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Millennium Scholarship report

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Knowledge is a hot ticket item in Canada that comes with a fairly large price tag. A new study published by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation aims to show just that, highlighting quantifiable barriers to post-secondary education. The same study is drawing ire from student organizations across the country.

According to the study, entitled The Price of Knowledge, released earlier this month, while tuition costs rose consistently through the 1990s, participation in post-secon dary education was unaffected. The report used both new and existing data from across the country examining attitudes towards and usage of financial assistance, participation rates between various social classes and student debt.

Study co-author Sean Junor, said the study's real goal is to direct policy formulation by stimulating debate among the different groups involved.

"It's important that you gather the information you possess and get the different actors in society talking about it," Junor said during a conference call on Sept. 17. "The problem is that frequently, the discussion has gone on, on the level of anecdotes. That doesn't really help much in the making of public policy. What we're hoping for is to provide a base of common numbers."

The study's most important finding was the lack of correlation between tuition and participation rates in post-secondary institutions. In a given area, tuition cost did not seem to affect the number of students applying for or entering universities or colleges.

"Tuition does not influence participation rates in this country," Junor said. "You can have high-tuition provinces with high participation, you can have low-tuition provinces with low participation and you can have low-tuition provinces with high participation. We simply couldn't track a consistent relationship between the two numbers."

This finding in particular has the national education lobby up in arms. Both the Canadian Federation of Students, representing the University of Calgary Graduate Students' Association, and the Canadian Alliance of Students' Associations representing the U of C Students' Union have voiced CASA Communications Coordinator Erin Stevenson. "It's saying that accessibility is not affected by tuition. Simply because participation rates haven't gone down doesn't mean we don't have an accessibility issue."

Junor conceded income affects post-secondary enrollment, however, he noted that this may be linked to other issues as well.

"People with lower incomes have a much reduced chance of getting a post-secondary education than someone from a high-income family," he said. "What we don't know is why this is occurring. One might think it's just a matter of money, but it appears to be more than money."

Junor cited "cultural factors" as a possible influence. The study also shows that children of parents who are illiterate or did not attend post-secondary institutions themselves are less likely to enroll.

Stevenson applauded the amount of research conducted but questioned the interpretation of the data, suggesting that a political agenda may be behind the report.

"They need to bring out other parts of the report. They need to show that they're not just there to promote a political agenda," said Stevenson. "There is a lot of good information on student finance and the weaknesses of the system here. We would've really liked them to point these weaknesses out."

Representatives from the Students' Union were unable to comment by press time.

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