Budget sees modest support for students

Flaherty announces new support for research, and tweaks to student loans and grants

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced $155 million in new spending for research and innovation for the coming year, as part of his budget that was released this afternoon. As with previous years, funding will be concentrated in the physical, engineering and technological sciences, with little new money for social science research.

As for students, little in the way of new funding has been announced, but tweaks to Canada Student Loans and Grants programs will see more money flowing to part-time students.

The budget includes $37 million in additional funding for Canada’s three research councils, plus $10 million to cover operating costs. However, extra funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council (NSERC) was listed separately, including $35 million, over five years, to support climate and atmospheric research, as well as the creation of an additional 30 Industrial Research Chairs.

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, in Waterloo, is to receive $50 million over five years, beginning in 2012-13, while funding will be provided to the Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute in order to build a cyclotron to produce medical isotopes.

The Canada Excellence Research Chairs program will see 10 chairs added to its current roster of 19, and an extra $65 million will be allocated to Genome Canada.

“In supporting research and development our goal is to promote innovation—and ultimately to create good, new jobs for Canadians,” Flaherty said in his speech to the House of Commons.

The government will also be spending $60 million over three years  to “promote increased student enrolment in key disciplines related to the digital economy,” such as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

The budget also included measures to entice doctors and nurses to practice in rural programs, a proposal that was released on Monday as part of the government’s unsuccessful attempts to sway the NDP to support the budget.

The government will forgive up to $40,000 of the federal portion of student loans for doctors and $20,000 for nurses who choose to work in underserved areas.

“The number of doctors and nurses in Canada has increased in recent years, but Canadians in some regions of the country continue to experience a shortage,” Flaherty said.

A change to income thresholds will see more part-time students eligible for student grants.

Tweaks to the loan system will allow part-time students to retain eligibility as their family income rises, while full-time students will be permitted to earn $100, up from $50, a week while in school without incurring a penalty to their loans.

Other measures targeted at students include, allowing professional and trade workers to claim certification exams under tuition tax credits, and $10 million in “tax relief” and Registered Education Savings Plan “assistance” aimed at increasing the number of Canadian students who study abroad.

“Our goal is to help Canadian workers reach the next stage of their careers and to seize new opportunities in the years to come,” Flaherty said.

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