Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue 1 - Evidence - March 25, 2010


OTTAWA, Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met this day at 10:32 a.m., to study the issue of the accessibility of post-secondary education in Canada.

Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.

[Translation]

The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.

[English]

We are picking up again in this new year our study on the accessibility of post-secondary education in Canada.

Today's focus will be on students in rural and remote communities. Those of us from big cities think of a university as being down the street, around the corner or a few blocks away, but 20 per cent of Canadians live more than 80 kilometres away from a university, to give one statistic as an example.

To help us on this issue are three people who have spent some time and effort on this topic. Dr. Dale Kirby is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in post-secondary education studies. Recently, he did an article on the factors influencing students from rural areas in their decision whether or not to pursue post-secondary studies.

Patricia Lang comes to us from Thunder Bay, where she is the president of Confederation College. She is also here on behalf of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges. Ms. Lang has been the president of that college since 2000. It has about 11,800 students, including a significant Aboriginal student population. It covers an enormous territory — 550,000 square kilometres — which, as she tells me, is bigger than France or Texas. In that 550,000 kilometres there are regional branches in a number of communities throughout the northwest part of our province.

Dr. Richard Mueller is no stranger to us here. He has been here before on this same subject. He has many statistics to tell us about. He is a visiting fellow at Statistics Canada, but he is also an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge.

Having said all of that, let us get to our witnesses. Dr. Kirby, if you want to start, about seven minutes would be good.

Dale Kirby, Assistant Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Faculty of Education: Thank you for having me here today. I am from a little rural community called Lord's Cove on the Burin Peninsula of Newfoundland. I ended up in university one way or another.

It pleases me greatly that you have picked up this important issue to look at, the issue of access to post-secondary education in Canada. It is most important and timely.

In terms of overall access, Canada has done quite well by international standards. According to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, almost half our working-age population, age 25 to 64, has completed a college or university education. Amongst the population 25 to 34, the picture is even brighter. No fewer than 56 per cent of individuals in that age group have completed a college or university program.

Canada does lag behind a number of OECD nations in terms of university degree attainment. However, the country also has a comparatively more robust system of community college vocational education and training, which produces far more graduates than our competitor nations, such as the United States or the United Kingdom.

Recent research, including some of my own, indicates that upwards of 75 per cent of Canadian youth now participate in university, college or a skilled trades program within the first two to four years of leaving high school.

While the system is more accessible today than it was just a generation ago, to grow our post-secondary enrolments further we must have public policy that is specifically designed to address the impediments to participation that have existed for Canadians who have traditionally been excluded. While I agree with the argument that greater equity in participation is essential for social justice, there are also important economic reasons for seeking more equitable access. We need only consider labour market projections, which indicate that the number of jobs requiring a post-secondary education is increasing on an annual basis. Our projections indicate that more than two thirds of all new jobs to be created over the next 10 to 15 years will require some form of post-secondary education.

Because of the combined impact of our aging population, changing workforce requirements and the emerging knowledge economy, there is a possibility that we could have labour shortages in some areas down the road. Faced with the demographic reality of a generation of workers heading towards their retirement and the high school population in decline — and that is more acute in some areas of the country than others — we must collectively and individually invest in increasing attainment levels of those groups that have been disadvantaged and under-represented.

Since you were kind enough to invite me here today to discuss the access for rural and isolated Canadians, let me now turn to that subject quickly.

While they do not significantly differ in their performance on a standardized test, Canadian students who do not live within commuting distance of a college or university are far less likely to participate in post-secondary education compared to students who do. One reason for this is that rural students must cover additional living expenses associated with living away from home. For example, students who move away from home to complete a four-year degree often pay at least $20,000 more than those who continue to live with their parents while studying.

In one of my own studies of rural and urban university students in Newfoundland and Labrador, I observed that there was a far greater dependence on student loans amongst rural students. I also found that fewer rural students were planning to enrol in second-entry graduate or professional degree programs following their undergraduate studies in comparison to the urban students. I expect this was associated with factors such as cost and accumulated debt.

Research has shown that while the majority of rural parents expect that their children will attend post-secondary education, their expectations are different from that of urban parents. One of the key differences is that rural parents are more likely to expect that their children will attend a community college. Distance and cost is also likely a factor here, since rural students are more likely to be proximate to a community college campus than a university.

Aside from distance and cost factors, there are other factors that reduce the probability that rural students will attend post-secondary education. Research has suggested that rural students often have lower educational aspirations than do urban students. This difference has often been attributed to the socio-economic conditions in rural communities, including lower family incomes and lower parental educational attainment.

One of the strongest predictors of whether a high school student will go on to post-secondary studies is if his or her parents did, too. In rural, remote, and northern communities, parents are often less likely to have completed college or university themselves because labour markets in many of these regions more frequently have a lesser demand for workers with advanced levels of education.

Rural students also often have less exposure to the attitudes and knowledge that make them comfortable with post-secondary education. This is in part because there are relatively smaller numbers of what I would call higher-status role models in rural areas as compared to urban communities.

We need to be creative in planning any new strategies or policy interventions to increase rural students' participation levels. While the increasing costs of post-secondary education are a barrier for some individuals, the issue of access is much more complex than the cost of tuition fees alone. Many other barriers deter participation, including insufficient academic preparation, poverty, inadequate housing, racism and discrimination, substance abuse, cultural or social apathy, language barriers, family commitments, and a lack of employer support. While we will no doubt see a continuing debate about the appropriate level of tuition fees, strategies for levelling the post-secondary participation playing field must go beyond the issue of sticker price to conceptualize access more comprehensively.

I have made more specific suggestions to the committee in my written submission. I am happy to respond to your questions.

The Chair: Senators should have in their package of material Dr. Kirby's full written submission. We will move now to Patricia Lang, who has come to us from Thunder Bay.

