Monday, July 24, 2006

Post secondary education: The forgotten issue

While I'm no longer a Young Liberal I'm still youngish at heart, and student issues remain one of my top issues of interest. My monthly student loan payments probably help keep it top of mind.

That's why I'm a bit disappointed student issues haven't been getting much play of late, either in Parliament or in the leadership race. If I was a YLC executive member I'd be demanding the candidates release detailed policy statements on issues like

Reforming the student loan system and student aid

b) Once again having student loans fall under the bankruptcy act

Increasing base funding to post secondary education through a dedicated provincial transfer

d) Paul Wells' favourite issue, research funding, and, as importantly, facilitating the commercialization thereof

I was reminded of the forgotten student issue when reading this story today on a research report from a think tank that argues by focusing extending student aid and financial assistance to the middle class all parties have been engaging in a vote buying exercise that is costing the government more money without actually helping those that need it.

I think the study makes some interesting points. One that I would make is that it is unfair to judge the situation solely on parental income, as some parents may be unable or unwilling to pay, so cutting off those students from financial assistance and student loans cuts them off from post secondary education.

That said, the system is a mess. Student loan horror stories abound. Tax credits are great, but most students don't have income so the credits are transferred to their parents, who may or may not be helping the student out.

During the election, I examined the three main parties' educaiton platforms here.

What to do?

I think the first thing to do is negotiate with the provinces to create a direct transfer for post secondary funding (this was a Conservative campaign promise), and increase its size. As part of the deal, provinces should agree not to decrease their own funding. In exchange for the increased funding, universities should be required to cap tuition at inflation, with a channel for increases if they can show a specific need. Also, a portion of that funding should go to fund scholarships and bursaries for low income students at the university level.

The student loan program is in such need of reform it's hard to know where to start. But one place would be to take its administration away from the for-profit banks and back within the government (the righties will love that one). Also, allow students in dire straits to be able to bankrupt their student loans once more. It's a last resort, but it's unfair that a failed businessman can take that route and not a former student fallen on tough times.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation is scheduled to die in 2009 with no sign of replacement, killing $350 million in annual grants to low income students. It wasn't a perfect program, but we need something like it to continue. Whatever it is, it must be targeted.

Beyond that, maybe it's time we started thinking outside of the box. Some European countries offer free tuition. Maybe we should look at tiered tuition rates based on parental income. Or maybe interest free loans, as long as the required payments are being made.

I don't know, but I do know that it's time student issues took on a larger issue on the national stage and in the Liberal leadership campaign. If youth delegates are so important to this process why aren't candidates talking about these issues and, more importantly, why aren't the youth demanding that they do so?

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Anonymous said...

Given that education (post secondary and other) is provincial - like healthcare - to be honest, the only thing that a federal party should be discussing is revamping the constitution to make these federal powers. Otherwise, there is little the federal government can do - even dedicated transfers to the provinces are practically impossible to monitor (since the money just goes into the provinces' general accounts fund).

Re: loans - one thing that could be done is peg repayment to income - like they do in the UK. You don't start repaying until you're earning £15000/year (roughly $30,000).

Anonymous said...

I have a complaint to the students - life is not a freeby. When the election campaign was on students from all over were asked questions about the election - most didn't know who was running, nor did they care. Were they going to vote - large majority said no (rather be at the pub). C'mon - if students was some help they better participate - if they had voted, for Liberals, they would have had help with their post secondary eduction. But NO - why make an effort - just gimme, gimme. What a price to pay for laziness and not caring for anything but their social life and themselves. Have I lost sympathy -yes.

Now they have a government that will give them a break on their books - wow folks.

Also the Conservatives will give students with a scholarship or bursary a tax break - is it me or are these the students that don't need the help - what am I missing.

If you are old enough and educated enough to go to a college or university don't you think you should know something about Canada, a little about the politics and don't you think you should make the effort if you don't.

I have an idea - if you vote you get help and if you don't vote you don't get help. I would think the Liberals would have been in power if the students got off their immature asses and voted.

From one who came from an era that didn't have student loans or help of any kind and worked two jobs to pay for school.

Jeff said...

Radical, on seperation of powers that's certaintly so, but that hasn't stopped the feds from playing a major role in health care and a host of other areas.

