Harper government slashes Canadian Studies funding for U.S. universities
The federal government has supported Canadian education abroad for over 30 years, but now universities across the U.S. are being refused funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Canadian Studies programs at universities across the U.S. are facing serious cutbacks this year, with the rollback of an important grant program facilitated by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
"This is the first year in history that the government has denied funding dozens of grant applications from across the U.S.," said Nadine Fabbi, the associate director of Canadian Studies at the Seattle-based University of Washington.
"These grants have significantly strengthened Canada's voice in the U.S. on issues that range from the Keystone XL pipeline to water resources to Arctic sovereignty," Fabbi said.
Fabbi wasn't alone in her surprise: many other universities have recently found out that important grants have fallen through.
“We’ve been receiving support from the Canadian government for at least 30 years,” said Don Alper, director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University.
His institution is one of the few American schools with extensive academic programming about Canada. But this year, the Canadian government refused his Center’s grant applications.
“We heard a lot about delays and reorganizations and things like that," he said. After speaking with the people who normally work on his programs, he explained, it became "pretty clear that this was part of a larger budget revision or budget reviews going on at the federal government.”
“They didn’t tell us anything specifically about why we weren’t funded. They just said we weren’t funded.”
DFAIT’s Canadian Studies Grant Program: what does it do?
Canadian Studies grants to U.S. schools are administered through the Canadian Embassy and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). In addition to individual research grants for students and professors, DFAIT has traditionally offered institutional and program grants intended to “promote research, exchanges, teaching, and program activity that contribute to a better knowledge and understanding of Canada, its relationship with the United States, or its international affairs.”
"The grants have brought hundreds of American students to Canada to understand the differing values and social models of the country," Fabbi said.
Although the amount is usually modest -- $11,000 to $15,000 spread out to a dozen projects -- she said that the results they produce are "off the charts".
Social work students, for example, would go on a two-day trip to Vancouver and learn about Canada's social system. Others would study alongside Canadian university students to work on environmental laws and cross-border marine management. Business students would learn about U.S.-Canada trans-border commerce and trade.
"There are major researchers who have been here 25 to 30 years," Fabbi said. "They often get quarter-million dollar grants ... but researchers who had been getting huge grants would be utterly thankful to get $200 (from the Canadian government) for a conference. I would watch their research evolve to include a noteworthy portion of Canada's marine research, environmental law, urban planning."
But much of that work won't be happening this year. According to Fabbi, grant applications for Canadian Studies at four major U.S. universities were refused this year.
These include the University of Washington, Western Washington University, the University of Maine, and the State University of New York-Plattsburgh—all well-respected schools with a distinct focus on Canadian and cross-border studies.
Stephen J. Hornsby, director of the University of Maine's Canadian-American Center, confirmed that a proposal submitted by this consortium of leading Canadian Studies programs was not accepted. He said he and his colleagues are still "waiting anxiously" to hear the final word from DFAIT regarding the future of the grants.
“[Canadian government funding] has diminished gradually over the years and now only supports less than 10 per cent of our program,” said Nelson Graburn, director of Canadian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley.
Graburn said that although UC Berkeley did receive part of their funding from the Canadian government, this year marked the first time in over three decades that they were refused a Conference Grant—designated for use in hosting an important annual meeting.
“We have heard that no other program got conference grant funding within the regular humanities and social sciences topics, only for high profile Conservative priorities. We also heard some programs didn't get their regular annual support either,” Graburn wrote in an email to the Observer.
Budget cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs
One thought that has crossed faculty members' minds is the possibility that the grant program is being scrapped altogether. But the Department of Foreign Affairs clarified that it is still accepting applications for funding.
"Applications to DFAIT's Canadian Studies Grant Program are assessed on a case by case basis," a department spokesperson wrote in an email on Wednesday.
That said, recent budget reductions mean that the department will be reviewing how their resources are distributed. While the 2012 Federal Budget contains no reference to the grant program, the new fiscal plan indicates over $72 million in cuts to DFAIT for this year alone.
According to the budget, “Organizations within the Foreign Affairs and International Trade portfolio will modernize and align their operations to best advance Canadian values and priorities while reducing the costs of maintaining their presence in Canada and abroad, without affecting services to Canadians.”
Regarding the potential impact on Canadian Studies grants, DFAIT's spokesperson told the Observer that "details about the measures unveiled in the Budget will be announced over the coming weeks and months."
Shifting priorities and panda diplomacy
The Foreign Affairs website indicates that the government is committed to promoting Canadian education abroad, but some experts in the field have noted significant disparities in funding for different programs under the umbrella of foreign affairs. The pandas, for example (rented to Canada from China for $1 million per year) will continue to be funded.
Grants offered through the DFAIT Canadian Studies program typically range from $11,000 to $20,000 each. It may not seem like much compared to panda food costs, but for professors in Canadian Studies departments, that type of money can go a long way.
Without it, some say they’ll have to reconsider program content, cancel special projects, or even accept fewer students.
“It’s really tough, because we’ve had to cut back on a lot of programs that we were planning this year—things like visiting speakers, and in one case course development,” Alper said.
Given the lack of information about why Canadian Studies grants were revoked, there has been some speculation about the government’s reasoning. Rumours appear to have surfaced about cutting off funding for U.S. institutions due to conflicting views on hot-button issues like the oil sands and Arctic sovereignty. But Alper says, at least at Western Washington University, professors do their best to maintain an unbiased perspective in all their teaching.
“I’ve heard rumours too, that the government wasn’t happy about what the Americans did or what the American government did with regard to the [Keystone XL] pipeline, and that may have had some bearing on this. I kind of doubt it. I think that seems a bit of a stretch,” said Alper.
“I have a feeling it probably has more to do with general priorities, in terms of where they want to put their money in foreign countries, that they think is going to do the most good for Canada. And it may be, at this point, not in the United States.”
Benefits of Canadian Studies abroad
The grant program at DFAIT was created to give international students and researchers deeper insight into Canadian issues, and to foster relationships between institutions across the border. With that goal in mind, Canadian Studies faculties at universities all over the States say they play an important role, not only in the academic world but also in politics and industry.
“Our original reason for existence, and kind of the fundamental mission of the program from the very beginning was to try to increase Americans’ understanding of their most important neighbour—in terms of trade, in terms of culture, in terms of the environment, and so on,” Alper explained.
The scope of the Canadian Studies program, he said, involves not only teaching students but also conducting outreach work with the business community, NGOs and media, as well as producing important research intended to help influence policy direction.
“We’re interested in trying to enlighten people, trying to produce better information so that ultimately, policy makers are in a position to do a better job of constructing policy,” said Alper.
“That’s always been our mission. So we’re not going to be able to do that as well. We’re not going to be able to teach as many students, we’re not going to be able to do as much outreach.
"The program will just be much ‘thinner’ in terms of those areas as a result of these cuts.”
With additional files from Jenny Uechi.