Patricia Lang, Member, Association of Canadian Community Colleges: Thank you for inviting me to participate today in the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. I am delighted to be here representing the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, which is also known as ACCC. ACCC is both the national and international voice for colleges, university colleges, institutes and polytechnics across Canada and for the CEGEPs in Quebec. We represent over 150 colleges across this great nation of ours. We are located in over 1,000 communities, and we have over 1.5 million students enrolled in our colleges across Canada.

The best analogy I can think of in terms of what a community college is all about takes me back to when Canada was being built. As you know, Canada was built with the railway. It was the railway that connected Canadians and communities, and it allowed for the transportation of goods. Colleges are now the new railway for the new age of Canada because we connect Canadians in their home towns in the communities where they live. Instead of transporting the raw resources, as the railway did years ago, our transportation now is about knowledge and creating new opportunities for Canadians in the communities where they live.

As Dr. Kirby stated, we have discovered in the rural areas we serve that we have geographically bound learners. If we do not get the educational opportunity to their front door, then they do not have that kind of opportunity. One of the programs we offer was created in combination with the six communities we serve across Northwestern Ontario. We have been able to offer a degree program in nursing in communities across Northwestern Ontario. People are able to live in their own communities and complete the program. That occurred because the communities came to the college and said, "This is what we need. We need you to be able to come out and deliver this kind of program." We have been able to do that with Lakehead University and offer the program in four communities across Northwestern Ontario. All of the students have graduated and are gainfully employed, earning between $50,000 and $60,000 a year, which they would not be doing otherwise. That is one small example of how colleges are go-to institutions, in the vernacular of today.

If a business or industry is in the midst of changing and needs assistance from a community college, they come to us for that assistance. There are many examples of that across Canada.

I will share one with you that involves a recent change. I am sure you are aware of the changes in the forest sector, which had a huge impact in Northwestern Ontario. As that sector was changing, mining was evolving. We needed to respond quickly to that. We were able to work with the communities across Northwestern Ontario and offer programs such as line cutting, in which a large number of Aboriginal students became involved, as well as diamond driller helper training programs. In combination with the Federated School of Mines, which is across Northern Ontario, we were able to offer a mining techniques program. The students from that one-year program can move on to complete the second year online from Northern College and then to Laurentian University. We need to create more of those seamless opportunities for Canadians so that we can take education to their front doors to provide for them the opportunities they would otherwise not have.

One magical piece of the work we do in community colleges is the huge infrastructure of advisory committees, which involve about 100,000 or more Canadians for each one of our programs. They help to ensure that the programs are current and relevant and meet the needs of business and industry.

You can well imagine that in the rural and remote communities we serve, we also serve a large Aboriginal population. In the communities we serve in Northwestern Ontario, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians living there are of Aboriginal descent. Our college has about 15 per cent of those students who are self-identified as Aboriginal learners.

I will share with you an example from a college out west. Responding to a low high-school completion rate and low post-secondary participation of Aboriginal youth, the Aboriginal Youth Mentoring Program was developed by the College of New Caledonia in partnership with the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. The program supports Aboriginal youth in achieving career and education goals and prepares them to take a leadership role in their career choice, their communities and their personal lives. The objectives of the eight-month program are to provide orientation, training, communication and teamwork skills along with mentorship roles and expectations to 40 Aboriginal youth, matching 20 Aboriginal high school youth with 20 Aboriginal post-secondary students and supporting the mentors and high school participants throughout the project.

We have examples of that all across Canada, where we are reaching out to those students to help them to realize their goals, hopes, dreams and aspirations. We know for a fact that over 10,000 Aboriginal youth have completed their secondary education but do not have an opportunity to access post-secondary education due to the financial challenges and lack of funding. I believe we need a national educational Aboriginal strategy to meet the needs of those learners.

We are working on an exciting project right now in Sioux Lookout, Ontario. The Sioux Lookout area is building a new hospital, and they wanted the labour force at the hospital to reflect the labour force in their community. A group called the Sioux Lookout Area Aboriginal Management Board worked through our funding to create a training centre. We provide the training so that the people who are building the hospital are also the Aboriginal youth from the North who had the experience but did not have the credentials for their apprenticeship in all the fields related to their work on the new building. Just think of their sense of pride and identity in contributing to their own lives and their community through the building of this new facility. We have examples of that all across Canada that we need to strengthen and reinforce to ensure that those youth and other Canadians realize their dreams.

Other examples involve delivering community education in the communities. Another example comes from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Red River College in Manitoba, where they operate mobile training labs to deliver training in rural and remote communities. They offer programs such as automotive service technician, carpentry, electrical, machining, pipe fitting, plumbing, welding and industrial mechanics. It is another case of providing an opportunity to take the learning to where the learners are so that they can realize their potential. Those kinds of examples are happening every day across Canada.

As we try to work towards meeting the needs of the Aboriginal learners, the issue is not only funding for the Aboriginal learners, but also trying to accommodate the funding challenges related to specific programs for Aboriginals. We will often notice that the process is extremely complex and multi-tiered. Trying to pull the funding together for these programs often means we are at six or seven different ministries, working in a variety of communities, trying to achieve this. If there were some way to streamline that process so that we could respond more quickly and effectively, that would be very appropriate as well.

Yes, Mr. Chair, I do love to chat. We had that conversation earlier. I will complete this and just say that we are pleased to be able to be here. We appreciate the opportunity, and we value the fact that you are interested in access to post-secondary education in Canada for rural and remote parts.

The Chair: Thank you very much. I appreciate your comments and all your good work in such a big territory.

Dr. Mueller, as I said, is no stranger to us. He will get us into a Statistics Canada chart, which I think we have on our desk. I take it we can follow as you go along.

Richard Mueller, Senior Analyst, Social Analysis Division, Statistics Canada: Thank you to the committee for inviting me today. The cover of the deck says that this is Marc Frenette, and I am not him, obviously. He could not be here today. He is a colleague of mine at Statistics Canada, and I am familiar with much of his work and many of these issues as well.

He and I, as well as a couple others, are co-editors on the new book from McGill-Queen's University Press. The last time we were here at the committee, we had the first book in the series distributed to you, and we will arrange for you to have the second book. It does have many papers related directly to what we are talking about today, including Aboriginal access to education as well as rural youth.

