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Gaps persist in post-secondary access. (News Briefs/Nouvelles en Bref).

Gaps in access to post-secondary education persist, especially at the university level, according to a major new reference work published in September by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation. However, contrary to popular belief, a decade of rapid rises in tuition fees and student loan borrowing has not reduced overall accessibility in the Canadian post-secondary education system.

"College is equally accessible to Canadians across family income brackets, but disparities in access to university persist," said Sean Junor, co-author of the study and foundation policy and research officer. "This disparity is likely due to higher academic entrance requirements and higher university-related costs."

The Price of Know/edge: Access and Student finance in Canada combines new and existing research in unprecedented detail to provide the most complete picture ever produced of the nation's students, their finances, and the assistance they receive from government and other sources.

"To continue to improve equality of access, it is clear that the emphasis on student financial aid needs to be supplemented with new efforts," said Alex Usher, co-author and director, research & program development for the foundation. "Reducing deficiencies in academic preparation, awareness of post-secondary education options, and the targeting of student financial aid towards young people from lower-income families may help to tackle disparities in university access. The problem will not be solved simply by writing larger cheques."

Among the key findings in The Price of Knowledge:

* Average undergraduate university tuition rose by 76 per cent through the 1 990s, or by 6 per cent a year, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

* Government transfers to individuals for post-secondary education increased by 68 per cent over the past decade, to $4.3 billion nation-wide each year. The Government of Canada spends roughly as much annually on non-need based financial transfers to individuals, largely through the tax system, as it does on means-tested, needs-based student financial aid.

* There is no readily observable relationship between tuition and overall participation rates, although tuition may affect the characteristics of PSE attendees.

* Average student debt, among those students who borrow and graduate from four-year programs, is approximately $21,200. Forty-four per cent of students have no debl 23 per cent have debt in excess of $20,000.

* Parents are overly optimistic that their children will receive heip in covering their eduction-related costs, with over 90 per cent expecting them to qualify for government loans, when in reality closer to half will receive such aid.

* In addition to increasingly high tuition fees, students in professional or second-entry programs can also often face thousands of dollars per year in supplies and equipment costs.

* Financial barriers constitute the largest single reason cited by nonattendees for not going on to post-secondary eduction, but non-financial reasons are collectively between two and three times as likely to be cited as a reason for discontinuing their studies.

* Students are increasingly likely to be under 21 years of age and studying full-time; due to higher summer earnings and wage increases, students are working slightly less during the school year.

* Despite a six-fold increase in First Nations post-secondary enrolment between 1980 and 1995, First Nations post-secondary education attainment rates tend to lag behind those of the general population by about 25 per cent.

The Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation is a private, independent organization established in 1998 by Parliament with a 10-year mandate to improve access to post-secondary education. The Foundation's $2.5-billion endowment is directed primarily towards providing approximately $289 million per year in grants to undergraduate students in Canada with financial need.

Provincial fact sheets, detailed chapter storylines, and order forms for The Price of Knowledge can be downloaded from the Foundation's website:
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Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:Nov 1, 2002
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