A Brief History of Federal Post-Secondary Education Policies

A cartoon featuring a student walking into a classroom. The class is called "Why College Costs So Much 101."Before analysing the effects of rising university tuition fees are it is important to put them into context and show why tuition fees rose so dramatically in the past three decades. Although education is a provincial government responsibility, universities receive substantial grants from the federal government. In 1977 the Established Programs Financing system began. Under this federal system of transfers to the provinces, post-secondary support was packaged with federal health care and social services funding. These transfers were subject to caps, from 1984 to 1993, which kept increases below the levels needed to cover rising costs from inflation and increase

d post-secondary enrolments. It was during this time that the burden placed on students increased, but it was during the 1990’s that drastic changes were made. During the 1990’s Canada’s level of debt necessitated budget cuts, and the government chose to reduce funding for post-secondary education.

The initial plan was to replace federal transfers with an Income Contingent Repayment plan, whereby tuition fees would increase, and student loan repayments would be linked to income after graduation. This plan proved very unpopular with student unions and was never implemented. However, federal support of post-secondary education did decrease significantly. In 1998 the federal government established the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation which offered scholarships and bursaries to students for merit or due to need. The Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation was replaced with the Canadian Student Grants Program in 2008. Neither program, however, did much to offset the steep decline in government funding. During the mid-1990’s government funding provided 70% of university and college operating revenue, and by 2009 this had decreased to 55%. (Wellen) This resulted in tuition fees rising by over $3000, transferring the burden from the federal government to the students.


Richard Wellen, Paul Axelrod, Roopa Desai-Trilokekar, and Theresa Shanahan. “The Making of a Policy Regime: Canada’s Post-Secondary Student Finance System Since 1994.” Canadian Journal of Higher Education 42.3 (2012): 1-23.


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