Today I will focus mainly on the work by my colleague, Mr. Frenette. He tends to look at the distance to universities or colleges faced by young people in Canada. As Dr. Kirby already reviewed some of this material, I will try to keep this brief.

Mr. Frenette finds that one in three youth lives beyond 40 kilometres from a university in Canada. This is basically where the constraints will be, which I will touch on in a moment. This represents a long commute, at the very least, depending on where you are living and the time necessary to commute. One in three lives beyond 40 kilometres, and one in five lives beyond 80 kilometres from the nearest university.

Colleges are much more geographically dispersed. Only about 3 per cent of young Canadians live more than 80 kilometres from a college. As a result of this, much of our work is focused on university access, because the colleges are much more egalitarian in terms of access.

When we talk about rurality, we have to talk about distance. Rurality and distance are not necessarily synonymous. It is quite possible to be in a rural area and live close to a university, or to live in an urban area and be relatively farther away from a university. Mr. Frenette's work concentrates on distance to school. Most rural students do face a long or even impossible commute to university, but many rural students live close to university and many small urban areas are far away from the nearest university. We will focus on the distance to university rather than any measure of what might be considered rurality.

He finds that 23 per cent of youth raised within 40 kilometres of a university do in fact attend university, but this rate falls as we move further away from the nearest university. Between 40 and 80 kilometres, only about 15 per cent of young Canadians attend university, and then beyond 80 kilometres only about 11 per cent attend.

He finds also that colleges are present in almost all communities. Students who live outside the reasonable bounds of attending university have a tendency to enrol in colleges instead. When we look at the overall post-secondary education rate, which includes colleges and universities, he finds little difference between urban and rural areas. The difference is largely with attendance when it comes to universities, not colleges. Colleges pick up the slack in that, I guess you could say. However, this does not mean there may not be problems.

What are the reasons for this? One is financial costs, as already mentioned. Some of the research out there is dated now, but it says $5,400 extra per year per student for rural students attending a university. Why is this? You have your direct transportation costs, which can be quite large. You also have opportunity costs, which are the time costs, basically, of travelling to and from a campus that might be far away from your residence.

In the literature, we have the psychic cost of leaving home. It might be difficult for some people to leave home. We all know young people are not always willing to leave the nest, and that is becoming increasingly so, according to some of the data out there. There could be a huge cost to leaving one's friends and family to attend something that could be very alien in a faraway urban centre, such as a university.

As was alluded to before, there could be preferences. Individuals, for example, working in a local economy might not require a university education in particular. In fact, in rural areas, many times these opportunities are limited outside of certain professions for educated people. Young people may not see the benefit of achieving this education that ultimately will not prove useful to them in the labour market.

There could be other reasons as well, including some softer influences, such as culture. There could be some cultural differences between rural and urban areas, and it is difficult to quantify and estimate the impact of those types of variables.

Does distance to school constitute a financial barrier? We have three pieces of evidence here. Usually in these types of analyses we strip away all the other influences and try to concentrate on financial factors. Once we do that, we basically do find that research rules out other characteristics of youth raised out of commuting distance. Once we control for other things, such as scholastic test scores, parental education and other factors, there is evidence that distance does matter.

Some other results are consistent with this notion that distance matters. On the financial-impact aspects of it in particular, distance to school has a larger impact on youth from low-income families. When you have those two factors working together, distance and low income, this could be a real impediment to those youth attending universities.

We also see that the expansion of universities in British Columbia a few years ago, when new universities were introduced, such as the University of Northern British Columbia, and some of the university colleges were turned into full-blown universities, led to an increase in the number of local youth who actually participated in post-secondary education, university in particular.

Other direct evidence has to deal with non-refundable grants, which basically reduce loans offered to low-income students: the Canada Access Grant for Students from Low-income Families and the Millennium Access Bursary. These had little or no impact on university access in general, but one group that did see an increase in university attendance was young men who were raised far from university. Mr. Frenette estimates that $6,000 in grants increased university attendance by 48 per cent to 70 per cent. This was only young men. Many times, the opportunities for young men with only a high school education are better than those for young women. I am from Alberta, and we have lots of young men going up to the oil patch with maybe not even a high school education, and the rate of return they receive for that high school education is quite handsome. This could tilt the balance in favour of not attending post-secondary education. It is a rational choice on the part of these individuals.

Many times, if people are raised far from university, they have to borrow to attend. Many young Canadians have to borrow to attend college or university. Again, because of the increasing costs of this distance, the loans may not be adequate to cover the increased costs of commuting or taking up a new residence in a city near a university.

We have some evidence that distance does matter. It does seem to be important, especially for young men. The best evidence we have is on low-income young men living far away from campuses.

The Chair: Thank you very much, Dr. Mueller. Thanks to all three of you for getting us going here.

I will start with a few questions, as is the usual custom. The statistic that sticks out most in my mind at this point is the 20 per cent from university more than 80 kilometres, but only 3 per cent for the colleges. Many more people are going to colleges from the rural areas. I am wondering about the courses offered in rural areas and the difference between what is offered in rural areas versus what is offered in the big city — for example, what Confederation College might offer versus what George Brown College in Toronto might offer. I want to see whether there is an orientation towards rural areas. Dr. Mueller was saying it is more a matter of distance, although there are some cultural aspects. That is what I want to get at.

The second thing I want to understand is this. I am looking for solutions here. Is there some way that the community colleges and universities can work together to provide more options, since the community colleges are closer than the universities are in many of these areas? The statistics that are given to us show that there is a big drop in university attendance the farther away you are located. Maybe the only solution is to provide more funding for the people who have to leave home.

Is there any possibility of cooperation amongst community colleges and universities in terms of the courses that are offered for these people?

