Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Science and Technology
Issue 26 - Evidence
OTTAWA, Wednesday, February 17, 1999
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this
day at 3:50 p.m. to examine the dimensions of social cohesion in Canada in the
context of globalization and other economic and structural forces that
influence trust and reciprocity among Canadians.
Senator Lowell Murray (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Colleagues, before we proceed to today's business, I must attend
to some housekeeping. As you know, we have a subcommittee of this committee,
the Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs, chaired by our colleague Senator Orville
Phillips. As you also know, they have been doing a study of health services for
veterans, and they face a deadline for the submission of their report of
February 26. There is a motion that enables them to table their report with the
Clerk of the Senate if the Senate is not then sitting. However, the formality
is that their report must flow through this committee, which is the parent
committee, so to speak. As this committee will not be meeting next week either,
I would like to have a motion to authorize Senator Butts, the deputy chairman of
this committee, and me as chairman, to receive that report on your behalf so
that it may be filed properly with the Clerk of the Senate.
Senator LeBreton, do you have a motion?
Senator LeBreton: Yes. I move that the chair and deputy chair be authorized to
receive and adopt on behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Affairs,
Science and Technology the report on the state of health care in Canada
concerning veterans of war and the Canadian service persons by the Subcommittee
on Veterans Affairs.
The Chairman: Is it agreed, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chairman: Carried. Thank you, colleagues.
Today we continue our study on social cohesion and we are going to be discussing
access to post-secondary education. We have three uniquely qualified witnesses
for that purpose today: Mr. Paul Kitchin, who is Executive Director of the
National Association of Career Colleges, Ms Terry Anne Boyles, Vice-President,
National Services, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, and from the
Department of Human Resources Development, Mr. Thomas G.F. Townsend, who is
Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee on Student Financial
Assistance. I am going to ask the two private sector people, if I may so
describe them, to make their brief presentations first. Then I will give the
last word to Mr. Townsend. We will then open the meeting for questions and
You have before you the impressive biographies of these three witnesses so I
will not read them into the record. Let me just welcome the witnesses and call
first on Mr. Paul Kitchin.
Mr. Paul Kitchin, Executive Director, National Association of Career Colleges:
Mr. Chairman and senators. I appreciate having the opportunity to be part of
this panel to make the presentation to you today. I will take a few minutes for
a brief opening statement that will talk a little bit about who I represent,
our perception of the environment for post-secondary education, and then I will
discuss some of the key determinants around access to post-secondary education.
As Executive Director of the National Association of Career Colleges, NACC, I
represent private post-secondary institutions that are provincially regulated
and licensed across the country and operate in small, medium and large
communities from coast to coast. They have been teaching skills to Canadian men
and women of all ages across the country for approximately 130 years now, dating
back to 1868.
This year, we anticipate that more than 150,000 students will be enrolled in
diploma and certificate programs at about 1,200 such locations. It is a sector
that is not well understood, not well recognized, and perhaps has some issues
that are unique in terms of access.
A recent survey of about 10,000 of our students indicated that about 65 per cent
of our students are female. Roughly 13 per cent are sole-support parents. Forty
per cent of our students have dependants themselves. We found that 17 per cent
of our students had already attended a Canadian university. Twenty-nine per
cent of our students had previously attended a Canadian community college. We
have a diverse kind of population.
In looking at the post-secondary environment right now, we find that we need to
take a look at the student population, the demographics. We need to take a look
at the providers that exist at this time, which include both government and
Certainly from our perspective there has been a change in the student
demographics. Recent phenomena such as two family incomes, family breakdowns,
technology advancement and the move towards globalization have all had an
impact on who it is that is looking into life-long learning and at coming back
to post-secondary education.
I would describe a population of what we would call non-traditional or
previously marginalized people. I would include in that group people from the
equity groups: women, visible minorities, the disabled, aboriginal people. We
would look at people from different and varying social and economic
backgrounds. At one end would be sole support parents and former social
assistance recipients who are trying to get back into the labour market, and
then we would be looking at employed workers who are trying to upgrade skills.
We would be looking at unemployed workers who again are trying to get back into
the labour market with the downsizing and "right-sizing" that we have
I would also look at educational background. At one end, we are seeing dropouts
from high school, dropouts from community colleges, universities and vocational
schools. On the other end, we would be seeing, as I mentioned before, graduates
from previous post-secondary education programs. There is quite a mix.
The message that we get from viewing those backgrounds is that it is not "one
size fits all." That kind of model will not work. Our post-secondary
system needs to be flexible to allow all Canadians to come back into
post-secondary education and so that the system can adequately meet their needs.
We have identified taking a look at the providers, the deliverers, that
currently are our public institutions. There are private institutions such as
the one I represent. There are non-profit organizations. They all have
different delivery mechanisms. Across those sectors we would find a mix of
delivery methodologies, from the traditional classroom instruction, to lecture
style, to self-paced and facilitated learning. We have video conferencing now
and interactive on-line instruction, distance education. There is quite a mix
of needs to be met as we look at the access issues.
When we talked with our members and tried to choose the key determinant for
access, we identified it as being financial assistance. We also identified
public attitude, which I will also discuss.
We recognize that there are several different ways for people to get social or
financial assistance, whether it is through government-sponsored student loans,
consumer loans, family support, training programs or scholarships. There are a
number of ways to do that.
Regarding the government student-loan program, we are concerned about students
who, when they apply for assistance, have a degree of need that is not being
met. Even if they qualified for assistance, it is not enough for them to enter
and stay in their program. We have an issue around the disbursement of loans to
people who have very little experience in budgeting and financial management.
