Going to college or university is becoming a requirement for today’s youth to get an average income. The vast majority of jobs – almost 70 per cent – require some form of training or advanced education to gain the skills and knowledge needed just to be considered. However, as the need for higher education has increased, so has the cost. Tuition fees have increased four times the rate of inflation over the previous 30 years and pursuing an education has become out-of-reach for many working families.
In Canada, tuition fees are set by provincial governments, but the federal government also allocates substantial funding to education. However, there is currently no federal agreement on even whether these funds that are flagged as higher education funding are used for post-secondary education.
This situation has resulted in a huge disparity between provinces in access to university and college. Depending on their province of study, students will be face a different cost to get through the doors of post-secondary institutions which affects their debt at graduation.
The current model, where universities and colleges increase tuition fees to make up for the lack of funding, prevents Canadians from gaining the skills and knowledge necessary to fully engage in the economy and their communities. Thus, we have found ourselves in a system that relies on a student’s ability to pay a high price to get an education, a system where only those who have enough money have the privilege of pursuing an education.
The good news is that there are solutions to this inequitable model of access. These solutions are known to politicians across the political spectrum. The solutions require the federal government taking responsibility and beginning the conversation with the provinces on building a national framework for post-secondary education. Through such a process, an act could be adopted to provide dedicated funding to the provinces to reduce tuition fees. Reducing up-front financial barriers to pursuing education is the most efficient way to increase access to education.
It was not long ago that Canadians recognized that the federal government has a role to play in ensuring a minimum level of access to health care across the country. The adoption of the Canada Health Act that provides funding and minimum requirements for access to health-care services confirmed the federal government’s role even while health care is traditionally a provincial responsibility. The lack of a federal act dealing with post-secondary education means that we are in a similar situation, as before, the Canada Health Act had different levels of access depending on the province in which you lived and worked.
Over the past 10 years, committed provincial governments who recognized the importance of education have frozen or reduced tuition fees. To make these kind of progressive policies permanent, it will take a federal vision and framework that makes sure access is the same across the country, regardless of socio-economic background. Far from being a privilege, education is the only way to provide everyone with the opportunity to make a decent living and to realize our full potential.