January 19, 2007
By Colleen MacPherson
The recommendations the U of S makes to the provincial government's study of post-secondary accessibility and affordability are specific, but they fall within a broader message – the University wants to be a partner in the quest for higher participation rates among Saskatchewan students.
Speaking to the submission made in December to the McCall Review on Post-Secondary Education Accessibility and Affordability, Provost and Vice-President Academic Michael Atkinson said the University wants to communicate to the government, to other universities and colleges, and to the province's high schools that "we're really committed" to finding solutions. "We're in," he said. "You call the meeting and we'll be there."
In May 2006, Premier Lorne Calvert asked Regina MLA Warren McCall to examine issues like student financial assistance programs and removing financial barriers for students and their families. Drawing on public forums and submissions from various parties, McCall is expected to present an interim report this month, and a final report with recommendations in the fall.
In discussions with McCall in early fall, "we began to appreciate that he saw his responsibility as being more than just looking at how to deal with tuition and manage student debt," said Atkinson. McCall saw the review on a much larger scale, "and I think by encouraging us along those lines, he has drawn us out into a broader conversation that involves other institutions and the high school system."
Atkinson said the University began preparing its submission focused on encouraging the government to match donor contributions to scholarships and bursaries, but soon realized there were many other issues connected to accessibility and affordability.
The submission "casts the net more broadly," said David Hannah, associate vice-president student and enrolment services, to include areas like information and perception barriers. As an example, Hannah said Canadian research shows that many people overestimate the cost of post-secondary education and underestimate the benefits. "They therefore make decisions based on wrong information. There's an access issue." The first recommendation the U of S makes in its submission is that Saskatchewan young people get more timely and accurate information about education and career options.
The University also wants "a major rethinking" of how students are prepared for post-secondary education, said Hannah. That includes addressing the lack of communication between high school and post-secondary institutions to eliminate academic gaps, and the need for transition programs.
"We need students coming here with a clue about what they're getting into," he said. "They need to be ready to be here in terms of expectations and skills like time management."
Other recommendations relating to accessibility include more Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) funding and other targeted support for the development and delivery of more programs for students in remote locations, as well as more co-op, internship and service learning opportunities. The U of S is also asking for one-time funding to improve student residence facilities.
On the affordability side, the government is given "a clear message" in the submission that matching grants for scholarships and bursaries would give Saskatchewan institutions a competitive advantage in recruiting students, said Hannah.
The University is also asking the provincial government to reconsider universal measures like tax credits and tuition caps. "People who can afford it will come to university anyway. Why not take those tax credit resources, which students get at the back end of their education, and distribute them in the form of grants at the front end to the students who need it the most. A measure like that would help both access and affordability."
Atkinson added the U of S is "on the record as being, at the very least, ambivalent about tuition freezes" which he said can be viewed as a form of "subsidization of people who really don't need it."
The final recommendation from the U of S calls for a concerted effort to overhaul the Student Loans Program which Atkinson described as "broken". Citing Australia's positive experience with an Income-Contingent Loan Repayment policy, the Provost believes it is time "to be way more creative and look around at what others are doing" with student loans.
The Australian option is not mentioned in the submission because it would require federal government agreement, he said, "but I think it's an idea we should be looking at. It's a more ambitious kind of policy initiative, but it's the future of loans programs."
The complete U of S submission to the McCall Review can be found under "What's New?" on the Vice President Academic webpage.