University income gap decreasing:
By Anton Vidgen
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
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