Liberal PSE promise a little misguided

If Ignatieff wants to help students, targeted funds are better than washing everyone with money

Releasing part of his education platform this week — attractively titled the Learning Passport — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff promised up to $1,500 for every post-secondary student in Canada to help offset the rising costs of a university education. The money would be a grant, issued to every student, to help pay for university.

Quite frankly, the idea is not thought out very well.

$1 billion is a lot of money, especially for students who, by and large, are broke. But not all students are broke and not all students are in need. Canada Student Loans, through its needs-based scholarships and bursaries programs, collects a lot of data outlining which students are in need of funds and which are doing just fine on their own.

In their own words:

“In 2006-2007, the CSLP provided over $1.9 billion in full- and part-time student loans to approximately 345,000 students and awarded $141.8 million in non-repayable Canada Study Grants and Canada Access Grants (87,368 grants).”

By taking that billion dollars and applying it to needs-based grants instead of washing everyone in cash, Ignatieff could be boosting grants to students by more than seven times while maintaining needs-based loans at existing levels. Tuition fees at Canada’s post-secondary institutions have more than tripled since the early 1990s and in some provinces it has quintupled. And it’s only rising. Student debt in Canada is spiralling out of control, limiting participation in larger life events like cars and houses.

Ignatieff is right to invest in post-secondary education and right to try to improve access to those institutions. But blindly throwing money at the problem is the wrong approach. Targeted financing could do much to reduce student debt and improve access, if only Michael were smart enough to realize it.