Ms. Lang: In relation to your question about whether the programs and courses are different in the rural and remote parts of Canada versus in the urban areas, the answer is yes and no. It is yes in that we cannot continue to offer the same program over a long period of time. Pick a community where 6,000 people live. You can imagine that if one of the programs to be offered there on a regular basis was police foundations, it would not take long for all the jobs in policing to be gone, because we would be graduating these students, and where would they go? As a result, we rotate programs through the entire catchment area. For example, we rotate programs in developmental services worker in health and in technology so that, at the end of the day, within a five- to seven-year period, pretty well all the programs that would be at our main campus in the urban area of Thunder Bay would rotate through the region to provide opportunities for people living in those communities, so that we can never become a singular institute that would graduate just nurses or people with business degrees. That is how we address the breadth of programming from our main campus into the rural and remote parts of the area we serve.

As to whether there are opportunities for greater collaboration and cooperation between colleges and universities, I believe the answer is absolutely yes. We need to figure out a way to do it that builds on the previous learning of those students and assists them with the transferability so that they do not incur increased costs nor repeat what they have already learned. The more we can create a seamless transferability of students between college and university, the greater the points of access will be. Perhaps the universities could consider how to use technology to deliver more of the education in those communities as opposed to having it based within institutions.

Mr. Kirby: With respect to your first question around the types of programming, one of the strengths of the Canadian community college system, if there is one, or at least the individual provincial systems, is the community orientation of the institutions. They offer a lot of vocational, education-type training programs that serve the local community and the local economy. Let us take Labrador West, for example, Labrador City. The community college there has many mining-oriented programs and types of skilled trades training programs that would be useful in mining. With forestry, it is the same. That would be their strength. However, there are academic programs at community colleges as well. Business administration is a good example. I think that is a strength of community orientation.

In terms of college-university collaboration, for a number of years I worked in college-university collaboration. I will not name the province. It was like marriage. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is easy, and sometimes you break up. We are limited in terms of public policy in the ways we can provide incentives for collaboration. There is goodwill, obviously, and then there is money, which is very attractive to institutions all the time. Then there is the blunt end of legislation and regulation to force institutions into those arrangements. We are limited in the incentives we can offer.

One thing we need to get our act together is around credit transfer and recognition of work completed. What is the point of doing a vocationally oriented program, for example, that takes two years to complete at community college and then, if I go to university, I have to do much of it all over again? The student pays twice and the taxpayer pays twice. That is very inefficient. We need a national system of credit transfer recognition and recognition of prior learning, even that which is not done in the classroom.

Mr. Mueller: Let me pick up on that. There is a paper in the book here about rural students and their access to post-secondary education. In particular, in British Columbia and Alberta there is an articulated system, which means that there are many linkages between colleges and universities. As Dr. Kirby implied, it is relatively easy to transfer things. The system does exist in British Columbia and Alberta. What Professor Looker finds in the book here is that British Columbia and Alberta do not have higher university attendance rates among rural students despite this highly articulated system. One would think that would happen, that people would do their first two years in a community college somewhere in Alberta or British Columbia and then transfer to one of the provincial universities, but that does not seem to be happening.

We want to look at whether or not people do transfer between community colleges and universities throughout the country. The rates of transfer are extremely low. In fact, when we looked at the numbers in one of the Statistics Canada data sets, we did not have sufficient numbers to do a meaningful analysis on a number of these transfers. These programs do exist.

In talking to certain colleagues, anecdotally they say that two different types of students are attracted to community colleges and universities. We do not really have any hard data on this now, but it would be worth looking at to see the students who do transfer, what type of students were able to transfer and how well they ultimately do once they get to university and ultimately hit the labour market, to assess the viability of these types of articulation agreements.

The Chair: I will now ask my colleagues to ask questions and make comments.

We will start with the newly minted deputy chair of this committee, Senator Ogilvie from Nova Scotia.

Senator Ogilvie: Thank you. I will come to something that has troubled me throughout my life as an educator, one of the issues that are fundamental to the way we are attempting to approach the issue of increasing the number of our citizens who benefit from post-secondary education. This came through in two of your presentations this morning as a clear implication: There is a difference of value between a community college or technical education and a university education.

Quite frankly, I think this view has limited us in Canada throughout my adult lifetime. As a society, we have devalued technical and practical training relative to the idea that a university education is the be-all and end-all of success in life. Not only is that absolutely untrue but also it has inhibited our ability to develop a much more successful strategy with regard to bringing post-secondary opportunities to a wider distribution of our population.

For example, we often overlook the fact that there is roughly a 35 per cent turnover of students who attend university. To put it differently, the way I am trying to address this, our population is made up of a widely diverse spectrum of motivations, instincts, backgrounds, capabilities, et cetera. This is not a case of one model fits all. My experience in life is that often those who have had the benefit of a successful technical or community college experience are as happy and successful in life overall as those with a university degree. In an area where young people could benefit from a university education but have access to, and complete, a technical or community college training, they subsequently are motivated to pursue the other aspects of knowledge they are interested in.

I was struck by Ms. Lang's presentation with clear examples of dealing with this issue of access by taking education to the community. One of the major factors to increased education is the difficulty of moving people out of their communities, in particular the comfort zone of the rural or more isolated community. I believe you all touched on that. In this era of tremendous technology, building on the kinds of examples Ms. Lang identified is particularly important.

The discussion and dialogue of our society that elevates the idea that a university education is required for successful personal development has caused a stigma within society relative to the technical and community colleges. My view is that we should attempt to move to eliminate that stigma and pursue a number of the areas that we heard about this morning.

Would any of you be willing to comment?

The Chair: Spoken like a true former president of a university.

Mr. Mueller: I cannot disagree with anything you said. Economists look at rates of return to various levels of education as one measure of the value of that education. I will ignore the other things you said, although I do not disagree with them necessarily. We find that the rate of return to a high school diploma is so much; to trade certification is a bit more; and to community college a bit more still. There is a wide gap in the rate of return to university. In terms of labour market performance or for young people getting education, university still has the largest premium. That is why many people will be attracted to university. Perhaps we could change the other things you discussed, but in terms of the rates of return, we look at the market to determine skills shortages and wages. It seems perfectly rational to most economists that people would pursue a university education, not just for the cachet behind it but for the rates of return behind that education.

