$1.5 billion for tuition relief on its way

OTTAWA (CUP) — With Liberal support in the polls dropping and rumours of an impending federal election refusing to go away, the Liberal government is hatching a significant tuition relief package to be unveiled later this month.

Belinda Stronach, the Federal Liberal Human Resources and Development Minister, will soon announce exactly how $1.5 billion will improve the accessibility of post-secondary education.

Earlier this year, the Liberals set aside $1.5 billion of the federal budget for tuition reduction in return for the NDP’s support; a necessary comprimise that helped the Liberals avoid a vote of non-confidence that would have forced another election.

Outside the House of Commons on Friday, October 7, Stronach would not say when the announcement would be, because the details of the tuition relief package are not settled.

However, a Globe and Mail article published on October 7 said the Liberals hope to introduce the program this month.

“Our investments are going to be focused in the traditional areas that we have invested in, which is about access and participation for students,” said Stronach.

The tuition relief package will be directed at low income students, aboriginal students, students with disabilities and part time students.

But there is no mention of a provincial transfer for tuition reduction, which was the purpose of the $1.5 billion that the NDP added to last April’s budget.

Education ministers across Canada are asking for the federal government to give education transfers for colleges and universities, according to Bloc MP Yvan Loubier.

Stronach said the federal tuition relief will not interfere with provincial programs, but that education policy should be addressed nationally.

NDP MP Libby Davies said she wants assurance from the government that the money will go to students to improve accessibility, possibly as grants for low-income students.

Davies said student debt is the responsibility of the federal government, and they should change the loans program so it will be less of a financial burden on students.

“We have had a massive retreat of public funds in post-secondary education,” she said. “The 1.5 billion that the NDP got in the budget, to me that is only a first step; it should not be the end of the story.”

Ontario Canadian Federation of Students chairperson Jesse Greener said Stronach’s announcement means Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty now has the necessary tools to extend the province’s tuition freeze-the same freeze McGuinty said would expire later this year.

“Ontario now has a source of revenue from the federal level to replace a portion of the revenue generated by tuition fees,” he said. “There is no reason not to extend the tuition freeze-that’s what the $1.5 billion is for, to provide tuition relief for students.”

Greener also warned the federal government not to funnel through federal organizations like the Millenium Scholarship Foundation-which he described as a black hole-but instead in the form of direct transfer payments to the provinces.

“Auditor Sheila Fraser cited the Millennium Scholarship Fund as having a lack of transparency,” said Greener. “It has a long track record of not providing adequate debt relief for Canadian students.”

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale also announced a spending bill today that could benefit education in the future.

If the bill passes, the government’s extra money will be divided between debt reduction, tax reduction, and spending priorities, Goodale said. Currently, federal surpluses are used to pay down the national debt.

Goodale said some areas the money could be spent included heath care, education or infrastructure.

-With files from Dave Weatherall

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