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Why are Dalhousie University students carrying costs for governments and CEOs?

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Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr

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So this is embarrassing. For whom?

Well, it should be shame-making for everyone involved.

Back in April, Dalhousie University's Board of Governors approved a three per cent across-the-board tuition fee hike -- even higher for students in engineering, pharmacy and agriculture -- and squeezed faculty budgets to achieve its goal of a balanced budget.

At the same time, the university quietly agreed to pony up $300,000 USD to cover the cost for nine of the province's best and brightest (not to forget richest) to attend an "entrepreneurship acceleration program" at Boston's Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall.

The Dalhousie-funded participants include John Risley, Canada's 39th richest person (net worth $2.35 billion), Emera CEO Chris Huskilson ($4.3 million in salary and benefits last year) and, of course, Dalhousie president Richard Florizone (a piddling $390,052).

At the time, according to internal emails obtained by PC leader Jamie Baillie, the university knew it was going "out on a limb" by agreeing to pay for the program, but believed it could convince the province or private sector donors to "partner" with them.

Last week, Premier Stephen McNeil scotched any hopes the province would contribute -- even as he praised the MIT program as "an amazing link."

Which is interesting.

The two-year global program is specifically designed to bring MIT experts together with "government, corporate, academia, risk capital and the entrepreneurial community" -- what one faculty member calls a region's most "powerful, influential decision-makers" -- "to develop strategies in addressing economic challenges."

In other words, the program is supposed to help us actually accomplish all those fine-sounding Now-or-Never Ivany report goals everyone is so fond of quoting and touting.

If that's the case, why shouldn't government -- at least three of the chosen are government employees -- support the program financially.

And why shouldn't successful entrepreneurs and CEOs who've benefited from government largesse -- the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, for example, invested more than $15 million under various guises to help Risley develop his Ocean Nutrition fish oil company, which he then sold to a Dutch conglomerate for $540 million in 2012 -- offer to pay for the entire program. And more.

Why are governments and well-heeled executives letting Dalhousie students -- already paying among Canada's highest tuitions -- carry their freight?

They should be embarrassed.

This article first appeared in Stephen Kimber's Halifax Metro column.

Photo: Tom Flemming/flickr

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