Some of my other work is on apprenticeship training. One of the common themes there is the stigma behind taking apprenticeship training versus getting a university education. That is quite real, and they are trying to change it. An organization called the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum is trying to change that attitude and educate people about the fact that you can have a meaningful career as a tradesperson. There should not be a stigma attached to it. I see that when I am teaching. Many of my students would be much happier, I suspect, doing something with their hands. They do not seem to belong in a university, but they attend for whatever reason. You are correct in suggesting that we should investigate further to determine some of the factors behind that.

Mr. Kirby: Senator, you have hit on one of the most fascinating aspects of the history of post-secondary education in Canada. People study this, although I do not. There is a deep-seated attitude in Canadian society that values academic education over vocational training. It goes right back to the early settlers in this country and what they valued in education. For example, Oxford, Cambridge and other universities were always seen as something to aspire to versus getting dirty.

We must also understand that community colleges are the new kids on the block in comparison to universities. They are a product of the 1960s, whereas the precursor colleges of the University of Toronto, for example, go back further. Vocational education and training prior to the 1960s was done largely outside of what I could call the formal post-secondary system. There are no solutions in anything I have just said. We transmit this to our children, and organizations like the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum are trying to change this. The CAF recently introduced a journal of apprenticeship training, which is funded, I believe, by the federal government. We hope that some of these moves will slowly change things.

The programs that bring vocational education training or academic training to one's door, as I suggest in my brief, are often crafted for the specialty programs. The extra money helps to create those kinds of programs. In times of fiscal restraint, the "extra" is the first thing that goes out the door. As I said in the brief, the kinds of programs that serve community needs should be put at the core rather than at the outer fringes where they are subject to cuts.

Ms. Lang: Certainly, I agree with my colleagues' comments. Colleges are the youngest kid on the block and probably the least well understand. Perhaps we need to do a better job of explaining that the education received by students at colleges is about applied learning and knowledge, not just about getting your hands dirty. An entire knowledge base is linked to that. The students who come to college not only obtain that theoretical base but also learn how to work in teams, how to communicate and how to be better members of society. The college role is much bigger than just getting your hands dirty.

If we want to have healthy rural and remote areas of Canada, we need to do a better job of getting that education to the people so that they have those kinds of opportunities. Someone must be the worker bee. We need people who can do the work on the floors and in those communities. That is the kind of role we need to play.

Mr. Mueller spoke to one of the challenges that we face: How do we know how many students are transferring? There is no way to track in that Ontario, because there is no marker on a student. When college students enter the system, they are not identified as college students and tracked through the system, which makes it difficult to track that information. My experience is that students want to have that choice. Living in Canada is all about having the choice to pursue education. Senator, you are a man after my own heart, and I thank you for that.

Senator Eaton: So many interesting things have been said. I would like to pick up on the recession and technology.

Let us begin with technology. In this committee, we have heard witnesses talk about preparing students at an earlier age in high school and mentoring them toward university or college. Could we make better use of technology in this area? We have also heard about rural and remote being factors in health and education. Why are we not doing more outreach through the use of technology?

Ms. Lang and Mr. Kirby both talked about going out to communities. I fish in Labrador, so I know how remote some of those communities can be. Is there a way for technology to enrich not only university or college courses but also high school courses to get people into the education mode that learning can be fun and satisfying? Many remote areas do not have access to libraries. It is a big jump for a kid to hop on a bus or a train to travel 500 miles if he has not grown up with a library and a school that has streamed him toward either a college or a university.

Mr. Kirby: In comparison with many countries, Canada has done a poor job of integrating vocational education training into the school system. It is almost a case of what flavour of the week the government chooses, so it varies.

As well, maintaining equipment is expensive, and there are liability issues. For example, operating an acetylene torch in a school setting carries certain risks that bring about insurance and safety issues. We need to be more creative about using the resources we have — for example, having the high school system use the technology available in community college facilities. We need to go beyond the discreet territories of the high school, college and university systems and have more collaboration and cooperation in the use of those facilities. There is also the related issue of the use of school facilities in the summertime, when they are completely underutilized. Existing resources in the system are not being utilized in an efficient way.

Senator Eaton: I was embedded with the navy off the east coast of Newfoundland last summer. They expect recruits in the navy, and I am sure it is the same in the army, to have high technological and computer skills. Those things can be taught using computer technology at university and college levels. Arts courses could be taught using technology. In high schools, the International Baccalaureate programs are so advanced that students are taking pre-university courses. Do you think that more money would be useful for getting that kind of technology to remote locations?

Mr. Kirby: I would not suggest that it is all about money.

Senator Eaton: I am not suggesting that either, but what should drive it? Is it innovation or spirit of adventure? We cannot build a university in every remote place in Canada. How can we utilize technology to assist the effort?

Mr. Kirby: We could better use the resources we already have, but I do not think there is a simple answer. Distance education will evolve over time. It will become more accepted as being as good as traditional methods of education taught and learned in the classroom.

Yes, money is needed for computers in schools and for teachers to have access to professional development that enables them to understand the emerging equipment. The university, college or other training could well be held in the palms of the students' hands within my lifetime. Educators need to understand where our young people are in the world of technology so that we can educate them. I do not think there is any fabrication. Eventually, the library and the classroom and so on will be in the palms of their hands. If we do not get on board that technology train to ensure that we have educators who can work with that, then we will be left behind many competitor nations.

Ms. Lang: Initially, the technology was cumbersome. When we started distance education in Ontario using Contact North, we were using audio conferencing. You were in a room with a microphone studying alone. It was isolating and difficult. We moved from that method into audiovisual conferencing, which made it much more interesting. Initially it was difficult because the audio was stilted and choppy as it went along. We are starting to master that. We are now using blended delivery formats whereby we use computer conferencing, video conferencing and audioconferencing. One trend we are seeing is that more and more students on campus are choosing to take online courses while they are full-time students on campus. We are spawning a new generation of learners into the future. Students are coming to college from the "plug and play world." They did not need to go to school to learn how to use their computers; they figured it out on their own. We will be playing catch up, and the students will be driving that agenda to ensure that they can learn in that way. Subsequently, it will help to address the issue you raised about how to use technology more effectively in those communities.