When given a fairly hefty sum of money at the beginning of their school term,
they would come back to our managers and owners and say, "It is two months
into the program and I have run out of money. I will have to withdraw." We
know from experience that withdrawal is probably one of the key factors in
terms of defaults. Therefore, it is an issue for us.
That leads me to raise student loan defaults and the designation of
institutions. In some fora, there have been some discussions that institutions
with a high incidence of default among their former students who were borrowers
should be an indication of the quality of instruction at that institution. We
take exception to that. There may be some truth somewhere in that, but we feel
it is a mistake to generalize. Our view is that default rates should be seen as
a flag. The performance of institutions then needs to be looked at a little bit
closer in terms of the things that they are responsible for and have control
over: retention and recruitment of students, successful completion of programs,
and the eventual placement of students into jobs. We have some issues around
I will conclude with one other thought. I talked about public attitude. In this
country there has historically been an attitude between public and private
deliverers of education. Some sense that if education is being delivered by the
private sector and if there is some profit in doing that, then it must
inherently be wrong. We certainly take exception to that. This industry has had
a remarkable record over 130 years of training Canadians. I think we need to be
able to look beyond that. We seem to have no problem in this country
understanding that we create roads, highways and bridges so that both public
and private transportation can use them, but when it comes to education,
counsellors in government programs or high school guidance counsellors hold a
certain attitude towards non-university programs.
In effect, the people who choose to go to the private sector institutions have
identified in surveys that the top reason for choosing an institution is its
reputation. The second reason is the duration and intensity of the program's
delivery in that it allows them quick access into the labour market. They like
the fact that it has been designed around the consumer with continuous intakes
so that people do not have to wait to get into a program, and that the schools
operate 12 months of the year.
It would be a mistake to do anything to try to dissuade those students from
entering into their chosen program. There certainly is no guarantee that
students who have defaulted in the past would not do so at another institution
or another program. We believe that there are many causes of default, from
systemic problems to the information that students receive on what the program
The government last year introduced a tremendous piece of legislation that we
believe has gone a long way towards dealing with the problem of default. To
make rash decisions now before that legislation has had a chance to take hold
and make an impact, which we believe could be another two or three years down
the road, would be a mistake, we feel.
I will stop there and will be ready for questions later.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Kitchin.
Ms Boyles is the Vice-President of National Services of the Association of
Canadian Community Colleges. I take it the difference in perspective here
between you and Mr. Kitchin is similar to the differences between certain
private and public sector institutions.
Ms Terry Anne Boyles, Vice-President, National Services, Association of Canadian
Community Colleges: I think that is part of it. I believe that you will see a
commonality of interest on some of the points that I will be presenting. We
certainly work together in the Canadian Association of Education and Training
Organization. At times, they are complementary. At other times, we have
The Chairman: Please proceed, Ms Boyles.
Ms Boyles: Mr. Chairman and senators, on behalf of the Association of Canadian
Community Colleges, I am very pleased to be here to provide some input to you
from our perspective on the topic of social cohesion and, more specifically, on
access to post-secondary education. I wish to speak briefly about a paper that
we prepared that informs us as we look at those issues. I then would like to
speak more specifically to three particular areas.
In the packages that you will receive later, there is a document called "The
Learning Society." Like yourselves, our members, in consultation with
community groups, organizations, labour, business, equity groups in communities
across this country and ourselves at the national level with other groups, felt
that it was very important that we started to envision Canada as a learning
We looked at globalization and technology. We looked at the social and cultural
issues that affect Canadians and the reality of the Canadian context. We have
thus identified the characteristics of a Canadian learning society: that we try
to be collaborative and positive. We then looked at a series of things that all
of us, from people involved in the earliest childhood education programs to
people involved in helping seniors contribute to their communities, could be
doing to mobilize together to make sure that we have a future for our country.
I would refer to that document. That is a baseline document that we use and
that helps us to reflect on everything that we are doing as an association and
that our members are using in their own strategic planning processes and
consultations in their communities.
I wish to speak more specifically on the area of student financial need, the
labour market programs and post-secondary programs within the country, and then
on the impact of technology.
Our association has a national task group that is looking at the area of student
debt and the overall financial need of family units with respect to
post-secondary education. We have spent a long time working with Human
Resources Development Canada. In the last few years, a number of federal
measures have helped to alleviate some of the concerns relative to student debt.
We believe that some of those in the longer term will provide some
opportunities for families through savings such as Registered Educational
Savings Program plan expansion and certainly the Canadian Millennium
The debt issue is still very high on our priority list. As a result, our members
asked us to establish a task group. It includes students and people from the
student services areas of our institutions. It includes people from members of
the boards of governors of our institutions. Their concern is really looking at
a prism of shared responsibility: responsibility by the individual and his
family unit, responsibilities in changes within the institutions themselves,
those things that governments can be doing or are doing, the responsibilities
of student associations, which also contribute to the cost of education, and
then also the business and labour communities in the country.
That task group is partway through their mandate. They meet again this weekend
here in Ottawa. They have been doing an environmental scan. They have been
particularly concerned with those people who fall outside the purview of
eligibility for the Canadian student loans programs or the other provincial
loans programs or who, for reasons of family or culture or debt aversion, do not
avail themselves of those programs or who have been declared ineligible.
Much of our concern is focused on the "would be" students who are not
able to get in at all and on how very little we know about those students. We
are concerned about how these people are financing their post-secondary
education. We are gathering a number of more anecdotal or specific studies that
we hope will be the beginning of a much larger study of the issue across both
the public and private sectors, in terms of how people are financing
We know from our information that we have middle class people now starting to
mortgage or sell their homes because they do not have the free collateral to be
eligible for the bank financial programs. We know that people are using their
own or their family's credit cards to finance post-secondary education.
