The federal government’s recently announced 2019 budget outlines a number of key provisions to support students and young adults, ranging from increased job creation to easing student loan repayments. What is the significance of some of these major changes, and how will they be implemented? The Varsity spoke to Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance (Youth Economic Opportunity) Jennifer O’Connell to learn more about what the budget has in store for students.
Student work placements
The federal government aims to create 84,000 new student work placements per year by 2023–2024. Expanding this program will cost about $798.2 million over five years. Of this amount, $631.2 million will be used to expand student work placements beyond the STEM fields. This will provide 20,000 new placements per year for students across numerous disciplines by 2021–2022.
Beginning in 2020–2021, $150 million will be allocated to the government’s Employment and Social Development Canada to create partnerships with businesses and support 20,000 additional student work placements.
The final portion of these changes is $17 million, budgeted to support the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, which aims to create 44,000 additional jobs per year by 2021. The initiative is run by the Business Council of Canada and partnered with a number of postsecondary institutions and private companies to “deepen collaboration and improve opportunities for young Canadians.”
“The idea is to complement current co-op programs, to complement internship initiatives, not to replicate and not to undermine existing academic institutions that have programs in place,” Bains said. “The goal is to leverage the most we can of the private sector.”
When asked how the government would ensure that its investments would be apportioned to creating student work placements that would benefit students and universities, Bains said that the vetting system “is still a work in progress” that would be adjusted “in the coming weeks and months as [the government moves] forward with implementing this initiative.”
O’Connell said that ensuring work placements are both incorporated into curricula and are paid is important. “We think that if students are being paid for their work, that [will ensure that there are no] abuses in the system, that you’re not just taking advantage of a student’s work… if a business has to pay that student, then they’re going to make sure that it’s a position that is actually adding that value.”
Entrepreneurship and research
With $38 million in renewed funding to non-profit organization Futurpreneur, the federal government is expecting to support the work of approximately 1,000 young entrepreneurs per year. Futurpreneur has provided financial and mentorship support to over 12,000 entrepreneurs since 1996.
“The exciting part is 40 per cent of them [in 2017] are women and that’s double than what we see in the private sector,” Bains said. “We’re really excited about that trendline because we want an economy that works for everyone.” Of the funding, $3 million will specifically be targeted support for Indigenous entrepreneurs.
Bains added that this funding would complement existing entrepreneurship programs at U of T, including “Vector, [the Creative Destruction Lab], or MaRS, where there’s a lot of commercialization occurring, where businesses have the opportunity, where students have the opportunities to take their ideas to market.”
Bains also mentioned Canada’s Intellectual Property Strategy, an initiative that he launched in 2018, as an example of the supports provided to young entrepreneurs and researchers more broadly.
“One thing that we are very mindful of is that as we’re developing investments in research, as we’re focusing on commercialization, that we also lead on governance,” Bains said. “I’m firmly of the view that in the coming weeks and months you’ll see us take clear positions around how do we build trust with these investments as they’re becoming more and more commercialized.”
When asked to comment on the federal government’s stance on Huawei given security concerns brought up by other countries, Bains said that it is currently analyzing whether the Chinese firm is a cause for concern over privacy and public safety. He added that the Intellectual Property Strategy is a tool that can address incursions into research, including research that U of T conducts through its million-dollar Huawei partnership. “We need to… have robust policies and frameworks to protect the Canadian ideas and Canadian partnerships.”
In a move that will cost $1.7 billion, the budget also outlines plans to change the federal portion of student loans by lowering interest rates and making the six-month grace period following graduation interest-free. These changes are expected to save approximately $2,000 over the period of their loan repayment. For students using the Ontario Student Assistance Program, these changes counter the provincial Progressive Conservative government’s introduction of interest accrual during the grace period in January. The provincial government said that its change was to “align Ontario’s repayment terms with that of the federal government… to reduce complexity for students.”
“We think more people should be able to afford a postsecondary education and we think we’re concerned about the increase of that cost and the debt,” O’Connell said. She added that the federal government’s changes to student loans were inspired by comments and concerns it had received from before Ontario’s changes.
O’Connell, who represents the Pickering—Uxbridge riding, said that she has heard a number of concerns with the provincial government’s changes to student loans. “I think that this budget and our focus on youth and making education more affordable should be a signal,” she said. “We’re happy to work with the province if they want to align their policies in this way.”
— With files from Srivindhya Kolluru