Being a student has never been tougher. With Saskatchewan’s budget out today, it doesn’t look like it will get any easier. Along with an overall reduction of funding to advanced education, the Sask Party government has restructured its Graduate Retention Program.
The program was envisioned as an incentive to keep recently-graduated students in Saskatchewan. The plan originally entailed a refundable tax credit based on tuition over a seven-year period following graduation.
However, Finance Minister Ken Krawetz announced during the budget address today that the plan would be restructured. The new structure would last for 10 years after graduation, but would only go towards a non-refundable Saskatchewan tax credit. This means that the program will likely be less beneficial for lower-income graduates.
“If you look across the piece here, in the province of Saskatchewan, our government has been moving almost consistently to a non-refundable tax credit kind of regime,” said Kevin Doherty, minister of advanced education.
“One of the virtues of the program previously was that it was a bit more universal in its application. Now, of course, if you are not making the big bucks, it’s not going to be as valuable,” said Warren McCall, the NDP critic for advanced education.
“Broadly, it’s going to be a tough year for students. The move to make the graduate retention program a non-refundable tax credit is going to make those first few years after graduation particularly tough for some students,” said Devin Peters, president of University of Regina Student Union.
Another concern has been that graduate students have never had access to the program.
“I’ve certainly heard from graduate students that were interested in making sure their interests were represented with the government. They were interested in seeing the retention program extended to them, but we don’t see that here today,” said McCall.
Some are more positive about the changes.
“They’ve extended it over 10 years, which is positive for our students and our graduates. So we’ll see. We hope to see our students stay in the province and it is an incentive,” said Vianne Timmons, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Regina.
Barnhart also noted the success of the program so far.
“Students that I used to have had come back to the province or stayed in the province because of the benefits on their taxes,” said Barnhart.
However, this news comes alongside a lean budget that has raised concerns. The budget will see an overall decrease, with spending on students supports dropping from $81 million to $56 million.
“On one hand there is some really good news in there, and there is some parts that we wish was a wee bit better,” said Gordon Barnhart, president of the University of Saskatchewan.
Timmons went on to say that the university had requested a four per cent increase, but will only receive one per cent. The tighter budget has also put pressure on the university.
“We’re pretty lean as an institution. There’s not much extra we have on campus. We have done the early retirement program, we have looked at efficiency, so it’s going to be positions. My hope is that we can do them through attrition, but we will have to get rid of positions on our campus,” said Timmons.
“One per cent is an increase, but it’s not a sustainable one,” said Peters.
“I think students are going to be confronted with costs going up. We are going to see tuition go up yet again. We are going to see cuts to staff and faculty. So on the whole, I don’t think this is going to be a very good budget for students,” said McCall.
“We need to have students getting the funding they need to make education in this province excellent, so in the future students will want to come to the U of R,” said Peters.