Madam Speaker, the funding crisis affecting our colleges and universities threatens more and more young Canadians every day. Tuition fees are rising and federal funding is shrinking. The post-secondary education institutions of this country are increasingly becoming establishments for the rich and privileged.
The impact of federal cuts to post-secondary education are quite clear. Reductions in federal transfers of over $2.29 billion since 1993 have driven up tuition fees by 240% in the last 10 years.
Average student debt is now $25,000. In 1980 Stats Canada reported that tuition fees comprised 13% of university general operating income. Tuition fees paid in 1995-96 accounted for an average of almost 30% of general operating income and as high as 40% for universities in Nova Scotia.
Access to post-secondary education is being severely compromised and there is no getting away from the fact that the Liberal government is largely responsible.
It is shocking to hear the pious concern expressed by the Liberal government while more and more students are graduating into poverty. The recent national day of action organized by the Canadian Federation of Students was a clear demonstration of how students really feel about the hypocrisy and the cutbacks.
In a 1997 survey of high school students in the maritimes, 40% of students not going to university said they were not going because they could not afford it.
Young people are told how important it is to have a post-secondary education but then they get hammered with huge costs and debt. According to the CFS increases in tuition fees are now one of the major causes of inflation. What is the government's response? We have the announced millennium fund. What a convenient name but it does not help students who desperately needed assistance yesterday. They cannot wait for the year 2000 to suit the Prime Minister's political timetable.
We in the NDP believe that urgent changes are needed now to deal with the crisis of post-secondary education funding. Student aid must be grounded in the following principles. Accessibility must be a new national standard in higher education. Principles of accessibility and affordability must guide any reforms. Student aid must be based on need rather than on merit. A national system for grants for post-secondary education must be a priority with a tuition freeze.
Will the Liberal government admit that the millennium fund is a misguided political exercise? We do not need yet another scholarship program. Students need a national grants program now based on financial need.
I challenge the federal government again to follow B.C.'s lead and institute a national tuition freeze. It can be done if there is political leadership and commitment to make post-secondary education affordable and accessible. Students deserve nothing less. Student debt must be reduced and tuition fees frozen, combined with a national grants program. Does the government have the guts to really stand up for young people and advance the principle that post-secondary education is a right, not a privilege to only those who can afford it?