October 8 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 23  

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University income gap decreasing: StatsCan

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

A recent study by Statistics Canada suggests the gap between students of high and low-income families attending university has shrunk over the past decade, though critics charge the study detracts from the issue of rising tuition fees.

"In the 2000s, you can't say that university is more the domain of the well-to-do," said John Zhao, the study's co-author and a senior analyst with Statistics Canada. He said the survey's primary objective was to analyze how access to post-secondary education has changed over time.

The study showed the association between family income and university participation rate has weakened since the mid-1990s as more students from families with incomes below $25,000 were attending university.

Zhao said this has followed a trend that began in the 1980s as student loan programs became more available to all students, most notably in 1994 when the Canadian government raised the maximum limit students can borrow under.

"The lowest income group is making steady gains still," Zhao said, adding however, the participation rate of students from middle-income families - those making between $25,000 and $100,000 - actually dropped slightly in some instances from past levels.

Zhao also cited the increasing spread between the tuition fees of different institutions and programs as a potential accessibility concern, but acknowledged the issue needs to be looked at in further detail.

Student groups disagreed with Zhao's interpretation and emphasis of the study's findings.

"What the study is showing is that there's still a major gap between rich and poor in their access to university," said Joel Duff, Ontario chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students. "If you come from an upper-income family, you're two times more likely to get a university education. We have a major access problem in Canada."

"The issue to highlight is that students are being forced into private loans," said University Students' Council VP-education Dave Ford, adding 30 per cent of students in Ontario fall under this category.

Ford said the study was limited in its scope. "The issue that needs to be addressed is the financial burden and who shares it, public or private," he said, adding the university experience of students who are placed in financial stress should also be examined.

-with files from Dan Perry




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