Dutifully blogging Stéphane Dion's knowledge-economy platform plank in a way our more sensitive readers will not find snide or dismissive!

So Stéphane Dion showed up at Western Western Western U (college fair and square™) this morning to unveil his plank on student aid and university-based research. It is substantial. So much so that when you get to the bottom of the news release, there’s a link to a .pdf backgrounder with yet more detail. So this is only a quick read. Here’s the quick read:

  • Some handy housecleaning in the forest of student tax credits and benefits. These would be replaced with an up-front Education Grant payable every three months, at the same time as GST rebates. This grant plus the GST rebates (which most but not all students receive) adds to about $1,000 a year. Paid for by re-allocating some of the money that now goes to tax credits. (See how tax credits are actually spending programs, and are in fact often treated as such? Andrew Coyne wins another argument!)
  • Students who work will get an extra $250 from the Green Shift’s “enriched and refundable employment credit.” Because what you want to do is encourage students to get jobs while at school. What?
  • I’m going to need to quote this one directly. “A Liberal government will create a 20-year education endowment fund worth $25 billion. By creating this fund, the federal government will be able to turn a
    relatively small investment – which would allow for the borrowing of the initial funds needed to start the endowment – into a significant, long-term investment in students.” I’d be genuinely interested to hear how this makes sense. An endowment pays for benefits out of interest on the principle. But if you borrow the funds needed to start the endowment, then the scale of the benefit is reduced by the size of your own interest payments on the loan. Or am I completely misunderstanding this?
  • Anyway, this endowment would pay for 50,000 needs-based bursaries per year, at a value of up to $3,500 per year. Again: I’m seriously not clear, after hearing the speech and reading two layers of backgrounder, on whether this bursary program would replace or supplement the Harper government’s own student-aid program, revealed only five months ago in Budget ’08, which itself replaces the Millennium Scholarship program. Anyone? Inkless Irregulars?
  • “We will also provide 100,000 access bursaries of up to $4,000 per year,” to aboriginals, people with disabilities and others who are traditionally under-represented in higher education. Take the “up to” seriously, take average bursary value at closer to $2,000, and that’s still $200 million per year for this promise.
  • And more more more. “Taken together, these improvements to the student loan system will represent an additional investment of $500 million.”
  • Research. More. A 60% increase to indirect costs of research (keeping lab lights on and centrifuges equipped with, um, centrifuge stuff, after the lab is built and the researcher bestowed with a grant); a 33% increase to the budgets of the hard-science granting councils; and a 40% increase to the smaller budget of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the perpetual poor cousin to the pure sciences. This is a substantial increase over Conservative rates of growth.
  • I don’t see total aggregate costing for the research elements, but taken together they seem at a glance to be worth more than an additional $500 million on top of the student-aid proposals.

Great. I’ll be curious to see how it’s costed in the context of a complete Liberal platform.

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