We know that there are real concerns in areas of this country where there is
regional disparity, where the cost of a post-secondary education is more than
the value of a family home. People in those communities are shocked about that
and they worry about the future. We know that there are now families in the
country who -- again, we have not heard this for a number of years -- must
choose which family member will be able to have a post-secondary education. We
are seeing this in what was traditionally the middle class. It is starting to
be a major concern for our membership, for the boards of governors of our
institutions as they look at the strategic visions, as they look at how their
own institutions can adapt and modify and indeed alleviate some of the cost
pressures within their institutions.
As for recommendations in this area, in our analysis there is a real lack of
information specifically on this. We are recommending that there be a
significant pan-Canadian analysis on how individuals and families finance
post-secondary education, on the individual and family debt loads related to
such, and equally on the financial barriers that prevent individuals from
participating at all. Those are the people that we do not even see at our
institutions or at some of the other institutions.
Certainly, we anticipate having some documentation or some draft reports within
the next couple of months. We would be pleased to share those with your
committee if you are still at the deliberation stage.
On the area of Canada student loans, we would echo some of the comments Mr.
Kitchin has made relative to the issue of our institutions' designation. It is
very much a concern across the country that future students may be precluded
from obtaining student loans in this country because former students have
defaulted. We believe that there are a significant number of social and economic
variables that come into play. We believe that in the case of the public
institutions, the provinces and territories have gone through a very conscious
process to determine that those programs are important for the economic and
social needs of their provinces or territories or this country. We do not
believe that a financial mechanism relative to default should be used as a
second order of decision making about whether those programs are indeed valid
in the country. We therefore recommend that no programs be eliminated from the
student loans programs. Of course, in these discussions, we continue to work
with our partners at Human Resources Development Canada to determine how we can
alleviate some of the causes of student debt and default on the loans programs.
The other area I wish to address is the labour market area, and both secondary
and post-secondary programs. As I am sure you are aware, over the last four
years, there have been significant changes in the way labour market programs
have been funded and operated at the federal, provincial and territorial
levels. The Unemployment Insurance Act has been replaced by the Employment
Insurance Act, and the labour market agreements are devolving much of the
responsibility for delivery to the provinces and territories. I believe that
they are all signed, with the exception of Ontario, at this point in time.
The changes have been dramatic in terms of access to education for significant
groups. I am speaking about equity groups and about those people who, under the
former programs and the Consolidated Revenue Fund, were eligible for programs
and who are ineligible for the programs now. The transition phase itself is
posing significant barriers just because of the complexity of that transition.
We believe that some of those barriers will disappear over the next two to three
years, but in the interim, there is a very critical mass of people who need
access to training and who are not able to get it due to simple transition
issues. At this time, we believe that it is important to look at this.
Even without a transition, some will still be precluded from training. Those are
the people who may have dropped out of the regular school system or who would
be entering our system or other systems in order to get the prerequisites to
move on to post-secondary education or directly into post-secondary education.
We are recommending that the Consolidated Revenue Fund approach to funding be
re-established for those particular groups of people. We acknowledge, of course,
that within the EI legislation there are some specially designated groups that
continue to be eligible.
We are also extremely concerned about the cuts to the Canadian Health and Social
Transfer and the former what I call EPF programs. About $1 billion has been cut
from post-secondary transfers. Another $1 billion or so has been cut from some
of the employment programs in most of the provinces because of the country's
Through our organization, our president, governors across the country and our
students are recommending that those cuts be reversed. Even though we
acknowledge that a 3 per cent increase has just come into effect within the
Canadian Health and Social Transfer, we believe that the barriers to people,
those who simply cannot get in because there are not spaces available in the
post-secondary system, are a significant social and economic concern for our
The other issue is an area of inequity that we believe has emerged. We know from
talking to our colleagues within the federal government, within some of the
provinces, that they share our concern about the different formulas for
determining whether people are eligible for program funding under the
Employment Insurance programs.
Major variances are starting to appear, even for those people who are able to
get in. There are differences in how the skills, loans and growths programs are
being applied across the country. There are some real concerns about taking
what would be grants under the former UI system and turning them into loans,
and therefore into future debt. This is sometimes exacerbated by the fact that
those people may also have children who are moving into the post-secondary
The other component is that it is very difficult for some people to make
decisions. These people often face challenges in their lives. Certainly, while
we want to support these individuals in their training process, the fact that
they must go on a waiting list along with everyone else is a barrier. We would
recommend the re-establishment of what we call the purchase of a seat or bloc of
seats, so that unemployed people can go back into training within the
eligibility time frame.
The Chairman: I think I am going to have to stop you there, Ms Boyles.
Colleagues, you have the brief that Ms Boyles has presented to us. The
recommendations are on the last page. There is also a brief on the impact of
technology, but I have absolutely no doubt that you will have an opportunity
during the discussion period to ask about it.
I am going to move on now to Mr. Townsend, who is a federal public servant of
more than 25 years' experience. He is presently the Director General for the
Department of Human Resources Development. He is here in his capacity as
co-chair of the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee on Student Financial
Mr. Townsend, I have no doubt that as you begin you will tell us what is the
Intergovernment Coordinating Committee on Student Financial Assistance.
Mr. Thomas G. F. Townsend, Co-Chair, Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee on
Student Financial Assistance: Access to post-secondary education is an
important objective for both orders of government. Provincial governments are
responsible for education, funding levels and performance of their
post-secondary institutions. The federal government is responsible for
promoting national economic and social priorities, with a view to ensuring
access to advanced learning opportunities for individuals everywhere in Canada
and to supporting and promoting mobility between provinces and outside Canada.
The Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee is a group that is formed between
the federal government and the provinces, recognizing that both the federal
government and the provinces operate student financial assistance programs,
including loans to students, bursaries and grants to students. The committee
concerns itself with two broad orders of activity: policy around student
financial assistance and, in particular, the effect of policy on access.
I have provided you with two documents, which are reports that groups use in a
committee structure like the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee. Both of
these decks are on the issue of access. I hope they will be useful to you.
The operational aspects of student financial assistance in Canada are also
important. As both levels of government are involved in these programs, it is
important that the programs complement each other and, in fact, that efforts at
the federal level do not create difficulties with programs that are operating
at the provincial level, and vice-versa.
Our preoccupation is financial, but in the broad area of access, we are becoming
increasingly concerned about non-financial issues, as well.
In Canada, we have to be concerned about the foundations for post-secondary
education. In spite of very good efforts and high performance among our OECD
member countries, 15 per cent of our population never complete high school.
Approximately 30 per cent of the population drop out. However, approximately
half of those individuals go back and complete high school. In a country like
ours, 15 per cent is a considerable number.
Youth from disadvantaged groups traditionally have high non-completion rates. In
the most recent international adult literacy survey, the indication is that
about 20 per cent of our high school graduates do not have the kinds of skills
that we would normally associate with entry-level jobs in the labour market or
the continuation to post-secondary education. These are important concerns to
Additionally, we are concerned with issues around the value in which
post-secondary education is held by our citizens. It is a terribly important
thing for us as a country to have very broad participation, but the importance
of post-secondary education is not understood well by all of our citizens, nor
is the pursuit of continuous life-long learning held as a standard by all of our
As I had previously mentioned, both the federal government and provincial
governments have instituted programs to overcome financial barriers with
respect to access to post-secondary education. In fact, in Canada, there are
some 500,000 individuals per annum, or roughly one-third of those individuals
attending post-secondary education, who are in receipt of some kind of
government-sponsored assistance. The assistance is, of course, intended to
ensure that individuals complete their studies, for completion yields the
benefits of post-secondary education.
The probability is very high that student aid can help promote both the access
to and the completion of post-secondary education is very high, according to a
recent evaluation conducted on the Canada Student Loans Program. The vast
majority of individuals -- well in excess of 75 per cent -- indicated that had
they not received the government-sponsored financial assistance, they would not
have been able to even consider attending a post-secondary institution.
Therefore, the association of these programs with our very high participation
rates of post-secondary education is important.
In conclusion, there are three broad factors that my provincial colleagues and
myself consider in terms of post-secondary education. We want to ensure that
there are investments in human capital, starting in the very earliest years;
that barriers are removed; and that incentives are provided, in order to create
the broadest possible access to post-secondary education.
We want to ensure that we are building societal awareness of the need to adjust
and adapt in the knowledge-based economy. We also want to ensure that the need
to learn throughout the entire course of our lives is a value that is held by
We want to provide measures to promote inclusion, especially help for those who
face serious barriers and who lack the skills that would facilitate their entry
into higher education.
Senator LeBreton: I have a question for Mr. Kitchin, or perhaps any one of our
panellists. It encompasses the entire question of education. Do you feel that
too much emphasis, and therefore pressure, is put on young Canadians to go to
university, even though they may not be suited for it? It may be that their
parents, many of whom did not have the opportunity to go on to post-secondary
education, feel that this is what is required for standing in the community or
for quality of life.
Also, are there occupations that are experiencing shortages because of this
attitude in society that university education is the "be all and end all"?
Mr. Kitchin: In response to your first question, I would almost turn it around.
Rather than placing too much emphasis on university, perhaps there is not
enough knowledge or information about alternatives and other kinds of programs
that are available through either the community college system or private
vocational schools. I would say that probably goes right back into guidance
counselling in the high schools. Many of the counsellors who come through the
system came through university and that is what they are most comfortable with
and know best.
I certainly know that our members, and I am sure Terry Anne's members, are out
trying to communicate with the high schools to make people aware of all the
existing alternatives. It is my belief that more work is required in that area.
Individuals must assess their own capabilities and interests and decide whether
a university, community college or a private vocational school is most
To address the second part of your question, we see a great deal of conflicting
information regarding, for example, information technology. The information we
receive leads us to believe that there are skills gaps, that there are many
jobs for which people do not qualify. Yet, in a meeting I attended with some
people from HRDC this week, they say that their studies do not validate that
there is in fact a skills gap at this point. I cannot really comment too much
further on that. Perhaps Ms Boyles or Mr. Townsend could shed some light on
Ms Boyles: As Mr. Kitchin mentioned, there are dramatic numbers of people with
university degrees coming into our system, as well. Twenty-five per cent of our
student body now have a degree. Those students are coming in order to add that
practical, applied, job-ready component to the perhaps more general university
education they received. That is expensive for a country. Certainly, we are
looking at ways we can provide the bridges and ladders to help allow the
students to achieve a combination of both, if that is what they wish in their
career and life patterns.
As for the area of the skills gap, we work very closely with the industry sector
councils; we participate in the sector studies that are done through Human
Resources Development Canada. In some areas, such as the environment and the
service industry, there is a lot of evidence about the major skills gaps and
trying to get more programs opened up in this area. We, like others in the
country, are working with the expert panel on skills as they look at the
critical skills needed in biotechnology and other areas of the country. We have
more evidence, and as Paul said, there is also some degree of conflicting
The other point is that if you look at the engineering sciences and applied
sciences, there are typically four to five technicians and technologists for
each engineer. Therefore, within engineering, we believe that there is much
more employment potential for people who have knowledge of applications rather
than the knowledge to make decisions. Of course, we have 90 to 95 per cent
employment of graduates in those programs. If there is a skills gap, then there
is a need to open up more program spaces in the post-secondary sector to fill
Mr. Townsend: Perhaps I could give a personal example. In my case, my parents
encouraged me to go to university. I think that at that time university
education was probably seen as a broad key to society and to the world of work.
