On Campus

Iggy, that's a great idea

Ignatieff's excellent proposal: university funding should follow students across provincial borders

From the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s Q&A with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff:

Q: Post-secondary funding goes to where the student comes from rather than where the student goes to school. Would you change that if you had the chance?

A: I think we should. It won’t be easy because provinces from which the students originate will make a claim that it should stay with them. But I think we ought to encourage and reward the universities that actually attract students from out of province, and there’s a nation-building reason for that. It’s not merely (that) you want to reward Atlantic Canada for having good universities, but you also want to give Canadians, young Canadians, a national experience.

One of the things that builds a nation is, you know, if someone is born in Ontario, spends some time in Atlantic Canada, someone in Atlantic Canada spends some time out in Calgary. So we ought to have a financing system that incentivizes that, that encourages (us) to create a generation of Canadians that have national experience.

Provinces like Nova Scotia get the short end of the stick in the current system. The province has such a strong network of successful universities that it attracts thousands of students from across the country — but instead of that being a success story, it’s a budgetary problem for Nova Scotia. Why? Because when a B.C. student goes to school at St. Francis Xavier or Dalhousie, B.C.’s higher education tax dollars (and federal dollars transfered to BC) don’t follow that student. The government of Nova Scotia, a net importer of students, ends up footing the bill. As a result, Nova Scotia’s most successful industry—higher education—is a drain on the province’s budget and a perennial problem. The system’s upside down.

This idea of having funding follow university students has been around for decades. I was advocating it way back in the last century, when I was writing Globe and Mail editorials. But it’s never had a chance to grow tired. It’s never been tried.

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