We are seeing a huge change in simulation learning and simulated related learning. We have mannequins that, God forbid, can deliver babies. It is not pretty. That woman was not smiling but rather smirking as she was delivering that baby. The technology and the simulation are transforming the delivery of education across Canada.

Mr. Mueller: I forgot the numbers in my office, and I apologize, but in terms of better access to distance education, which encompasses many of these things, we are looking at many other tools, such as Skype. We found out that people in remote areas are more likely to have completed part of their post-secondary education programs using this type of distance learning technology.

Globally, many universities are truly international. The criticism against Canadian institutions is that we have been slow on the uptake in realizing the potential of international markets, such as international universities operating via video conferencing or Skype or other technologies out there. Canada is very much in its infancy in this area. Once the technologies improve and distance education takes off, it will be one cost-effective way to bring education to remote areas.

In its latest budget, the Ontario government put more money toward distance education, much to the chagrin of the official position of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Since I have been a faculty member, they have been talking about these technologies. The concern of faculty is that the species of teacher will be wiped out because only a few star teachers will teach on Internet and the rest will no longer have day jobs. The whole thing is in its infancy and should be looked into more. We do not have any solid numbers on it yet, although they would be useful for this committee and for others.

The Chair: Yes, they would be.

Senator Seidman: Thank you for a stimulating presentation with many interesting ideas.

I would like to take a slightly different tack, although in Quebec we have a CEGEP system that we have not discussed. I would like to tackle this from a different end of the spectrum and refer to Mr. Kirby's paper, which was most interesting. Mr. Kirby, you referred to the demographic realities of the baby boom generation moving into their retirement years.

I would like to look at the issue of access to education from the perspective of older learners who might want to be retrained or return to school and how that is dealt with in the workplace. You stated clearly in your paper that Canadian employers invest about 50 per less of their overall payroll on training compared with employers in the United States. There is evidence to show that this ongoing lifetime learning has positive benefits in all kinds of ways, including positive health benefits for adults and older adults.

How might we look at this particular issue? How could we encourage employers to have a more positive approach to training and retraining and develop a better attitude towards continuing education of their older employees, which clearly would benefit not only the older employees but also the corporation and our Canadian society as a whole?

Mr. Kirby: Yes. Canadian employers tend to invest far less than our competitor nations in workplace training, as we call it. Part of that is cultural. It varies for different sizes of employers. Think about the number of small and medium-sized employers in this country; it is quite significant. They are more reluctant to invest, for a variety of reasons, because of the costs involved, but also because of fear of poaching. If I have a small tool and die shop and I train you in a particular trade, once you get your training you will go up the road to Chrysler, if it is still there, and get an extra $5 an hour. There is some fear of that. There is some evidence to suggest that those fears are fairly unfounded.

Changing the cultural element is as difficult as changing the attitudes toward trades training in general. There is no simple solution to that. Incentives are important. If we want employers to change their behaviour, there must be incentives for them to train. In Ontario, there are several different employer tax credits for training apprentices, for example. Ontario has an apprenticeship training tax credit. There is a cooperative education tax credit, so that young people in co-op programs and varied programs can go to work for an employer and an employer can get some of that back. We need more of those kinds of programs.

In Quebec, there is a recent paper on this particular program. I cannot name it, but employers pay some portion. It is like a deduction that the employers pay into a pool for training. There is that element of it. I do not think we should put it all on employers either, in terms of training of older individuals who want to go back to work.

My colleague Hans Schuetz, at the University of British Columbia, is a long-time advocate of individual learning accounts. That will not work for everyone, and it will not work for people with extremely low incomes, because they do not have money to put into a learning account, but it will work for some people.

I go back to my brief. I suggest that we cannot have a one-size-fits-all solution. There will not be one. The idea of individual learning accounts will probably not be popular with major student organizations, but it might go a little ways towards helping people who want to train.

Use your imagination. It could be like an RRSP. Again, there is an incentive for the individual. Those are some ideas.

Ms. Lang: You have raised a complex issue. Our experience has been that we need to start with literacy and numeracy skills. Oftentimes, that is where you need to start. You can work with the employers and the unions and create partnerships between the employer, the union and the training institution. You can start with literacy and numeracy, and also build their confidence levels so that when they do decide to pursue post-secondary education, they know they have the tools to be successful.

Our experience right now is that a third of our students are right out of high school; a third of our students have been out of high school for five to six years; and the other third are back-to-work students who have been laid off or have been affected by the economy in some way. The back-to-work students come to college with a high degree of nervousness and trepidation. They are concerned not only about their literacy and numeracy skills, but also about not having the computer skills. Think of how rich the classrooms are now. We have the high school students who have just come out and are very good with computers, raring to go, and you have the back-to-work people who are nervous and excited but for a very different reason. They are then working together in teams. The team learning happening in college is rich these days because of those three streams of students coming into our classroom.

I think it has to be around partnership and it has to start with literacy, numeracy and confidence building.

Mr. Mueller: I would definitely agree. Most of the research out there now suggests that we have to start early with educating people, and certainly numeracy and literacy skills are developed throughout youth and childhood. That is important. If you start to think about accessing post-secondary education, at the time someone is 15, 16 or 17, you might already be too late. There are probably a few things you can tweak, but people generally will be destined for post-secondary education before that age.

In terms of adult learning in particular, we might be at our infancy in Canada in doing that. The colleges and the universities are doing a much better job of catering to adult learners. There are all sorts of certificate programs at colleges. Many people go from universities to colleges to get that practical training. Certificate programs are the most obvious example of a program catered to adult learners, such as an executive MBA program, which has been around for a while. Take into consideration that adults have different needs from someone who is 18 years old and fresh out of high school. They have families, responsibilities and jobs. These types of educational opportunities have to be catered to them. Those are in their infancy, but we are seeing more of them. Every time I crack a newspaper, there is something new there.