What is important today is that there is learning at a post-secondary level,
which embraces university education, college, private career colleges -- in
effect, education. More importantly, there is the concept that learning is
something that takes place over the entire course of our lives.
Canadians are wonderful institutional learners. We do profoundly well in the
OECD in terms of the learning that goes on up to about our mid-twenties. We are
less effective as learners after that point. I think this is probably the
single biggest change that we are going to need to effect in our country in
order to ensure our long-term productivity and economic performance, as well as
issues that you are concerned with in terms of civil society and social
Senator LeBreton: One often hears that there are shortages of workers in the
trades because the trades are thought to be not as attractive to some people.
This is the case even though, in terms of monetary value, some of the
tradespeople are probably paid more than some university graduates. I wonder
whether our community colleges and post-secondary education centres are
enrolling people who probably would be quite comfortable working in the trades.
There is nothing wrong with pursuing a career in the trades, particularly if
there is a shortage of qualified tradespeople, as there is right now.
Ms Boyles: An Angus Reid study was conducted in the fall. Angus Reid released
some of the statistics two days ago at the Ontario College Community
Conference. These statistics indicated a significant change in the general
population's attitude towards a non-university education, towards college,
trades and technical-based education. The initial indicators are very strong.
that people believe that college graduates have good job opportunities and
salary expectations, and that they would encourage family members to attend
Maclean's magazine published the "Why College Grads Get Jobs" issue,
and Karen Johnson is continuing to follow this topic nationally. We will be
doing a follow-up series on that changing attitude as a whole across the
Senator Butts: Thank you very much, guests, for coming to help us out. I would
like to ask Mr. Kitchin a couple of questions.
I understand there are 1,200 private colleges or career colleges, if you wish,
in your organization. Is that correct?
Mr. Kitchin: There are 1,200 that are registered across the country. Of our
actual membership, close to 500 of the larger ones belong to the Association of
Senator Butts: They represent what proportion across the country? Would you
venture a guess?
Mr. Kitchin: It would be 500 out of 1,200. These are registered with the
Senator Butts: Therefore, there are many that are not registered.
Mr. Kitchin: There are private training organizations that are providing
certificate training that are not licensed or registered at all with provincial
Senator Butts: It is just a wide-open game.
Mr. Kitchin: There is no regulation. I do not know that that necessarily is a
judgment. Some excellent training is being done in that sector.
The requirement in the provinces is that if a private institution is offering a
program that is vocational in nature, in that it provides all the skills that
one needs to enter a career, then it must register under provincial
Senator Butts: Is that in every province?
Mr. Kitchin: Yes.
Senator Butts: I am just thinking personally of the training of PCWs, personal
care workers. I had something to do with those courses at one time. Some of
those courses are eight weeks in duration, some of them are six months, some of
them are carried on over the course of one year. There are no qualifications
for the teachers in career colleges and no qualifications for the people who get
Ms Boyles: On the personal care worker, Human Resources Development Canada and
Health Canada are about to embark on a national sector study in the home-care
field. The Canadian Association of Community Care and ourselves have been
working towards this for quite some time. In the actual first meeting,
specifically, those issues in the range of training, from one month to
post-graduate, will be examined. That is a major priority. They will start
meeting this weekend.
Senator Butts: Good. We are going to get something going in that field. I have
spoken at dozens of those graduations. I am amazed when I look at the curricula
for those places. It is because there is such a demand for these people in this
day and age.
Mr. Kitchin: In Ontario, the Ministry of Health worked with both the community
college sector and private sector to develop training for a personal services
worker, which is a combination of a home support worker and health care aide.
In our sector, there is a common curriculum, common hours of delivery, and, in
fact, there is a common provincial examination that is now being written and is
administered out of our office.
I think you are right, there are areas like home care that do need some
improvement. The one caution I would always give when you are looking at length
of program and seeing whether it is five, six or eight months, is that you need
to take a look at the actual hours of contact. That is just a caution I always
Senator Butts: I am glad somebody is working at fixing it up.
Ms Boyles, do you feel that some of your members are threatened by universities?
Some universities have swallowed up community colleges and have combined the
academic degree-granting courses with more practical courses. Is that a threat
to your group?
Ms Boyles: I do not think so. Certainly, our general premise is that you need
both types of institutions. Across the country, some of our member institutions
actually are university colleges. For example, the University College of Cape
Breton and University College of the Cariboo have combined. They have
maintained that community, social and economic development mandate along with
their academic mandate. I do not think that it is seen as a threat. Rather, they
look at how they can be complementary, to offer the bridges and ladders to the
Senator Butts: That is one of your threats maybe, the ability to transform these
courses, to change them, to allow some of them to be grandfathered out and to
allow new ones to come in with plumbing courses and things like that. I guess
it is another problem of lag time.
It is also a problem for the faculty, some are which are laid off because their
course is not applicable anymore, not used anymore, or when more and new
courses come in. It is a real labour problem. Would you respond to that,
Ms Boyles: Certainly, labour adjustment issues in the post-secondary sector are
similar to those within any other industrial sector in the country. We have
actually done a study funded through Human Resources Development Canada of
employment in our sector and how you go through adjustment and professional
development programs for staff when a program is no longer in demand within the
economic or social fabric, when staff need training or when they go through
adjustment assistance programs to work in other fields.
