Supporting future students

On Thursday morning, the Liberal Party made their first major policy announcement of the 2011 campaign; it promised $1billion in financial aid for post-secondary students.

Speaking at Oakville, Ont.’s Sheridan College, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pledged to give a $1,000 -$4,000 per year tax-free grant to any high school student who decides to pursue post-secondary education. There will also be a $6,000 grant, paid out in $1,500 annual increments to students who qualify as low-income.

Referring to the nation’s colleges and universities as the “engine room” of the Canadian economy, Ignatieff stressed the Liberal Party’s commitment to getting more young Canadians in post-secondary education, bringing Canada up to speed with other “smart economies,” such as China.

“One of the things about China that absolutely knock me out was their investment in post-secondary education,” Ignatieff told the crowd of reporters and high school, university and college students gathered in Sheridan’s library.

“That’s the challenge for Canada, that’s the world the students here are going into, a world in which all smart societies are investing in education and we have to meet that challenge.”

This grant program, which the Liberals have coined the “Canadian Learning Passport,” will work using existing Registered Education Savings Plans (RESP), which according to Ignatieff will mean “no elaborate bureaucracy.”

The grants are not based on a matching system in which the government adds to an account that already has money put into it; a family simply needs to open an RESP and the federal government will put either $4,000 or $6,000 in the account.

Once the student is officially enrolled at a post-secondary institution, they will be able to draw upon that government grant either $1,000 or $1,500 per year, or as Ignatieff put it, “if you don’t show up, you don’t get the money.”

“This program is on top of everything we already do for post-secondary education,” Ignatieff continued.

“Canada student loans, Canada student grants, the learning bond, it’s on top of that. It’s $1 billion of new money to make us the best-educated society on the planet.”

While the grant money will be on top of the existing programs Ignatieff mentioned, it will replace both the textbook credit and the education tax credit.

When it comes to funding this $1-billion initiative, the Liberals plan on reducing planned tax cuts to large corporations as well as the Conservatives’ proposed funding for defence spending.

“We are not going to give corporations a further tax break, they’re doing fine, their tax rates are already competitive” said Ignatieff. “So we can make a billion-dollar investment in education every year, without raising the taxes on ordinary Canadians, because we are making better choices.”

According to Ignatieff, this plan will be part of the first Liberal budget, should the party be elected in May.

This means that grants will be available to both high school students and students already enrolled in post-secondary institutions by September of 2012.

Meaghan Coker, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA), sees this proposal as a step in the right direction when it comes to increasing the availability of post-secondary education to Canadians, particularly students in Ontario.

“We’ve seen our tuition in Ontario increase at five per cent a year…. So right now we need something to assist with that, and this is something that will benefit Ontario students more than any other province,” she said. “We’re taking the money from tax credits, which come at the wrong time of the year and help the wrong type of students and we’re putting into a grant that will be much more effective.”

Coker also noted that having more young Canadians able to attain post-secondary degrees will have a positive effect on the job market.

“Seven out of every ten new jobs will require post-secondary education,” she said. “Right now, we’re seeing strides by the government to be able to meet the demand and have our generation educated at that level.”

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