Finally, good public policy



Yesterday, Stéphane Dion’s unveiled his post-secondary education platform.

The platform proposes to replace current federal tax credits with in-study grants; provide significant relief for student loan borrowers in their repayment phase; create more needs-based grants, with each grant having greater value than currently planned under the Canada Student Grant Program; guarantee every student a loan of $5,000; provide more funding for university research; offer tax credits for private sector research; and increase funding to universities for the indirect costs of research.

In short, the announcement had something for everyone–almost.

There was one group that did not get any new free money: students from upper-income families. The only change for them is they now have access to a $5,000 loan and they keep benefiting from the funds they currently receive from federal tax credits (but in a new way).

This is a refreshing change, and hopefully a watershed moment in Canadian higher education policy. For the past few years, governments have focused on “aid” schemes that amounted to little more than bribing voters with promises of free money.

A recent trend are grants for “textbooks” and “technology.” Both the federal Conservative government and Ontario Liberal government have implemented these schemes.

The federal “textbook tax credit” is a tax credit worth about $80 for students who have enough income to take advantage of it while in school. It’s a universal tax credit which benefits poor and rich students equally. In effect, it’s the same as the already existing education tax credit. Just a fancy name for the purposes of a photo-op.

The Ontario “textbook and technology grant” is a $150 mail-in rebate cheque that all post-secondary students in Ontario can apply for. Students don’t receive the money until October and only if they know to apply for it. This “grant” is worse public policy than the federal “textbook tax credit.” Not only does it do nothing to address access issues, it costs millions of dollars to administer. Instead of lowering tuition increase by $150, the Ontario government is spending millions to create an administrative structure to print cheques that amount to little more than political propaganda funded by taxpayers.

The result of these recent policies is hundreds of millions of dollars being wasted on schemes that do nothing to assist students who need help. Meanwhile, raises in the cost of obtaining a post-secondary education have outstripped support for the neediest students and made it more difficult to obtain a post-secondary education, especially an university education.Dion’s proposal focuses on students who need support and isn’t a mere vote buying scheme. The amount of the grants is significant enough that they will actually make a difference. They are focused where they can make the greatest amount of difference and no money is wasted on schemes that benefit the rich as much as the poor.

It may be the latter reality that has the Canadian Federation of Students upset at the proposal. The CFS prefers tuition cuts over these targeted grants. Aside from the fact that the federal government doesn’t deal with tuition as it is a provincial responsibility, this position is insane because the CFS knows that tuition cuts benefit upper-income students and needier students equally. Yet, they continue to fight for tuition cuts instead of focusing on needs-based grants. It makes you wonder who they really work for…

The New Democrats and the Conservatives will be unveiling their post-secondary platforms in the next few weeks. Hopefully, they show good policy sense as the Liberal have.

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Finally, good public policy

  1. Actually Joey, part-time students will actually be WORSE off under the Liberal proposal. Part-time students at least get the benefit of the tax credits within the tax system which the Liberals are promising to abolish.

    Everything I’ve seen in the Liberal proposal seems to talk in terms of full-time students (grants, etc.). Given the recent experience of the Ontario Liberal Party referring to “students” during the election w.r.t. their textbook and technology grant, only to have that reference change to “full-time students” when the actual grants are distributed, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is nothing in the new Liberal package for part-time students.

    I don’t mind refocusing additional aid towards those who need it, but it’s a little irritating to lose the little targeted assistance that is out there for part-time students….

  2. We don’t know if PT students will be worse off… the wording used for the education shift (I’m trademarking that) does not rule out prt-time students getting the same money.

    You are correct that this not giving part time anything new. Let’s hope the new grants help those on the border of part-time/full-time to become full-time…. or at the least prevent having to drop to part-time.

  3. Two points.

    1. You misrepresent (and/or perhaps misunderstand) the position of the Canadian Federation of Students. Let it be re-stated, here:


    Further, the Federation has long supported needs-based (“targeted”) grants. (Hence the Federaion’s age-old slogan, “Grants Not Loans.”) The key point, which you have either ignored or missed, is that grants lose their value very quickly when tuition fees are permitted to increase rapidly, year after year.

    2. Lots of goodies proposed by the Liberals, indeed. But should we believe them? I sure don’t. The Liberals are the reason that post-secondary education is as expensive as it is today. They unleashed neoliberal mayhem upon the system throughout the 1990s: massive funding cuts, higher tuition fees, and a parade of minor announcements and boutique programs (MSF) to serve as a smokescreen. Why are the Liberals so generous, now, after years of attacks and inaction? Here’s why: they’re desperate for votes.

  4. Ah, the Federation’s statement did not appear. Here it is, again:

    “Tuition fee increases eat away at the value of any student grant, and we were disappointed that there was no commitment to work with the provinces to cap and reduce tuition fees,” said Giroux-Bougard. “Increased federal transfers are key to protecting families from future tuition fee increases.”

    During the lifespan of the Millennium Scholarship Foundation (1998 to 2008), tuition fee increases eroded the value of their grants by over $1,000 (33%). Tuition fees have doubled over the past 15 years, and average student debt is as high as $28,000 in some provinces.

    (Pretty self-explanatory. Not sure how you misread it, Joey.)

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