Senator Cohen: Thank you for your presentation. I have two comments and two
short questions. Number one, I wanted to point out to the committee that the
new Deputy Minister in Human Resources is a New Brunswicker, Clara Morris. She
will bring the flavour and thinking of Eastern Canada to the department, and I
think that she will be a breath of fresh air.
Senator LeBreton: That is a little commercial there.
Senator Cohen: As far as community colleges, I wanted to make a comment. I am
from Saint John.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: You are the one bringing the fresh air to the Senate.
Senator Cohen: Yes. There is a great demand for graduates from community
colleges in our city. In fact, they have job assurance almost from the time
they enter the front door, and there is a long, long waiting list to get into
community colleges. I see a whole different trend.
My concern right now is about students withdrawing because they use up all their
funds at the beginning. They are given a lump-sum grant from the government. I
sat on the Senate committee when we were studying the Employment Insurance Act.
I know that the people around the table were very concerned about the change
from the direct purchase of programs and in the number of seats to this new
concept. Because of these findings, which take a few years to appear, would the
government perchance go back to review the changes that were made from the
beginning? Could I hear comments as to the comparison of then and now in that
Mr. Townsend: The question relates to the purchase of training seats in the
institution versus the provision of funds to the individual learner.
Senator Cohen: It relates to the bloc of seats, right?
Mr. Townsend: The policy of the department has been to increasingly equip the
learner and allow the learner to select the course material that the individual
feels is best able to suit their needs. There is thus a change away from the
supply driven, meaning the purchasing of the seats, to the financing of
individual learners, which is consistent with that overall policy.
Senator Cohen: We have heard from two presentations that the provision of funds
to the individual learner is obviously not as successful as probably what was
envisioned at the beginning. Is there maybe a chance that you could revisit
that whole area? Could I hear comments from the presenters as to the comparison
with which they have personal experience?
Mr. Townsend: On the one case that Mr. Kitchin had mentioned in terms of the
provision of student financial assistance in a single payment, or in many cases
this assistance is in two payments, one at the beginning of studies and one
halfway through the period of studies, there are provinces who have worked with
us who are providing payments on a more regular basis. Saskatchewan, for
instance, has a monthly disbursement. Quebec has had regular disbursements to
students for a long time. This seems to address part of the concern that you
are raising. There are refinements within the way in which we provide
assistance to learners that can address, at least in part, some of that concern.
Senator Cohen: Ms Boyles or Mr. Kitchin, would you like to respond?
Ms Boyles: Yes. I have two points. The Canadian Labour Force Development Board
has recently undertaken a major study of the provinces and the various
providers in the country. The draft report is going to their board meeting next
week. We have a member on that board. We have seen the data. It contains a
wealth of information on all of these issues. We actually have recommended that
they share that report with the community once it is released because it does
have valuable information.
The other point is there is a joint review that is co-chaired between the
province and the department to look at some of the inequities.
We believe some of that is in a transitional phase. For some types of clients,
it is a transitional phase but for others, the points that you raised will be a
long-term problem, or so we, our colleagues in the social agencies across the
country, and the labour groups believe. The real issue of going back to seat
purchase as an option for the provinces is a very important one.
Mr. Kitchin: Philosophically, from our side, we have no objection to empowering
the clients so that they can choose the institution that is most appropriate
for them. I do not see why there could not be an option, as Ms Boyles has just
said, where there could be some bloc purchase and some direct purchase on
behalf of or by the client. The danger again is putting a fair amount of money
in the hands of someone who perhaps does not have the financial management
skills or the budgeting skills to deal with the money. We might not be doing
them a favour. We would support a mechanism of more regular disbursements.
Senator Cohen: Are you building any partnerships with other organization groups
in our society to combat the social exclusion of some, and what should be the
role of government?
Ms Boyles: The colleges were created to be logical extensions of the communities
they serve. For many of the community colleges, technical institutions and Cégeps
in the country, the partnerships and the collaboration with the other groups in
the community are part of their essence. They work very closely on that. They
work very closely with groups such as the immigrant family-serving agencies or
the open-door societies, the programs for the non-status Indian, Métis,
women-on-welfare type groups, to try to alleviate those barriers and to give
workshops and training around things like that. That is core to what we are
about. Certainly, at the national level, partnering and collaborating with
those types of organizations is a very critical part of our role.
Senator Cohen: Do corporations get involved at all with partnerships in
community colleges or private schools? Are they starting to become involved?
Ms Boyles: In our case, absolutely. All of the programs in our institutions have
business, industry and social agency advisory committees tied to them. The very
close ties with those communities underpin the philosophy of the colleges.
Mr. Kitchin: There would be limited work between our sector and industry. There
would be some cooperation. Certainly, on an ad hoc basis within communities,
the institutions would try to work with community resources.
Ms Boyles mentioned earlier the Canadian Alliance of Educational and Training
Organizations, of which we are both founders. It is an attempt to bring
national education and training organizations together. The whole purpose of
this is to facilitate the coming together of two or more groups that have an
interest in a particular project and to work on that. Around that table I think
there are nine other groups, including the universities, the school boards, the
Movement for Canadian Literacy and other groups. I think the timing and the
atmosphere are conducive to looking for ways to work together.
I believe we mentioned earlier the need for more bridging and articulation
agreements between the sectors so that the client, the student, the learner,
has the ability to have whatever credits they have achieved or whatever
credentials, whether they are Canadian or foreign, and any prior learning
recognized so that they do not have to repeat when they move from sector to
sector or institution to institution.
