Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the hon. member did eventually conclude. After saying in conclusion about three times, it was nice to see that he finally came to his conclusion.
The government believes our competitiveness and therefore our prosperity depends on the skills and talents of individual Canadians. The policy choices we make today will have important consequences for the future. Based on that belief the federal government is ensuring access to student loans and increasing the amount of money students receive under the program.
We have approached the provinces to undertake pilot projects in areas like school to work transition and learning technologies because we know Canadians will be placing more and not fewer demands on the educational system in the future. The resources we use must be carefully placed for the greatest impact. Research partnership with provincial governments will develop new ways of bringing appropriate instruction and training within the reach of all Canadians.
Members already know we have to make the most of every tax dollar. They should also bear in mind there are few better investments to make with those tax dollars than helping our people to learn, whether they are children, teenagers, people in the workforce or people who want to rejoin the working world.
It bears repeating that the government and most Canadians place a high value on post-secondary education. Canada and Canadians spend a great deal of money on higher education. Every college and university student in Canada owes the taxpayers a great deal, but the taxpayers benefit from a well educated workforce.
Our college and university graduates repay the investment in many different ways. University graduates have an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent; the rate of those who did not finish high school is more than 16 per cent. Post-secondary graduates earn about 40 per cent more than non-graduates over their lifetimes. Last year more than three million Canadians were on some kind of income security at one point.
In a time of constraint, allocating resources becomes very difficult. There is greater need and there are more contending voices. Under these circumstances a government is obliged to listen carefully before choosing a policy.
To justify support for higher education we can point to the fact that in the last three years there were 17 per cent more jobs for university graduates and 19 per cent fewer jobs for those who had not completed high school. By the year 2000, 45 per cent of jobs will require 16 or more years of education.
With that in mind we have improved the Canada student loans program. These measures reflect the concerns raised over the years by the public, the provinces and student groups. There are many reasons for extending the benefits of student loans.
There is no question that an investment in education now will reduce social assistance costs in the future. A sound education and access to training now will help following generations of Canadians to grow up in a more secure world. We must invest in a skilled workforce now to ensure that Canada and Canadians have real choices in the future.
The work has already started. New financing arrangements under the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act will ensure income sensitive terms for borrowers as they repay their loans. Lenders will assume greater responsibility in servicing and recovering loans.
Under the reform, students in similar situations will receive similar treatment in each participating province. Some students are worried that income contingent repayment will load them with a huge burden of debt. We made our intentions plain in the new Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.
Take a look at what we did. We created four new grant categories under the student loans act. We responded to the needs of part time students, students with disabilities, single mothers and women in certain graduate programs.
We want people to get a good education. Canada gets a high return from its investment in competent and well trained graduates. At the same time the government believes that those who benefit from post-secondary education must assume their responsibilities. When we make student loans for example, we believe those students are obliged to complete their studies and then repay the loans if they are able.
In his motion the member calls for the government to consider the advisability of income contingent repayment. With all respect, the short answer is the government is already looking at income contingent repayment.
In May and June the government moved the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act, Bill C-28, through Parliament to royal assent. This act provides flexibility for ICR schemes. We are consulting with the provinces on possible pilot projects. The province of Ontario and the Department of Human Resources Development among others promoted and took part in a two-day symposium on income contingent repayment in later September. Work is underway with Statistics Canada to develop an economic model of ICR which will allow the testing out of various scenarios.
The question we must ask about ICR or any other proposal about higher education is simply will this measure benefit Canadians by bringing college and university studies within the reach of everyone who wants to attend?
The discussion of ICR is not taking place in a vacuum. As we all know, Canada's economic future will increasingly depend on our college and university graduates. The choices those students make will determine the country's ability to compete and our
potential to remain one of the best countries in the world, in my view the best.
These brief remarks can hardly do justice to the concept of income contingent repayment. What I can say to the hon. member is the government is always willing to explore new ways to do more with fewer resources. We are already taking steps to investigate income contingent repayment.
The reforms to the student loans program which are now being implemented do not represent the government's final word on ways to help Canadians finance their post-secondary studies. If there is convincing evidence that Canada would benefit from an income contingent repayment system the findings will speak for themselves.
We do welcome good ideas. As a nation we spend 2.6 per cent of the value of our entire economy on post-secondary education every year. That is a lot of money. It is also the highest percentage of any country in the world. From high school 60 per cent of Canadian students now move on to college or university. We should bear in mind in a given year two-thirds of students do not take out student loans. The majority graduated with under $5,000 in student loans.
When it comes to ICRs we have done our homework. At the same time some student associations believe that any benefits they receive from ICR loans would quickly be taken away by their provincial governments in the form of fee increases.
We all know that we cannot impose educational fee schedules on provincial governments. They have gone up in recent years. Let me make this point. Education and training are shared responsibilities. Governments can offer students a wide choice of opportunities but Canadians have an obligation to invest in themselves.
As a country we are willing to commit resources to education, but many Canadians still feel we are not getting the kind of graduates we need. We all face a new reality. When people stop learning they stop earning. We do not want to burden new graduates with huge debts. The new act makes that clear. We are working for a system that supports people who go to school, not one that penalizes their ambition.
Throughout their working lives many if not most Canadians will need to learn new skills. Before that can happen all of us must learn new attitudes as Canadians, as governments, as businesses and associations. The challenge is accessibility. Potential students may have all the ability and all the desire in the world but we cannot expect them to undertake their studies without the means to finance their education and a realistic way to repay their loans.