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. 

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“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.

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