Provinces pursue deregulation of tuition fees, further limit access to higher education

March 25, 2002

OTTAWA--Differing provincial priorities reinforce imbalance in access to quality, publicly accountable higher education, according to an annual report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. In its third year, Missing Pieces III: An Alternative Guide to Canadian Post-secondary Education ranks provinces according to their overall commitment to higher education. The ranking is the product of sub-rankings of provincial performance in four categories: equity, accessibility, quality and public accountability. Each category has from five to seven component indicators.

The top three provinces were Quebec, BC and Manitoba, although it should be noted that BC's ranking slipped for the first time from 1st to 2nd as Quebec took the lead. This is definitely an indication of things to come in BC, as the Campbell government embarks on a policy of tuition fee deregulation that will threaten accessibility to higher education. For the third year in a row, Ontario ranks dead last overall: once again scoring10th in accountability and quality, and slipping even further in equity.

Newfoundland showed the biggest improvement this year, moving from 7th to 4th, due largely to a tuition fee freeze (college) and rollback (university).

New Brunswick fell even further behind, from 6th to 9th place, reflecting a sharp decline in provincial commitment to quality: a reduction in the number of full-time faculty, and an increase in the student/faculty ratio. Nova Scotia also fell in the rankings, largely due to tuition fee increases that continue to threaten accessibility to PSE (post-secondary education).

According to the report's authors, Erika Shaker and Denise Doherty-Delorme, the provincial governments continued push toward cost-recovery-based funding of higher education has reinforced growing inaccessibility in the system. Tuition fee deregulation is exacerbating this trend both between provinces and within institutions as elite programs are priced further out of reach and as low- and middle-income students sink deeper into debt.

"It is a fundamental responsibility of a democratic society to provide to all its members the opportunity to pursue higher education if, when and where they choose. But it is also irresponsible for that society to educate its citizens while at the same time burdening them with such heavy student debt that they may not be able to pursue the careers for which they were educated and trained. While other OECD countries have increased their higher education participation rates (the number of people aged 18-24 enrolled in PSE), Canada's has virtually stagnated. This is one factor among many indicating the declining level of commitment on the part of both the provincial and federal governments to creating a well-educated citizenry," the authors conclude.

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