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Government of Ontario reallocates money to fund 30 per cent tuition rebate

ELIGIBLE UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS were able to receive a 30 per cent tuition rebate from the Government of Ontario on Jan. 5. Funds for the $432-million project were reallocated from other areas of post-secondary education, such as a $42-million funding cut from research grants from Ontario universities. The provincial government insists the rebate for undergraduate students is essential despite the need for research funding from professors and graduate students.

“For [graduate] students, [research funding] is a bit vital,” said Jan Grabowski, a professor in the Department of History at the University of Ottawa. “If you have a professor that has a research grant, then you can hope for some money for yourself.

“Without this, it would be simply impossible. Career-wise, it is essential for graduate students to have this launching pad.”

Grabowski said although the tuition grant helps undergraduate students, the cuts hurt those pursuing graduate studies and trying to start a career. Professors hire graduate students as researchers and use a portion of grant money to send these students to international conferences and fund research abroad.

The McGuinty government, which was re-elected as a minority government on Oct. 6, believes reallocating spending to lower tuition fees will help undergraduate students and insists university research won’t be affected.

“It really boils down to making some choices,” said Yasir Naqvi, parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Finance and member of provincial Parliament for the Ottawa–Centre riding. “The diversion is only for two years and an excess of over $200 million in research funds continues to flow into universities. We’ve taken a very small fraction of money and diverted that to the tuition grant. The majority of the [research] money is intact.”

Naqvi said the cut to research funding is only a temporary measure as the province tries to balance one of its largest deficits. According to him, research continues to be a major priority for the current government.

“We need to be extremely prudent in the manner in which we make investments,” said Naqvi. “Our focus right now in unstable economic times is to ensure that we are strengthening the economy and creating new jobs. Education is the best way to do so.”

Grabowski, who has received continuous research funding for the past eight years, believes there are problems in how grants are awarded—granting agencies want professors to justify their research with short-term results instead of abstract ideas that seem to have no practical purpose.

“Now you have to make [research] relevant for policy,” said Grabowski. “[This includes] going out to the community, playing with people nicely, and telling taxpayers that their money is not going to abstract things but useful things.”

Grabowski believes research funding will decline since a large amount of research cannot be justified with short-term gains, and instead has larger possible impacts in the long term.

“This [new application process] is deadly for research,” said Grabowski. “As soon as you ask this question, research takes a back seat to certain expediencies and non-academic considerations.”

Christopher Radojewski