Tuition Costs in Canada

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The cost of obtaining post-secondary education in Canada has become a contentious issue in the last several decades. With high school graduates earning comparatively less and less over the years, it is more essential than ever before to obtain some form of post-secondary education, be it in the form of apprenticeships, college certificates, or university degrees. Access to these forms of education ensures that Canada will have a prolific base of skilled workers, which directly impacts the average Canadian’s career earning potential1, increasing overall quality of life by most measures. So while education has become essential for economic growth, fierce debate rages over whether or not it has become less accessible to Canadians, due to rapidly rising costs associated with post-secondary education.

Perhaps the simplest measure of accessibility to education can be seen via the tuition and ancillary fees required to attend post-secondary institutions. This measure is perhaps the most relevant to our country as well, having been the root cause of the protests which rocked Quebec for over a year, led to the largest student movement in Canadian history, served as a vehicle for the introduction of emergency legislation which overrode the Constitution, and contributed greatly to the first change in provincial leadership in Quebec in 14 years. It is clear to see that tuition costs have far-reaching effect, and play a significant role in the modern Canadian political scene. For these reasons, tuition will be used as the means of comparison for accessibility to education in Canada. In particular, this essay will focus on the history of tuition in Canada, with special regard to the relationship between federal/provincial funding and tuition fees. The contrast between Ontario and Quebec, the Provinces with the highest and lowest average tuition fees respectively, will also be examined, given their very different looks on the policy governing the setting of post-secondary education fees.

In the 1960’s in Canada, the federal government began funding post-secondary institutions for the first time, in an effort to allow World War II veteran’s easy access to the skills and training required to begin productive careers, which would combat the economic stagnation that occurred as the unskilled workforce grew suddenly and substantially following the end of the war. Following the introduction of federal funding, this accounted for an average 90% of post-secondary institution’s operating budgets nationwide2. This left 10% of the budget to be comprised of the combination of tuition fees, research revenue, grants, and donations. As a result, prospective students paid very low fees to obtain higher education, and enrolment rates increased rapidly. As student enrolment grew, Many provincial governments began to form integrated systems of management for post-secondary education, in an effort to maintain provincial autonomy over education. This led to the development of comprehensive Ministries of Education, which oversaw standards, regulations, and curriculum for colleges and universities within each Province. Beginning in 1967, this re-structuring of post-secondary education administration allowed the federal government to enter into a 1:1 cost-sharing model with each provincial government. Under this arrangement, Provinces would allocate a portion of the provincial budget to fund Post-Secondary institutes, which the federal government would match dollar for dollar. This encouraged provincial spending on education, and by 1977, funding for post-secondary education had tripled3, prompting Newfoundland to eliminate tuition entirely, and Canada to sign on to a United Nations Covenant to introduce free education at all levels. In a period of roughly 20 years, Canada had reformed it’s higher education system from being a luxury to a basic service, and national education rates soared.

It was at this point in history that Ontario and Quebec...
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