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    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

Federal Post-Secondary Education Act

Last month, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) released a document entitled Public Education for the Public Good:  A National Vision for Canada’s Post-Secondary Education System. I found the document to be quite informative, filled with a lot of useful statistics.  For example:

-Enrolment is rising in colleges and universities across Canada. Since the late 1990s, full-time enrolment has increased by 25%. Enrolment in graduate studies (i.e. master’s and PhD programs) alone increased by a whopping 42% between 1998 and 2008. 

-Federal funding for post-secondary education (PSE) in Canada has decreased very substantially since the late-1970s. In 1979, government grants typically covered 80% of a PSE institution’s operating budget. Today, this figure stands at roughly 50%.

-In light of rising tuition, substantially more university students work during the academic year today than 30 years ago. In 1976, roughly 25% of university students worked during the academic year. By 2008, the figure had risen to roughly 50%. What’s more, 75% of university students believe that the paid work they take on has “a negative effect on academic performance.”

-Class sizes are getting bigger. Between 1990 and 2006, the ratio of PSE students to full-time faculty members increased by roughly 40%.

-The Canada Social Transfer, which transfers funding to provinces, does not require provinces to actually use federal funding for PSE for PSE purposes. There are, in effect, very few strings attached to this funding. In fact, the document remarks that, in 2008, the Government of British Columbia cut funding to universities by $50 million shortly after it received $110 million in new PSE funding from the federal government.

The document’s central recommendation is for the federal government to implement a Post-Secondary Education Act “modeled after the Canada Health Act.” As part of this process, the federal government should cooperate with the provinces, restore per-capita funding to 1992 levels, ensure that tuition fees are reduced to 1992 levels, and provide sufficient funding for universities and colleges to undertake much needed capital repairs (known as “deferred maintenance“).

Such a framework “would require provinces to uphold principles similar to those found in the Canada Health Act:  public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility. In return for upholding these principles, provincial governments would receive adequate and predictable funding from the federal government.”

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