Post-secondary education (PSE) is essential to individual success as over 70% of jobs now require some level of post-secondary education, but PSE also makes significant social, cultural and economic contributions.
According to the Conference Board of Canada, every dollar invested in post-secondary education by governments leads to $1.36 in economic value for the Canadian economy. PSE is also essential to a robust democracy and to the research and civic engagement that are necessary to address some of our most challenging social, economic, and environmental problems today and tomorrow.
But access to PSE is increasingly a challenge for low- and middle-income students. As public funding has declined, tuition has skyrocketed. Since 1980, average domestic undergraduate tuition has increased by 215% and domestic graduate tuition has increased by 247%, after accounting for inflation.
93% of Canadians said they would have pursued post-secondary education after high school if they had not needed to pay tuition. But the economic importance of having a post-secondary education also means that many students are attending even though they cannot afford to do so, leaving them burdened with significant debt. 50% of university graduates today leave school with debt. On average, student debt at graduation today is nearly $28,000 and it takes 9.5 years on average to repay this debt. As a result of the economic calculus students are forced to make, rates of food insecurity and homelessness are high among students.
Universities and colleges are also increasingly turning to international students and funding from private donors and corporations to make up the difference. In 2020-21, the average undergraduate tuition fees for international students are $32,019.
Publicly funded, accessible higher education plays a role in promoting equity and social inclusion. Canada has also made commitments to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples which mean that we have a moral obligation to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
Our situation now is the result of decades of underfunding by governments. But with a plan for Education for All, we can achieve a high-quality, equitable, affordable, and accessible post-secondary education system that is respected for its important economic, social and cultural role in our society.