Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Education redux, Where's the beef?

As a follow-up to my post yesterday on post secondary education policy I decided to visit the candidate Web sites to see if they had anything on the topic. The results, as you'll see below, were less then stellar, to say the least.

As a result, I've decided to e-mail a few questions on the topic to each of the campaigns. I'll let them know I plan to publish whatever responses I've received by August. 2. While I'm no Warren Kinsella, I'm hopeful I'll hear something back.

In other news, the Globe's John Ibbitson writes on post secondary education in his column today. While I'm glad he's raising the topic, I disagree with part of his take. John, we should require strings for any additional post secondary funding. The federal government's role is to set national standards, and that is the mechanism it has for doing so.

Lastly, I came across this section in a student newspaper story on The Rae Report (scroll down to Bob's name in the candidates section for more) and I thought it might be interesting to the pull up your bootstraps, in my day we walked to school uphill both ways (in blizzards) crowd:

Universities have gone through major changes in the last few decades. In the '70s, there were about 240,000 university students in Canada.

By 1985, there were more than 472,000 students.

And the numbers have continued to rise as university degrees become necessary for work that once required only high school diplomas.

During this time of growth, government funding decreased from $20,000 per student in the '70s to $13,000 by 1985.

By the end of the '90s, per student government funding was just under $11,000. Because of these reductions, university fees increased 137 per cent throughout the '90s.

The Candidates on Education

Carolyn Bennett: In her reading room there are policy papers and additional resources on a number of areas, from health care, the environment and women issues to the Middle East, affordable housing and terrorism. Nothing, however, on education.

Maurizo Bevilacqua: On his "Maurizo Views" page the candidate tells us why he's running, but no detailed policy or issue statements I can see, and nothing on education.

Scott Brison: On his "Scott's views" page, in a section on 'A Progressive Society" the candidate at least mentions post-secondary education, although in passing:

He wants to protect the existing role of a strong federal government that respects the jurisdiction of strong provinces. He would respect the Canada Health Act and provide stable and adequate funding to provinces for quality health care and improved access to post-secondary education.

He gets points for mentioning it, even in a wishy washy kind of a way. I'd like details though on how he would improve access, and what he considers adequate funding.

Stephane Dion: A search of the "On The Issues" page fails to find a mention of the word education, and clicking on the various linked speeches and documents only found a few mentions of the last election platform, nothing on new ideas or current positions. All I could find on point was this section from the "Investing in a stronger Canada" section:

…we have to invest now in the education of Canadians, especially at the post-secondary level, so that we have the most highly educated workforce in the world that has the capacity to invent the best new technologies, and bring to the global marketplace products that will sustain the new economy.

I agree, but how? Where's the meat? I'd hoped for better from my candidate.

Ken Dryden: I was excited when I saw a section on learning in his "The Issues" section. Ironically though, I learned nothing from its boilerplate, except that he's in favour of learning.

Martha Hall Findlay: On her "The issues" page, only one mention of the word education and it's brief at that. Under her vision for Canada:

A Canada with opportunities for all Canadians to work toward a brighter future for themselves, their children and generations to come, through good education;…

Hedy Fry: Followed her policy link, found links to four policy areas, one of which was titled "Education Policy." Much excited, I was. Clicked the link:

Stay tuned... Detailed policy coming soon!

Michael Ignatieff: Speaking of learning, my top personal accomplishment from the leadership campaign so far is learning to spell Ignatieff without looking it up. Still working on Bevilacqua though. Anyway, looking around the candidate's Web site I was unable to find a specific policy page. There's a policy discussion forum, but I didn't see anything with policy statements from the candidate.

Gerard Kennedy: I didn't see a policy statements page, the closest was a "policy dialogue" page. It includes discussion papers on Energy and the Environment and Eliminating the Immigrant Success gap (I assume this is the one TDH wrote before he left the campaign) but nothing on education that I could find.

Bob Rae: In Bob's (he said I could call him that) "On the Issues" pages there's a number of mentions of education, but few in detail from a post secondary perspective. The most meat was this section here:

An Education, Training and Research Strategy: education, training, commercialization and ready access to the Internet are foundational elements of an innovation agenda for Canada, and must re-emerge as priorities of the national government. Mr. Rae proposes among other things revamping the Canada Student loans program to provide more direct aid to students for living expenses, direct federal support for university research, promotion of apprenticeships, and greater recognition of foreign credentials.

While it's brief, there's more details here than I've seen from other candidates. Sounds nice, although I wonder some of the how on these things. I'm concerned about Bob on this issue though, because of a study he wrote on post secondary education for the Ontario government. While there were some good recommendations there, including more funding for universities and more grants for low income students, more troubling was his advocacy of substantially higher and possibly deregulated tuition rates and an income contingent loan repayment scheme.

