Won’t financial aid offset the impact for poor students?
On March 17 2011, Finance Minister Raymond Bachand believed he had two pieces of good news to report to the students of Quebec: he was going to increase tuition fees on one side and improve the Aide financière aux études (AFE – student financial aid) on the other. Yet really the only news we have received is that the government will attack accessible education, once again.
The accessibility of postsecondary education is not limited to one’s opportunity to enroll in an institution and to pay tuition fees. Students must also be able to support themselves while having enough time to devote to their studies. With a restrictive system of financial aid (which is not accessible to everyone) and alternative (which only complements the contribution of the student or the student, his parents, his or her spouse) Quebec is far from ensuring an effective access to education.
The current situation: distressing evidence
The current situation is already problematic. The rate of university participation increases significantly for students from a family with an upper or middle socioeconomic status. Meanwhile, the rate for those of lower status is virtually stagnant.
Research conducted by the Foundation of Canada Millennium Scholarship indicates that « students enrolled full time at a university or college work more than ever. » Unfortunately, we find that « the effects of work-related variables are all negative. It seems that working and working a lot both have a negative effect on persistence. «
The minister is trying to dupe us
The Education Minister Line Beauchamp claims that her addition of $ 118 million in funding to student aid (AFE) will soften the blow. Unfortunately for her, we also know how to count.
$ 85.8 million will be used to increase scholarships for those who already receive the maximum loan; their debt situation will remain unchanged. $3.7 million will be provided to increase lending to those who do not receive scholarships, and they will see their debt rise. Finally, in the only real improvement, 26.6 million will be used to raise the threshold of parental contribution ($ 35,000 per family or $ 30 000 per parent), or spousal contribution ($ 28,000) i.e. the wage above which the parent(s) or spouse can be considered as a source of financial aid. However, in 2004, the Advisory Committee on the Financial Accessibility of Education already recommended raising the threshold of parental contribution to $ 45 000 for a couple. The Minister has yet to catch up!
An improvement that is not nearly enough
Despite these improvements to the AFE system, it remains difficult to access. The award periods are binding. The standard period of study, as calculated, does not represent the reality of many students who must work and study at the same time and cannot finish on time. The inclusion of parental income, even if the threshold was raised, is often not justified. Currently, among the students who do not benefit from the AFE, 24.4% receive no financial support from their parents. Finally, financial aid for part-time students, that is to say for those who must work a lot during the school year, is insufficient and keeps them impoverished.
Overall, the problem is that debt is the basis of the AFE system. This makes no sense, since it goes against the primary mission of the AFE system, which is to promote access to postsecondary education. The effect of student debt is to make students more likely to drop out of their program, force them to work more than is advisable and to reproduce social inequalities. It turns a right into a privilege for some and a sacrifice for others. Debt encourages students from less affluent families to choose shorter programs. This leads them to have access to jobs that generally pay less, and to form lower income families. And so a certain class of the population is maintained in its condition.