Nearly seven in 10 Canadians believe that today's tuition fees are keeping qualified people from getting a university or college education, according to a public opinion survey commissioned by CAUT.
The poll, released last month, found that 68 per cent of respondents agreed that tuition fees are deterring access, while just 16 per cent disagreed. In Atlantic Canada, nearly 80 per cent expressed concern about the impact of fees on accessibility.
Concern about rising fees cut across the political spectrum, with more than half of Liberal, Tory, Alliance, and NDP supporters strongly agreeing that fees are discouraging qualified Canadians from going on to university or college. Supporters of the Bloc Québécois express less concern, likely a reflection of the ongoing tuition freeze in Quebec that has given the province the lowest fees in the country.
"The level of tuition is the key issue for Canadians when it comes to assessing the state of post-secondary education in the country," said CAUT president Victor Catano. "It's an issue that's hitting more and more families right where it hurts - in their pocketbook."
As tuition fees continue to rise, Canadians are expressing growing dissatisfaction with the way the federal and provincial governments are handling post-secondary education.
When asked to grade Ottawa's performance in ensuring all qualified Canadians have access to high quality college or university education, nearly four in 10 say Ottawa has done a poor job. Less than 2 per cent give the federal government an excellent rating.
When asked to judge their provincial government's handling of post-secondary education, more than one-third (40 per cent) of respondents in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Alberta give their province a poor rating. More than 50 per cent of British Columbians say their provincial government has done a poor job when it comes to promoting access to universities and colleges.
"This is an issue that politicians of all stripes can't ignore much longer," Catano says.
Criticism of the federal government's handling of post-secondary education is even stronger among Liberal party supporters, more than one-third of whom say Ottawa is doing a poor job.
The Decima Research poll, conducted Oct. 17-26, just prior to the announced merger of the Tory and Alliance parties, shows that if an election were held in October, the Liberals would easily capture their fourth consecutive majority government. Nationally, support for the Liberals has risen to nearly 52 per cent, with the Tories in distant second place at 16 per cent. The NDP enjoys the support of 12 per cent of Canadians, while Alliance support has fallen to just 8 per cent.
The Liberals now lead in every region of the country, and have commanding leads in Atlantic Canada (46%), Quebec (52%), Ontario (60%) and British Columbia (47%). In Alberta, the Liberals are at 35 per cent of popular support, five points ahead of the Alliance, while in Saskatchewan and Manitoba the Liberals, at 37 per cent, are holding onto a nine-point advantage over the second-place NDP.
The survey also shows that post-secondary education is likely to be a key issue in what is widely expected to be a spring election.
One-third of Canadians say the party that has the best plan to improve health care will get their vote, followed by 20 per cent who say reducing unemployment and poverty, and 11 per cent who identify tax cuts as the issue that will help determine their voting intention.
However, when asked to choose the second most important election issue, about 15 per cent support improving post-secondary education.
"This signals that many people concerned about health care are also worried about the state of our universities and colleges," Catano said. "I think there's an important role for CAUT and for local associations to play in the upcoming election to ensure that post-secondary education is a key focus of the campaign."
The Decima poll results are based on telephone interviews with 2,000 adults across the country and are considered accurate within ±2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20.