence Research Chairs on campuses from coast to coast — some specifically involving digital innovation, a field quite prevalent in the 2011 budget. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada will reallocate $60 million in its existing budget to promote enrolment in studies related to the field, such as science, engineering and mathematics.


The topic of commercialization of research was also present, in the form of $80 million in new funding to be distributed over three years to a pilot program that supports collaborations between colleges and small businesses on projects relating to information and communications technologies.


Budget 2011 also offered the results of the government’s 2010 strategic reviews, in which multiple departments laid out the necessary cuts that would be required to restrain spending as mandated in last year’s budget.


According to this year’s budget document, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada — the department responsible for the Canada Student Loans Program — will be seeking to slash $80.5 million from its spending in 2011–12, up to $140.7 million from its spending in 2012–13, and up to $273.9 million from its spending in 2013–14. No details have yet been released on what specific programs will be affected by these cuts.


While this year’s budget predicts a deficit of $40.5 billion for 2010–11, the government hopes to reduce it to $0.3 billion in 2014-15, and is projecting a surplus of up to $4.2 billion in 2015–16.


Look for more in-depth stories on both the student assistance and post-secondary research aspects of the 2011 federal budget later this week.


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