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Margin Notes

Senate looks at accessibility of PSE

Aboriginal access was one of several topics discussed at first hearing held by the Senate last week in Ottawa.


On Oct. 7, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology held the first of what is expected to be several sessions devoted to the accessibility of postsecondary education in Canada. The motion creating the terms and references for the study was brought by Catherine Callbeck, Senator for Prince Edward Island.

(Ms. Callbeck, coincidentally, was featured in our recent “Alumni through the decades” story as part of University Affairs’ special 50th anniversary issue.)

The official transcript of the inaugural session is not yet online, but I have a copy of the unrevised transcript. Ms. Callbeck, in her opening remarks, said “it is important that this committee complete this study because we need as many Canadians as possible getting a postsecondary education … to increase our productivity and our progress as a nation.”

Appearing as witnesses to the first hearing were Paul Cappon, president and CEO of the Canadian Council on Learning; Paul Davidson, president and CEO of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada; Herbert O’Heron, senior advisor, national affairs, at AUCC; and Patrice de Broucker, chief of education indicators and special projects at Statistics Canada.

In their presentations and the subsequent question-and-answer period, the invited guests touched on numerous topics, including the need for a national strategy for postsecondary education; how best to direct research funding; the level of funding for PSE, both public and private; and how to attract more international students.

There was not much discussion specifically on accessibility; but, to be fair, the hearings are just getting started.

Mr. Davidson did point out that there are more than 1.5 million students in the higher education system across Canada today, a 40 percent increase from last decade. “Those are real accomplishments that parties on all sides of the house can take pride in.

He added, “That said, there is more to be done on accessibility and particularly with regard to Aboriginal accessibility.”

Later, in his closing remarks, Mr. Davidson referred to “the crisis in Aboriginal education,” calling it “one of the most compelling national issues we all must face.”

Aboriginal education was also mentioned as a priority by AUCC the next day in its brief to the House of Commons finance committee. The association is asking the federal government for increased financial support to Aboriginal students, investments in university programs and services which support Aboriginal students, and the creation of a pilot project fund that will see universities partner with Aboriginal communities to help raise K-12 completion rates.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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