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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2005

Students Question Access Study

Student groups are questioning the conclusions of a just released Statistics Canada research paper that says the primary barrier to post-secondary education isn't money but family background.

"We don't deny that money is not the only factor," said Ian Boyko, campaigns coordinator for the Canadian Federation of Students. "But based on the data we've gathered, post-secondary financing is the most important and the most easily addressed by government."

In the study - Who Goes? The Direct and Indirect Effects of Family Background on Access to Post-Secondary Education - researchers Ross Finnie, Eric Lascelles and Arthur Sweetman conclude that "affordability may not currently be the principal reason that individuals do not go on to post-secondary education."

Instead, the study finds that family background (indicated by parental education level, family type, place of residence, language and ethnicity) leads to intermediate outcomes such as elementary school success, high school academic performance and related attitudes and behaviours that are then closely correlated with the decision to attend post-secondary institutions.

The study's findings, however, have drawn sharp criticism from students who question the motivation of the researchers. According to Boyko, Finnie, an adjunct professor at Queen's University, has "long undertaken a political campaign to downplay the role of financial barriers."

In 2002, the federation issued a heated response to a C.D. Howe Institute commentary authored by Finnie in which he proposed increasing funding to post-secondary institutions by dramatically raising tuition fees while boosting the amount of money students can receive in loans.

Those plans would push students from low- and middle-income families into even greater debt, said Loretta Czernis, president of CAUT.

"The debt load that many students have to take on now in order to complete a degree is already acting as a deterrent," Czernis said. "Forcing students to take on more debt won't solve the problem."