Access to post-secondary education is not universally accessible. This is often due to financial barriers such as tuition, rent, or other costs of livings. As a result, tuition ought to be our primary concern as a union since it is the thing that uniquely impacts students. We should also understand that, as tuition increases, the inequality of access to education increases. Thereby, individuals that cannot afford the costs upfront may not have the opportunity to pursue post-secondary education.
Let me be clear, increases in tuition during the past two decades have been based on a lack of provincial commitment to post-secondary and not on the increased worth of a university degree. To illustrate this, tuition has gone up 357% since 1990 compared to inflation which has only gone up 55% in the same period of time. This highlights the burden that has been pushed onto the student population. It is only by understanding this, that we can promote effective tuition policy. We see our current tuition levels as the norm.
Fortunately, other provinces in Canada have noticed this trend and are beginning to offer non-repayable financial support to low and some middle income students in hopes of removing this barrier to those low-income and middle-income students.
On July 8, 2016 the Government of New Brunswick passed legislation to assist students with annual household incomes of $60,000 a year or less with tuition in the form of upfront non-repayable grants. The decision came after recent decreases in enrolment at universities and colleges in New Brunswick, at the fault of increased tuition. The Government of New Brunswick justified the implementation of the grants on the basis of equality for access to education, recognizing that over the next decade, 110,000 jobs will be created in the province and about 70% of them will require post-secondary education. The government also acknowledged the societal benefits of encouraging students to study locally, and having a more educated population. The impact of the decision is not a small one, as in its first year of implementation the grant is anticipated to assist 23% of New Brunswick post-secondary students.
A similar program is being adopted in Ontario. The Government of Ontario and the Ontario Student Assistance Program recently announced they will make tuition free via non-repayable grants equivalent to the value of average tuition for students, for families that make less than $50,000 a year. The new policy is projected to benefit over 150,000 students upon implementation in the 2017-2018 school year.
Another financial barrier to pursuing studies is the criteria of eligibility for bursaries at the University of Alberta. Currently, to be eligible for the Supplementary Bursary Program, students must have depleted their available financial resources, including student loans. This means that students must go into debt before being eligible for a bursary.
Our goal will be for the province to implement free tuition, or non-repayable grants valued at the cost of tuition for students coming from low and middle income households.
This will be done by getting support from CAUS (Council of Alberta University Students) and lobbying the province, as was done in New Brunswick prior to the implementation of their local policy.
As for public support of the issue, a study done in 2014 showed that 71% of Albertans would be willing to pay slightly, moderately or much higher taxes if the funds supported post-secondary education in Alberta. While a grant program such as the one proposed would require additional funds from the provincial government to post-secondary, a majority of Albertans would not be opposed to an increase in taxes to support the program.
We should also work with the University of Alberta, to remove the loan requirement to access bursaries since students may still have to rely on supports.