An imbalanced budget
What the latest Saskatchewan budget means for education
The provincial budget was released on March 18 and with it came substantial cuts and revisions to post-secondary education.
One of the biggest announcements is that the graduate retention program will experience substantial changes.
“It’s a raw deal for students, really, because not only do you have to be making at least $36,000 a year to claim at least $2,000 in income tax, so to use your full tax write off, you also have to not be eligible for any other tax incentives,” said University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) president Devon Peters.
But business professor Randy Linton is concerned that students have been misinformed about the nature of the changes to the graduate retention tax credit. Under the previous refundable tax regime, a graduate would have $2,000 available to them each year upon graduation. Under this budget’s changes, a graduate will only be eligible for this money as a refundable tax credit – meaning that one must pay $2,000 in taxes before the money is made available as a refund.
“How it has changed is this: if I make $12,000 of income and I only pay $1000 in provincial tax on that, my basic personal exemption will get that $1000 back for me – I get $1000 and nothing else now. But if I make $40,000 as a new graduate, my basic personal exemption and employment credit will make it so that first $20,000 is virtually tax-free. Say I pay $2000 in tax on my first $20,000, I will get all of that back. The next amount of tax I pay on income above $20,000, say that is $2000 provincially, the government will give me that back, now. But, I will have to pay to get it back, that is the catch.”
Only specific segments of the student population will feel the crunch of this change.
“The only people it affects are PhD. or master’s students who don’t make over $20,000, which would be most of them – I couldn’t see them making that much money, that is a lot to make. If I graduate and were an entrepreneur, I would make $18,000-20,000 that first year. It’s going to hurt entrepreneurs and people doing their master’s or PhD.”
Linton discussed the graduate retention program and the things some students may be feeling right now.
“The project was never designed to keep graduates here to go back to school. It was designed to bring people here to work. That was the publicity of it. It wasn’t money they thought they were going to get, but it’s money that, now that they’ve got it, they’ll expect it again. It was really a grant they were getting. Hopefully the government comes back with a grant for PhD. students staying to do research here.”-
“I think as students, and someone who is sympathetic with students, it’s my job, I have to say I’m pretty disappointed to see it. I know a lot of people who are going to be affected by this in their pocketbook, not to mention myself,” said Peters, who plans to come back after graduating to complete a Master’s.
Minister of advanced education and telecommunications Kevin Doherty was able to answer some questions for students in the wake of this budget. The U of R is seeing a one per cent increase, despite asking for four per cent.
“Our costs are about four per cent a year, so that’s a challenge right? One per cent doesn’t cover our increasing costs. I understand, though, that’s this [is] a tough fiscal year and we’ll have to do our own belt tightening,” said U of R President Vianne Timmons.
The Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies saw a 24 per cent increase in funding.
“We realized they were being underfunded and needed more money. That’s been a long time coming. What it looks like is a massive increase, but it’s on a very small base. Their total dollars actually end up being $428,000 this year. That equates to a 24 per cent increase for their operating budget from the province. They operate on a small base and do a tremendous amount of work from that.”
The province will not be providing additional funds for the construction of the new residence buildings, having already provided $11 million for its construction.
“They have asked for additional capital dollars with respect to the cost of that particular facility and the province has committed $11 million to help offset the cost of building that facility and that is what the government has come through with,” said Doherty.
Timmons addressed the lack of funding on budget day. She spoke to how the university would essentially have to fill residences as soon as possible, emphasizing that it will be finished in September of this year, and that it is both on time and on budget.
“There were no additional dollars in this year’s capital funding for the residence. It is scheduled to open this fall and those types of facilities generate their own revenue. People rent rooms, which generates revenue to help pay off the costs of building them,” explained Doherty.
While there is less than university administration had hoped for in this budget, there is more than usual committed to Indigenous education.
“We’re in a very, very difficult budget where a number of ministries and programs took funding cuts. We’ve increased monies to our post-secondary sector – University of Regina, SIIT, FNUC as well as very specific things with respect to aboriginal and Metis post-secondary education where we have doubled the amount of money available to those particular programs,” said Doherty.
Provincial advanced education critic Warren McCall had the following to say about an increase in tuition at the U of R.
“I think it’s almost a guarantee – almost a UR Guarantee, to borrow a phrase – with the budget the provincial government brought forward, it’s almost a guarantee the tuition will go up even more. The universities are going to be looking at which programs to cut and services to reduce. Either way, this government has made some choices in a time of record revenue and oddly enough, students are going to be paying the price.”
Peters, who is returning for his second year as URSU president after recent elections, echoed this sentiment, “We’re going to see tuition go up. I worked really hard on that last year, but, our hands are really tied.”
McCall described what post-secondary students in Regina could expect from this budget.
“Any time you’re investing in human capital, that’s an investment not just in present prosperity, but that’s what makes for long term prosperity. In a time of record revenue where we should arguably have the best institutions in the world, at the U of R, I don’t know how many of the fifty-odd buckets that are out there for the roofs that are leaking this is going to sort out. I know that again, this was based on a higher request.”
Though there is a need to retain graduates, train professionals, and offer institutions of higher learning in the province, the current government has been falling short of the mark.
“This government has put these institutions in the place where there is no recourse but tuition increases and program reductions,” said McCall.
McCall feels the government is indifferent to students and their families under increasing education costs.
“I’d like to see a government that’s put a priority on students and realizes the choices they make very much have consequences for students and students’ families. Out of this budget, this government has made a number of choices that will see students paying more and getting less.”