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Provincial budget a “missed opportunity”

New Brunswick student leaders said the government missed an opportunity to invest in post-secondary education with their 2014-2015 budget.

The provincial government dropped their new budget on Feb.4 , with no new investments into university operating budgets or student financial aid. However, this wasn’t a surprise to student representatives.

“Really the only major news that came for use was we saw a cut [failed opportunity] for student financial aid and that was a result of saving the government had from its own borrowing . . . which is something we saw as unfortunate,” said Pat Joyce, executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance.

According to the provincial government’s quarterly report, the department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (PETL) saved 8.2 million dollars. Part of this was due to low interest rates on money government borrowed for provincial student loans.

However Joyce said none of these savings were given back to students in the new budget.

“It’s disappointing to see. Obviously the government is in a tough financial situation and we understand that,” Joyce said.

“But given that government rarely has an opportunity to invest new money, it was disappointing to see them not take advantage of money that was there that could have been given to students.”

Opposition finance critic Roger Melanson said the government has the wrong philosophy when it comes to considering return on investments.

“In this case, the government looked at it from a cash flow point of view, not from a concrete long-term investment return point of view,” Melanson said.

“I understand we need to balance the books. But you need to be strategic in regard to where you could put your dollars where there’s going to be a better return.”

However, there have been some big PSE announcements in the province the past five months. In November, the government announced an increase of two per cent in university operating budgets each year for the next two years. They also announced an annual tuition increase cap of three per cent for the next three years for public universities with the exception of St. Thomas University. The government is also conducting a review of student financial aid that has yet to be released.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs also announced during his budget speech an $80 million investment over five years into innovation. This money is being divided between two departments, with $10 million going towards regional economic development, and $6 million going to PETL under university relations.

“We believe universities are really the centres of innovation in the province, so any money that government invests directly into universities is beneficial,” Joyce said.

“It would be nice to more money invested in research in universities, although, it is positive to see some has been allocated there. “

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