Where the feds are supposed to play a role is in setting national standards, and their funding is the mechanism they use to help set standards. I think extracting agreements from the provinces as a condition to increased funding is perfectly reasonable, and an acceptable role for the feds to play.

On income contingent loans, they sound seductive but I think they're a really bad idea. That's because, generally, while payments are based on your income the interest keeps accuring over a longer repayment cycle. Therefore, the lower income earners end up paying far far more for their education than the more wealthy. It's like buying rent to own furtniture.

Anon, I jsut fundamentally disagre. For one thing, I believe government has an obligation to its citizens. It's also in the nation's best interest to create a well educated workforce by investing in education. Simply put, higher education=higher income=more tax dollars for the government. Education investment pays for itself and then some.

Lastly, I'll say that the cost of education "back in the day" was a helluva lot less than it is in today's dollars, and the per centage of the cost of your education that was paid for by the government "back in the day" was a lot higher than it is today. Over the past ten years the per centage of the cost of education paid for by the governmevt has dropped substantially, while the portion paid by the student has risen astronomically. When I was in Uni tutition rose 40 per cent over four years, that's not infliation.

So it's shortsighted and hypocritical to call today's students lazy and greedy. They're paying a greater share of the cost than you did.

As for your theories, in actuallity if most students voted the odds of an NDP government would increase substantially.

Anonymous said...

You might this interesting; I wrote it recently:

Anonymous said...

We need a youth experience program whereby recent graduates from high school, university or college can apply to go overseas to volunteer on Canada's behalf. We have many overseas operations which can be staffed by students. In return they get a bursary to help offset cost of schooling.

I'm not talking about 5 positions available, I mean all students could go if they chose to. This experience could open there eyes more to the world around and engage them in civic duty and politics.

Dear anonymous, you feel that every one should suffer with no help just because you are from a bygone period where education was not taken as seriously? You are full of shit. Prior to student loans, the governments quite easily handed out cash in the form of bursaries and grants. This also occured during a period when university/college was also extremely cheap compared to todays standard. As education got more expensive, less money was available. Your education cost little compared to what students are faced with. They are not looking for free education just a return to what you obviously enjoyed, government funding.

I am sure that this is lost on you as you seem to be the type that is always screaming about HIS tax dollars (not anyone else's) and I am sure you are so tight with cash that only a dog could hear you fart.

Anonymous said...

Look - they don't even care about our politics, who's running or to take the time to vote.

Expensive now - well what does it cost for the teachers and professors...hmmm

And, it's all relative - the salaries years ago related to costs was just as hard.

No ticky no laundry - no vote no help - period - enough is enough.

My property taxes have gone up so much - most of which is for education.

Back in the day as you are referring to (was not as long ago as you may think) most couldn't go to university because there was no such thing as loans. Most kids that went were either helped by their parents or worked two jobs to save the money.

I think before kids go to university or college it might be nice if ther knew something about Canada, its history and politics wouldn't it.....

Sorry but the kids coming out of high school today are not terribly well rounded in their knowledge - which probably isn't their fault, but it is true.

My neice is working two jobs to pay off her loans (she wants them paid off asap - guess what she's nearly there two jobs for three years - proud of her. She didn't depend on anyone - what a girl.

Jeff said...

Interesting post Werner, certaintly outside the box thinking and I think it should be part of the debate. Hopefully someone will pick up this issue.

Manitoba, I think you're right but it's tougher for the Feds to do something in that area. Really it's something equalization is supposed to address, but that's in a perfect world. We need to have the discussion though, because it's not working.

Anon, 550, where to start. At the beginning I guess.

*No, if you convert it to today's dollars education is far more expensive today. Also, the government subsidied education more heavily than it does today. Maybe you should pay the taxpayers back?

*Property taxes pay for k-12 education, not university. As well as roads, sewers, garbage pickup...

*Kids today also work their way through school. They have to, it has gone up astronomically. As I said, tuition went up 40 per cent during my four years of university. I paid my fair share, and then some.

*You seem to think we shouldn't help students, yet you're proud of your niece and her use of student loans. Contradiction?

*Your argument youth don't vote so they don't deserve help (except your niece) is silly. Yes, youth voter turnout is low. So is adult voter turnout. It drops further each election. So no laundry for you either, sorry.