Briefly, why is income contingent loan repayment bad? Well, because while you make smaller payments the interest keeps accruing, so in reality you're paying much more for the same education with a fortune in interest charges. It just increases the debt burden on the poorest people. It's like the scam of rent to own furniture that targets the poor.

Joe Volpe: While he's dead to me (sorry Toronto Liberal and Davenport Liberal) I did check out his "Joe's Views" page. In a long page with lots of bolded action-words, this was the closest to something like education policy I could find:

We must invest in skills training and post graduate research and become a nation that is capable of exporting talent, innovation and technology; more importantly, a nation capable of attracting foreign direct investment, because the labour pool and talent is here to return on that investment.

My Questions for the Candidates

Dear Liberal leadership candidates,

I've been an active Liberal member since I was a high school student, and while I'm now in the workforce post secondary education issues remain very important to me. I've been disappointed with the lack of debate on the issue during the current campaign, so I've decided to send a few questions to each of the campaigns.

I'd appreciate it if your campaign could provide me with brief responses to these questions, which I hope will spark a debate we need to have on post secondary education, and the role the federal government has to play. I plan to publish any responses received by August 2 on my Blog, A BCer in Toronto.


Jeff Jedras

1. Do you support the creation of a dedicated transfer to the provinces to post secondary education, and would you attach strings to the funding to ensure federal goals are met around issues like tuition levels, access for low income students, and ensuring provinces don't cut their own funding to negate the impact of any federal increase?

2 What would you do to reform the Canada student loan system?

3. The Canada Millennium Scholarship program is due to end in 2009. What would you do to replace it, and to improve accessibility for low income students?

4. The last Liberal government exempted student loans from the bankruptcy act. Would you reverse that decision? If not, why not?

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Jeff said...

Well, Volpe supports are so rare in the blogsphere davenport it's hard not to be memorable. I look forward to reading your futre blog posts.

Anonymous said...

Hello there BCer.

I noticed that you did a search for the word "education" on some of the candidates webpages. Here is a little trick so that you can use the power of google to search their entire site. In google's search bar type in

education site:stephanedion.ca

This brings up about 16 results with the word education on Dion's pages. I haven't looked at all the results, so I don't know how good they are.

The technique is pretty good, and I thought that I would share it.

Hope you find it helpful.

Zac said...

Excellent post Jeff, and one near and dear to my heart as a current uni student who looks forward to paying back OSAP until I'm 42 years old.

Anonymous said...

A student loan proved to be the best and almost-worst things for my education... I wouldn't have gained access to the halls of learning without it, but after school, with the economy in the tank I found myself forced into heavy labour to try and pay off the loan and its large interest -- not exactly what i went to school for. An illness would later put me way behind the eight-ball but over many years I got out of the hole.
I think Rae's ideas do have much merit and would suggest that ability to repay should also be attached to interest rate relief. As long ago, I think students should be given a preferred way-low interest rate -- financial lending institutes should be forced to offer them, at least to people who qualify and who's family income is at a certain point or below. As you mentioned before, bankrupcy protection should be addressed also, altho if its not it should have at least led to the lowest available interest rate. Unlike the US system, most Canadian institutes do not offer sports scholarships -- so we lose many good student athletes to american institutions. While I don't support pre-offering big bags of money and free tuition, more scholarship and bursaries should be developed for this and other areas of speciality -- sciences, mathematics, technological institutes. I would also like to see some special merit or debt forgiveness for people who choose to work in areas of greater need, including non-profit. Take doctors, for one. Someone who goes in to become a plastic surgeon, for the most part, is not the equivalent of someone who is going in for geriatrics, neurological or paediatrics. Those who choose a required specialty, and perhaps fill a position in a hard-to-recruit region -- say northern saskatchewan -- would receive interest forgiveness on their student loan during the period of o their commitment.
The Liberal gov'ts were very strong on innovation and technology investment -- we also need to bring ideas to the table to help train tradespeople, too.

Jeff said...

Actually TL, take heart. If Jimmy K tosses his chapeau in then Volpe may be squeezed off my 'dead to me' board. Unless I purchase a new, larger board.

Burilves the problems with the CSL are mainifold, and you make a lot of good points. Income contingency sounds good, but without low/no interest it's indentured servitude for the poor. Eliminate the interest issue though as you suggest and it's a great issue. Combined with grants for the needy, and bigger transfers so unis can hold down tuition, and we'd be getting somewhere.