Mr. Kirby: A couple of colleagues and I published an article recently in the Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education. Your committee may want to check out that article. University extension as it was years ago has been practically done away with in Canada. The continuing education arms of universities have become these wine-tasting, whisky-tasting, profit-making arms of institutions. It is just a practical reality. Memorial University's extension service was done away with quite a long time ago. The types of programs offered are often beyond the reach of individuals with lesser means. If we are going to do this, we have to get real about it again and start investing in it. I am not saying we cannot have the wine tasting, because we can have that, too, but we need to have the kind of extension that reaches out to everyone in society, not just those who can afford $450 for a three-evening program.

The Chair: Thank you very much. I would remind you again, colleagues, to ask any question you want, but focus as much as you can on rural and remote. That is our theme for today.

Senator Martin: I will go back to what Senator Eaton was talking about in terms of technology. Professor Lang said that students in rural communities are geographically bound. However, I am sure we all agree that in Canada we are all fairly geographically bound because we live in such a large country. No matter how many more colleges there might be, in a country of our size, all universities and colleges are in fact at times campus-bound, if we take away the technology.

I want to share with you one example of a society in Vancouver that meets the needs of the disabled community. We know what the barriers are for rural students. You have written about them clearly. We are all concerned about the barriers. The other question to you today is about the barriers for the universities and colleges to reach the doorsteps of these students, because many of them cannot leave their doorstep or are limited because of various factors.

The Neil Squire Society has been around for over 20 years. They are sort of like the campus for this disabled community. They have offices across Canada. Their students, or members of their constituency, are literally bound because of lack of wheelchair accessibility or because they may not be able to leave their homes. The society has devised innovative ways to reach its constituency using technology.

Just as Facebook and other social media allow people to be together even though they are far from each other, that kind of teaching can happen where students feel they are in the same room together.

Would you comment on the technology that limits universities and colleges from reaching the doorsteps? Although you did speak about some great programs, I used to teach at a school where they went from the distance-learning model to a virtual school model. They have set up a whole separate virtual school.

Are universities and colleges studying the other models that are out there, whether at the high school level or through a society like the Neil Squire Society?

Ms. Lang: I am certainly going to read more about the Neil Squire Society. I appreciate hearing about that and learning more about it.

The technology is available right now for us to be able to access those kinds of learners in their communities. The computer conferencing that we need to access is there.

For us, the barrier is that not all the communities have high-speed Internet. The communities we serve do not all have the bandwidth to be able to get the educational opportunities that are available out to some of the rural and remote parts of Canada. For us, right now, the biggest barrier has to do with bandwidth and being able to get those learning opportunities there.

Senator Martin: What percentage would not have access even with technology?

Ms. Lang: Do you know that?

Mr. Kirby: No. I am not the statistician. He is sitting over there.

Mr. Mueller: I do not know.

Ms. Lang: It is a good question that needs to be studied. In the communities we serve, for example, when we are in Sandy Lake, a remote northern community, oftentimes the learners actually have to go to our learning centre to be able to access the computers, and even there the rate of download is incredibly painful. You need to have highly motivated and self-directed learners and an infrastructure of support in those communities for them to be successful. Not only are they fighting all of the issues that we have raised, but we are not even making it easy for them in those settings. Although the technology is available, the bandwidth is the biggest issue we face.

Our research shows that the students who study that way are every bit as successful as the students who study in traditional formats. We are drawing out students such that where they may not be comfortable in a classroom putting up their hands to ask questions, it is easy for them to do it online. A degree of anonymity goes with being online, and the students are much more comfortable doing that. It will take another generation to make it more entrenched and, certainly, a new generation of technology to sustain it.

Mr. Kirby: I do not know whether anyone remembers a National Film Board of Canada piece about inertia that used to be on the CBC. It is easier to keep on doing what you are already doing. That is one of the problems, that we do not have enough inertia. Mr. Mueller alluded to the fact that many people in institutions, for example teachers, feel threatened when you talk about putting everything online and making it virtual, and they wonder what will happen to them, their jobs and their offices. Much of it is attitudinal. On the part of individuals educating people, we have solid research that distance education is just as valid and the learning outcomes are just as good as in the classroom. In fact, the results of a study done by the U.S. Department of Education came out last year. It was a meta analysis that showed that distance education was in fact better.

You hit the nail on the head, though. My parents do not have high-speed Internet where they live. There are many places like that in rural and remote parts of Canada.

There is also the question of computer literacy. Although it is kind of ubiquitous, and it seems as though everyone has a computer, not everyone knows how to do these things. I know of individuals who still do not have an email account. We need to have those levels of computer literacy for everyone to participate.

Senator Martin: I agree that it has to be from both ends to allow us to reach as many students in the rural areas and to allow universities and colleges to be able realistically to reach as many people as possible.

In that same vein about the two parts coming closer together, universities and colleges, I believe that they complement one another. It is the complete system together. Have there been conferences? Are there plans for such conferences where you may study ways to better use the resources that we already have? We are doing very well on many fronts. Looking at what we have, what we can improve and how can we look at the future with respect to collaboration? Are there such conferences in the works, or have you participated in any in the past?

Mr. Kirby: I do not get the sense that we are closing the gap in terms of collaboration. That is my personal perception. I have done some study of it. I would suggest that the state of college-university collaboration is much the same as it was 20 years ago. There are some differences here and there. Ms. Lang is probably in a better position to comment on that, but I do not get the perception that we are coming that much closer together.

Ms. Lang: That is absolutely right. That is one of the areas that we need to address as a society. The issue of transferability and transportability of education between systems is absolutely critical to the success of Canadian society.

Mr. Mueller: I would agree anecdotally with what Dr. Kirby said. To give you an example, from the University of Lethbridge you can see Lethbridge College right across the river, and there is nothing to do between the two. We have nothing to do with each other, and I suspect that model would be replicated across the country.

