With the Millennium Scholarships set to expire this year, the Conservative government used last week’s budget to unveil a new, permanent grants program – one from which Quebec students may find themselves excluded.
The Millennium Scholarship Foundation (MSF) was a $2.5 billion “endowment”, created under the Chretien Liberals in 1998. Since 2000 it has distributed half-a-million bursaries and scholarships, worth about $2.2 billion. The CSGP will overshadow its predecessor in yearly spending – $1.6 billion over four years.
Unlike the MSF, which had a limited, 10 year, lifespan, the CSGP is a permanent fixture in the federal budget.
Under the Millennium Scholarship Program, qualifying students received between $1,000 and $4,500 in annual bursaries. The new program, introduced last week by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, provides a far larger group of students with reduced, but fixed amounts totaling $2,000 per year. These amounts will be paid out in monthly installments of between $100 and $250.
According to the Educational Policy Institute (EPI), a non-profit research center, however, the province of Quebec may see itself lose out on the funds.
“We must be mindful that the province of Quebec may choose to apply their envelope of funding for this program differently as they have done with the Millennium funding. Therefore, it is too early to tell what the impact will be on students with Quebec residency,” said Laura Stanbra, Concordia Director of Financial Aids and Awards.
According to the EPI, while Quebec has historically chosen to opt-out of such federal spending programs – receiving money instead – under the new system, funds will only be transferred to provinces with comparable grant and bursaries programs. Thus, whether Quebec will benefit from the $80 million of available funding from the federal government will depend on its willingness to switch over from need-based to income-grants.
“The biggest potential loser of this proposal in financial terms…is Quebec,” argued the study, which predicts that the province will refuse to accept federal standards in order to maintain provincial jurisdiction.
According to Concordia Student Union President Angelica Novoa, the end of the MSF bodes well for students.
“[Now] we’re going to see more investments into helping students in post-secondary education,” she said. “The most positive feature of this [new] program is that all the money will be allocated to the students as opposed to being used for bureaucratic and PR objectives like the MSF used to do.”
Canadian Federation of Students’ Deputy National Chair Brent Farrington echoed Novoa’s criticism of the MSF.
“We’ve been advocating for a changeover to a needs-based system for a long-time now. Under the [MSF] there was no accountability – no way to track where the funding was going through the organization. At the same time, they were trying to work towards a merit-based system of grants, which was totally unacceptable.”
Under the need-based formula used by the MSF, students’ eligibility was calculated based on both their income and that of their guardians. The new grants, by comparison, will only take students’ income into account when assessing qualification.
But not all student groups are in favour of the new system, and the changeover concerns Zach Churchill, National Director for The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), which had lobbied in favour of renewing the MSF.
“Low income students will definitely receive less money from this new program than they did from [the MSF] because its target audience is bigger,” he said.
As pointed out by the EPI, however, a more pertinent problem with the new system may be that its shift to income-contingent bursaries leaves it open to uncontrolled cost increases. The Institute’s analysis concluded in particular that Canada Student Loan Program, which will administer the new program, may have to accommodate up to 500,000 students – more than twice the government’s projected.
According to the authors, “since all independent students are effectively “low-income,” presumably all independent students will be eligible.” Thus, the switch to an income-basis could “blow an enormous hole in the budget, [with annual costs inflating to] well over $1 billion”
By the Numbers
$350-million in 2009 – 2010, rising to $430 million by 2012-13, for a new “consolidated”
Canada Student Grant Program that will take effect fall 2009
$123 million over 4 years starting in 2009 – 10 to “streamline and modernize” the Canada Student Loans Program
$25 million over 2 years to establish new Canada Graduate Scholarship award for top Canadian and international doctoral students
$3 million over 2 years to establish a international study stipend for Canada Graduate Scholarship recipients at international institutions
$21 million over 2 years to establish up to 20 Canada Global Excellence Research Chairs
$80 million per year for Canada’s 3 university granting councils
$15 million per year for the Indirect Costs of Research program
$140 million for Genome Canada
Government of Canada