Mr. Townsend: Can I just augment with an example? Human Resources Development
has supported a number of sector councils. A sector council might be the
business and labour interests in a sector such as steel. These sector councils
have collaborated with some of the institutions represented by Ms Boyles in
terms of ensuring that their employees are getting credit for the training that
they have received in that industry as credit towards a diploma. Of course,
this reduces the amount of time that an individual will take in order to
complete a diploma. This is important to them because they are working. It is
also a tremendous incentive for people to continue their learning experience.
Ms Boyles' organization, our organization and a number of others are now working
on ways to ensure that the transfer of credits that are obtained either through
prior learning assessment or institutions are fully transferable between
colleges in Canada. That is the goal of the particular project we are working
The Chairman: I think that is important, along with co-op education. Do you have
a study or report somewhere in government or in either of your organizations
about the extent to which corporations in this country provide student
assistance, either directly by way of scholarships, bursaries, whatever, or
even indirectly, through post-secondary institutions? Do you know of any report
or study that examines that?
Mr. Townsend: I could give you some persuasive, if not definitive, information
in that regard through a study that was conducted in conjunction with EKOS,
where we were looking at employers and their incentives to train their
employees. It will not be hard statistical information. It will give you insight
at least into the employers who were polled in that survey. It was done in
conjunction with looking at issues around supporting the training, not only
institutional training, but also what we refer to as technology-mediated
training: the use of computers, distance learning and things like that.
Therefore, you would get some insight into these aspects of training as well.
Ms Boyles: That is one of the pieces of information that we have been looking
for and have not been able to find in our student debt task group review.
Information has been prepared by the department, I believe, as part of the
background for the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Fund's first board meeting.
That is more specifically around the scholarship areas to supplement the
information on the loan programs and grants programs and the government's
support of post-secondary information. There are some pieces of information
there. However, on the broader contributions of Canadian corporations, we have
not been able to find anything.
The Chairman: On private philanthropy generally, in terms of assistance to
students and education, I just have not seen anything prepared in an organized
way and I would be quite interested to know what the role is.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of
meeting someone associated with the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee on
Student Financial Assistance. I was a member of the Senate subcommittee that
conducted a study on post-secondary education in Canada. We toured the
provinces, although we did not make it to every single city, and one issue that
stood out as an almost insurmountable obstacle for students wishing to pursue a
post-secondary education was financial assistance. I would like to know how
difficult a problem this truly is for students.
As for my second question, I would like to know what progress has been made on
the literacy front? This has been a popular topic of discussion in recent years
and continues to be today. The problem persists and if it cannot be brought
under control, to what extent will we be able to achieve social cohesion among
persons who cannot read and society in general?
Mr. Townsend: I will start by answering your second question. There are very few
illiterate people in Canada, and by that I mean people who cannot read or write
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Very few?
Mr. Townsend: That is correct.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: That is not the impression we get from the statistics we
Mr. Townsend: For instance, we have a higher rate of people who have problems
reading and writing. Approximately 25 per cent of the Canadian population is
functionally illiterate. Approximately 46 per cent of the population cannot
read or write at a level that allows them to compete in a knowledge-based
Senator Lavoie-Roux: These are staggering percentages!
Mr. Townsend: The challenge is enormous. When we talk about illiteracy, we often
think that the term applies only to people who cannot read or write. A person
believes that because he can read, then he cannot be labelled illiterate.
However, in our knowledge-based economy, people need to constantly upgrade
their reading and writing skills. That is the challenge we face here in Canada.
If we do not work at this on a daily basis, our skills will deteriorate. Even a
university graduate who fails to put his skills to use will not be able to
function at a level deemed necessary to compete in the global economy. Literacy
had shifted the focus of the challenge we as Canadians face. Everyone must be
encouraged to constantly upgrade his or her skills.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Is the government doing enough to encourage people who
cannot read or write to become literate and to keep up their skills, and to
help those who are literate maintain and upgrade the skills they already have?
Mr. Townsend: No, I believe more should be done to expand people's knowledge and
abilities. People need to upgrade their skills. Coordination of federal and
provincial government programs needs to be improved. At one level, we are
capable of performing, while at another, we still need to work on some major
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Earlier, I referred to a Senate study on post-secondary
education and one of the biggest challenges we identified for students was the
issue of financial assistance and indebtedness. The government has established
millennium scholarships but in order to be eligible to receive one, students
must have completed a certain number of years of study. Do you see a problem
for students wishing to pursue post-secondary studies and what should the
government be doing about it?
Mr. Townsend: Student financial assistance is an important consideration in
terms of access to post-secondary education. Statistics Canada figures show
that middle- and low-income groups have access to this assistance.
Participation by members of these groups has increased. The question is whether
the increasing level of indebtedness is a deterrent to some people who do not
want any student-related debt. We do not have the answers to these questions,
but we are looking into it. So far, we have not observed that access to
post-secondary education has been adversely affected as a result of a lack of
Indebtedness is also a very serious problem. We must always bear in mind a
person's ability to repay his debts once he enters the labour market. Federal
and provincial governments now grant loans of up to $10,000 a year and in some
provinces, the ceiling is even higher. We have come to the point where other
forms of financial assistance must be considered. Increasing loan ceilings is
not necessarily the best way for these governments to go.
When considering student indebtedness, one factor that must be borne in mind is
the salaries that students stand to earn after they have completed their
post-secondary studies. In Canada, a university or college degree usually
carries with it the promise of a decent salary and the vast majority of
students are capable of repaying their student loans. That is what we have
It is not the feeling we got when we travelled through the country. Students
became highly in debt, except in Quebec where there is already a scholarship
program. I think it is genuinely difficult for people to consider. Perhaps they
will enter a post-secondary institution but when they see that they will end up
with $65,000 debt after their graduation, I do not know how many people even at
an older age are willing to consider such indebtedness. Do you feel the
government is doing enough? How could the government do a little more?
