Over the past twenty-five years, public funding for post-secondary education has dropped. This chronic government underfunding is creating a crisis. It is transforming post-secondary education from a public good to a private benefit enjoyed by the wealthy.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. There are other options. In this backgrounder, we look at how we can build a high-quality post-secondary education system that is accessible, affordable, and equitable. A system that fosters civic engagement, social mobility, socially and environmentally responsible economic development, and research in the public interest. A system that no longer burdens students with unmanageable debt and makes its workers precarious.

The drop in government funding for post-secondary education has been the result of government choices. In one year (1997), federal funding for post-secondary education was cut by 60%, and no government since has fully restored that funding.

If the federal government had simply maintained its funding level from 1992-93, the federal transfer for post-secondary education would be nearly $2 billion greater each year. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that enrollment has increased since 1992.

In a similar way to the Canada Health Act, the federal government should adopt a Post-Secondary Education Act which sets out a clear vision for post-secondary education in Canada. Principles should include universality, accessibility, public administration, and portability.

The federal government should also work with the provinces to reduce and eventually eliminate tuition. Our current system of high upfront fees that are reduced through poorly targeted and inefficient rebates, reductions, scholarships, grants, loans, and tax credits is unwieldy and inefficient. Huge amounts of money are being spent on student aid while individuals continue to struggle with huge debt loads. Many countries around the world provide post-secondary education at no cost to students or with minimal fees.

Whether we change or not is up to us. We need to demand action from our federal and provincial governments.

To learn more, visit www.cupe.ca/ourtimetoact