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Will we keep quality post-secondary education public and accessible? Or do you have to be rich to get a good education?

Good questions. But you won’t find good answers if you rely on the Liberals and the Conservatives. So far, they have said little about post-secondary education despite its central role in our society and its importance for younger voters.

The Liberals are promising tens of billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy. Instead of these unnecessary tax giveaways that will do little to benefit the economy or society, we need to invest in people and in the future by increasing funding for post-secondary education.

This election, we can vote for a government that will increase federal transfers for post-secondary education, tied to reducing tuition fees. To make sure this money is spent by the provinces where it should be, we need to improve transparency and accountability by establishing a separate post-secondary education transfer guided by principles laid out in a federal Post-Secondary Education Act, including a prohibition of funding to private for-profit institutions and restrictions on public-private partnerships.

We need a federal government that will develop a national system of needs-based grants and address university infrastructure needs through public funding support. Lastly, we need our government to increase public funding for research to protect education from corporate pressure.

Paul Martin’s Liberals have failed post-secondary education. Under Liberal rule, tuition fees have escalated to an average $4,214 in 2005/06, almost three times the average of $1,464 in 1990/91. Student debt after an undergraduate degree is now about $28,000.

Thanks to Paul Martin’s leadership, Canada shares with Japan the dubious distinction of having no system of needs-based grants for students among 30 industrialized nations.

Deferred maintenance costs are skyrocketing after years of government under-funding. In Ontario alone, the costs to repair and upgrade existing university buildings and facilities are estimated to be over $1.5 billion for universities, but the Liberal’s pre-election “mini-budget” only planned for $1 billion for “urgent investments” nation-wide. Contingent and casual work is ballooning at universities, where it is estimated that 1 in 2 teaching jobs are not full-time.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives would make things worse by piling more debt on to students. They advocate “income contingent” loans, a regressive funding model that stretches loan repayment over a longer period of time, making lower-income people pay more than those who can pay their loans back faster.

Such loan schemes promise to lend you all the money you need to pay sky-high tuition. Such policy is particularly bad for women who have on average lower wages than men. The Conservatives’ tax measures will do virtually nothing to address the complex problems facing students and universities.

The New Democrats have the best policies for post-secondary education. Their national plan to reduce tuition by 10 per cent is a good first step towards making it more accessible. The NDP is the only party that is seeking to protect education from privatization through a Canada Post-Secondary Education Act and increased federal transfers.

The NDP has also pledged to credit all interest on Canada Student Loans against graduates’ income taxes. The NDP would replace the privately administered Millennium Scholarship Fund, which benefits few students, with a needs-based grants system that allow all families to access education.

Their promise to increase public funding for research will help keep key areas of enquiry such as medicine and environmental policy in public hands. That’s good for all of us and not just the private sector.