Did the new Liberal budget put the Parti Québécois’s eagerly anticipated $3.7-billion plan to boost research and innovation on ice?

That was one of the big questions that emerged in the university sector after Philippe Couillard’s government presented its first budget on Wednesday.

However, higher education fared better than many other sectors which had significantly smaller increases in their overall budgets — and it contained one nugget of good news for McGill University with its commitment to set aside $50 million to conduct feasibility studies on major projects considered a priority.

One of the projects outlined is a new use for the Royal Victoria Hospital site, which McGill is gunning to acquire.

However, it is the future of research in Quebec that had some in the university community worried. The five-year unprecedented National Research and Innovation Policy, announced with much hype just last fall, will now be reviewed — something that shocked the president of Quebec’s largest university student association, the FEUQ.

“This was something that was started by the Liberals, announced by the PQ, and was supposed to kick in this year,” Jonathan Bouchard said. “We are now really wondering about this government’s priorities and what will happen with research and innovation.”

He said The Fonds de recherche du Québec will also get less money than the PQ had pledged for research this year, although the Liberals have committed $500,000 a year for three years to support university entrepreneurship centres, which aim to promote innovation stemming from university research.

That was a move the Fédération québécoise des professeures et professeurs d’université, the union representing most university professors in the province, labelled worrisome because it promotes targeted research that aims to be commercialized and which the FQPPU believes is “to the detriment of science and of the fundamental mission of the university.”

However, Olivier Marcil, vice-principal of communications for McGill University, said he thought the overall budget reflected the government’s commitment to higher education.

“Most sectors were limited to a 1.8-per-cent increase, but universities got six per cent, which is a positive signal,” Marcil said. He said universities will still have to “make efforts” to trim their expenses, but that it was heartening to see the government “understands the value of the higher education sector.”


Twitter: KSeidman

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