The Chairman: That is maybe not a fair question for a senior public servant.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: It could be any government.
Mr. Townsend: When we look at the results of individuals in the marketplace
repaying their debts, the seriousness of default is there but it actually
declined slightly the last time we measured it. However, one individual may
view $15,000 of indebtedness as a very serious problem; another may regard it
as less of a problem. From a policy perspective, we have been looking at the
capacity of individuals to apply a certain portion of their income to repay the
debt. At the current debt levels, these appear to be manageable by individuals
Senator Poy: Ms Boyles, you mentioned that families are mortgaging their homes
and/or using their charge cards to pay for post-secondary education. Is that a
Ms Boyles: We believe that it has been a phenomenon for a number of years.
However, we think that it has been greatly exacerbated in recent years. That is
why student debt, student financial assistance, is one of the top priorities of
our association. Our members across the country in all communities are
extremely concerned about it. We believe that there is a real lack of
information about some of this.
Whether it is done publicly or not, those people who are combining student
loans, government loans, with other methods of financing, face major debt when
they come out of school. We believe that it is a very significant concern and
that is why we are researching it. We will be recommending that it be the
subject of much greater analytical research and a large national study.
Senator Poy: How do these loans given to community college students compare to
those given to university students?
Ms Boyles: The framework for the loans program is the same. The number of years
that a student is in a program within the college system is, for the most part,
less. It is two or three years, unless they already have a four-year degree, at
which point they are doing six or seven years and accumulating much greater
levels of debt.
Senator Poy: How do the numbers of students compare? Do more university students
need loans than community college students? Do you have any data on that?
Ms Boyles: I believe that 40 per cent of loans are for college students, 10 per
cent are for the private system and the balance are for university students.
There are just greater numbers of students in the university system because of
the greater number of years that they are in school.
Senator Cools: I would like to thank the witnesses. I think it was Mr. Townsend
who in his remarks stated that 20 per cent of high school graduates have no
job-entry skills. Did I hear that correctly?
Mr. Townsend: Yes. These are the results from the international adult literacy
survey. There is a five point scale of those students tested. The first and
second skill levels are regarded as not serving the individual well or allowing
them to get an entry-level job.
Senator Cools: Do you have a similar number on the percentage of university
Mr. Townsend: As part of that survey, one could see that it would not be
possible for someone to graduate from a university with those skill levels.
Senator Cools: When you said that, it immediately captured my attention because
I was wondering what you meant by "job readiness." Does "job
readiness" mean, for example, that a person can spell or that they know
how to answer a telephone in an office in a professional way? Does it mean, for
example, that they do not know that if they take a telephone message, they
should record it on a message pad rather than on a scrap of paper and tear it
off so it ends up looking like a dog's ear? I was wondering what you define as
Mr. Townsend: I will use the example of the construction industry. An individual
who does not have the reading skills to adequately read a warning on a solvent
bottle would not be job ready.
Senator Cools: You are speaking at a very basic level.
Mr. Townsend: Yes. I am referring to someone who is unable to participate, for
instance, in the International Standards Organization 9000 Series on quality
Senator Cools: Your conclusion is that basically one must be literate.
Mr. Townsend: In these skills, yes. In fact, they were tested in the reading,
writing and calculating areas.
Senator Cools: It is shocking, is it not? I tell you why I ask. A few days ago,
I was doing an interview, with CBC, I think. When the interview was over, the
interviewer concluded, "It is lovely to interview you because you speak in
complete sentences." Of course, I was very startled and did not quite know
how to respond. I had never given this any thought. Ever since then, I have been
trying to listen to the way people speak. Do people speak in sentences any more
with a subject, object and verb and so forth?
I find myself increasingly curious about this whole phenomenon that you are
describing as job readiness. Basically, it is the ability to enter into
society, or it is the ability to act and to live socially in a community with
other people. You can call it whatever you want.
The Chairman: That is quite a long sentence, senator.
Senator Cools: Absolutely.
Mr. Townsend: Job readiness is critical to citizenship.
Senator Cools: It is indeed. Thank you.
The Chairman: Mr. Townsend, with regard to the federal Millennium Scholarship
Fund, does your intergovernmental committee have any role in that program or is
it exclusively the responsibility of the foundation headed by Mr. Montey?
Mr. Townsend: The foundation has been in close communication with the committee.
In fact, Norm Riddell, who is now the executive director of the foundation
reporting to Mr. Montey, will come and meet with us at our next meeting. The
expectation is that the foundation will use the processes that are already in
place in the provinces for the assessment of student financial assistance as a
way of working through the scholarship process and, as a result of that, a
close collaboration with the provincial systems.
The Chairman: What is your intergovernmental committee going to do? What will
your role be?
Mr. Townsend: In this particular case, it offers the foundation access to all of
the provincial student financial aid people in a single forum, as well as to
ourselves at the federal level. It is easy to communicate, to generate, to
develop ideas, to test models that the foundation may wish to use to determine
how a scholarship is awarded. You have a room full of individuals who have a
great deal of experience in this area.
The Chairman: I do not want to involve you in a policy question that you do not
want to get involved in, but you recall that the Quebec National Assembly told
the federal government to let Quebec's system set the criteria and pick the
winners. Quebec will then send the names to the federal government, that will
in turn send cheques with the Maple Leaf flag on them. Is that still an option
administratively, as far as you know?
Mr. Townsend: That discussion would need to be held between the foundation and
the Province of Quebec.
The Chairman: That is a good answer, Mr. Townsend.
Thank you very much, witnesses, for a very interesting afternoon.
The committee adjourned.