University Tuition Fees

Hon. Jim Munson: Honourable senators, I have a question for the government leader in the Senate. The question is from our Senate Liberal Your Question Period initiative, which has been successful with Canadians sending us questions every day, seeking answers from the government. This question was submitted by Ms. Maria Lisa Seminara from Barrie, Ontario, who is a university student troubled by the rising cost of tuition.

Before reading her questions, I would like to acknowledge that education, as we know, is primarily a provincial jurisdiction, but the federal government plays an important role in providing students across the country with loans and grants. The government also administers various saving mechanisms for parents, including the Registered Education Savings Plan and the Canada Learning Bond.

Mr. Leader, with that in mind I hope you can be specific in responding to Maria’s concerns. She wrote:

[I] am a full-time University student studying Psychology in Ontario. I am confused at the fact that tuition prices continue to rise while the program, curriculum, professors, institution and course/class variability and much more remains the same; students are the future and the high prices are crushing thousands of people’s dreams and goals. I am in constant worry that I will not have enough money to go to Graduate School. I understand you are a busy person but I am reaching out here for help and to stand up for countless others in saying that tuition hikes seem to only benefit the Government. Why does tuition keep rising? Can this be stopped? What do thousands of people do if they invest thousands of dollars in school and so many years and cannot finish due to expenses? How do students benefit from tuition hikes if at all in your perspective?

[Translation]

Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government):

Thank you, senator, for sharing that individual’s question.

As you know, our government has taken measures in support of university students and continues to do so. I would remind you that we made student loans and grants tax-exempt and introduced a textbook tax credit as well as a tax credit on tools. These are extremely important fiscal measures for post-secondary students, especially university students who have to work part time while going to school.

In addition, part-time students no longer have to pay interest on their loans while they are at school. We also increased the income threshold used to assess eligibility for grants for part-time students. In the budget, we created the Canada Apprentice Loan, which provides apprentices registered in Red Seal trades with access to interest-free loans. We have made unprecedented investments in favour of young Canadians by way of the loans and grants program. In fact, thanks to our Economic Action Plan 2015 — which we will pass today, I hope — we will help 22,000 students by expanding the Canada Student Loans and Grants program. We are eliminating in-study student income from the needs assessment process, increasing loan amounts for 87,000 students and providing increased support to more than 92,000 students by reducing the expected parental contribution under the needs assessment process.

Those are concrete measures set out in Economic Action Plan 2015. I hope that we will be voting on them this evening, and I hope that senators across the way will support these important measures for students.

In fact, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations responded with this statement:

We are extremely pleased to see that government is taking students’ priorities seriously. . . .

The total contributions are $419 million over four years. Students have not seen this kind of investment in financial aid in several years.

I believe that our government is deeply committed to supporting students, and I invite all senators to support Economic Action Plan 2015.

[English]

Senator Munson: I appreciate your answer, Mr. Leader. I acknowledge that there are a number of good programs, but I don’t know if it will be satisfactory for Ms. Maria Lisa Seminara. The bottom line is that tuition fees are going up and hundreds of thousands of students are caught in the financial crossfire of not being able to afford to go to university and particularly get a second degree.

Late last year, a study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that:

. . . tuition and compulsory fees for Canadian undergraduate students will rise by almost 13% over the next four years, from $6,885 [last] fall to an estimated $7,755 in 2017-18.

And, unfortunately for Maria:

According to the study, Ontario is the province with the highest fees and will see its tuition and other fees climb from $8,474 [last] fall to an estimated $9,483 in 2017-18.

Mr. Leader, what will your government do or continue to do to ensure that post-secondary education remains affordable for all Canadian students?

[Translation]

Senator Carignan: I talked about programs that support students. I also highlighted the transfers, even though education falls under provincial jurisdiction. Our government has made unprecedented transfers for social services and post-secondary education. These transfers will continue to support the provinces’ efforts to fund universities and reduce the upward pressure on tuition fees as much as possible.