The Chair: I might add, Senator Martin, that we will have a session on education and people with disabilities after Easter. We will get a chance to explore further your experiences.

Let me move now to the senator who put forward the original motion to get us into access to post-secondary education, Senator Callbeck, from Prince Edward Island.

Senator Callbeck: Thank you for coming. You have certainly given us a lot of information here this morning.

Dr. Kirby, and all the witnesses, I wanted to ask you a question on the distance barrier for rural students, which Mr. Mueller pointed out is more so for students going to universities than for those going to colleges. You mentioned that Ontario has a program where students get so much if they live beyond a certain point from the university. You went on to say that one size does not fit all and that we should have a specialized policy approach.

What do you visualize that policy being?

Mr. Kirby: I could speak for a long time and I will not monopolize the time, but I often think of this quote. I think it was Kennedy who said, "There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals."

Equality and equity are completely different things, in my opinion. If you take the Ontario Distance Grant, for example, if you give everyone who lives a certain distance away from a university the same amount of money, you are giving money to affluent kids who, as far as I am concerned, as far as the research shows and as any economist will tell you, do not need that money; they will go to university anyway. You are giving that same amount of money to them. We have all of these universal programs across the country, which is, I would say, incredibly wasteful, but I will be more politically correct and say it is an inefficient use of our money.

There is pretty solid evidence that shows that the federal tax grants program benefits more affluent kids. Dr. Mueller has pointed out, and this is something we should say again, that it is rurality coupled with low income and young men: those are the individuals who are not getting in and not getting a chance to participate. As I said, if we treat everyone equally, as if they all had the same means, then we will not tear down this wall.

Senator Callbeck: Ms. Lang, as a matter of interest, on the front of the pamphlet that we received is a map of Canada and there are red dots. Prince Edward Island is completely red. Does that mean we have campuses that are within a certain distance? I know the community college, Holland College, has approximately 12 campuses across the province.

Ms. Lang: I believe it is a reflection of where the colleges are located. I may have to ask my colleagues from ACCC. That is correct; it is a reflection of where the college's campuses are located.

Senator Callbeck: Do the colleges you are familiar with have a program similar to that of Prince Edward Island? As I said, we have about a dozen campuses. On eight of those campuses, adults can go and get educated for free, preparing them for post-secondary education. Do you have that?

Ms. Lang: Yes, we do. We have a similar program in Ontario called Literacy and Basic Skills, where students can come to college for the upgrading they need to go on to further their education. The challenge is that only so many people can qualify at any one time because the funding is limited. If you were looking at where you need to have an impact, that is one area where we could have an impact on Canadians, by ensuring that everyone has the right to develop the literacy and numeracy skills to then go on and be successful.

Senator Callbeck: Is that funding in every community college across the country?

Ms. Lang: Yes, it is. That kind of funding is available.

Senator Callbeck: You mentioned literacy, which is an issue that concerns me. Many people in Canada really cannot function. I think a greater emphasis must be put on literacy, in many ways.

I want to return to the question that has already been asked about workplace training. I was surprised to learn that Canadian businesses spend so much less than other countries on this.

Dr. Kirby, you mentioned small and medium-sized businesses. Are corporations any better? Do they stack up with corporations in other countries, or is every bracket below what other countries are spending?

Mr. Kirby: I am not sure I can answer that question; the best answer I can give you is that the larger the enterprise, the more a business is able to pay for education for its workers. If you look at huge companies like Microsoft, whether they are located in Canada or in the United States, they are spending more on workplace training than the smaller enterprises are, but they generally spend less, regardless of size. However, the nature of the Canadian economy, as a function of geography I would say as well, is that we have many small and medium-sized companies, and that is a major factor. We need to create incentives, as I said, for them to participate, and the federal taxation system is an excellent place for that to happen.

Senator Callbeck: Of course, small and medium-sized businesses provide most of the jobs in Canada.

In talking about these programs, one size does not fit all. Do you feel that we should be looking at the existing programs to determine whether any adjustments can be made to help the low-income student more?

Mr. Kirby: I am glad you asked, because again I will go back to the federal tax credits we have for post-secondary education. There is pretty solid evidence to show that those credits benefit more affluent students. You have to have income in order to get a tax credit. Oftentimes, those credits are being used by parents.

When we think about who is participating in the system, we know that more affluent kids are more likely to participate in university. They are participating more in university and using more of these tax credits. It is not oriented towards the little guy, if I can use that terminology. That would be a good place to start. The system is inequitable and inefficient, because many of those young people would be going to university anyway.

This has to be said as well: These credits are incredibly politically popular. Universal subsidies are incredibly politically popular. If you give all of us a little bit, everyone is getting some. However, as we see in the United States with health care, if you start shifting that to the people who have less, then mom and pop in the suburbs start wondering why they are paying those taxes if they are not getting their bag of treats.

I am sorry to be so flippant about it, but we have to start thinking about specialized interventions for those who have less, whether it is people with disabilities, Aboriginal people, older people with lower literacy, or rural, remote or northern people. We need specialized interventions for them. I do not think we need any new money. I think we can just reorient the funds we currently have.

Senator Cordy: Thank you very much. Your presentations and responses to answers have been practical and helpful to us.

I would like to continue along the lines of the development of public policy, because when we finish our report we will try to develop public policy. Of course, the challenge we have is that we are federal, and the provinces deal with education, although the federal government commits money to education within the provinces. I guess we will call them national rather than federal public policy developments, but that is what we ultimately want to do when we finish our report, so that is what I would like to ask.

You all say that access to education for colleges or universities is more complex than just looking at tuition. It would be easy to say — and you read articles or you hear on TV and radio — that if you make tuition free, that will solve all the problems. However, we know that will not solve all the problems.

Dr. Kirby, as you said, the children of those of us sitting around the table will go to university because we can afford to send them. Those measures would benefit those in the upper income brackets more than those who are struggling.

Some of the barriers or impediments to higher education often involve people who are living in poverty. Their goal may be to get a job as soon as possible, to help the family and to help themselves financially. There are cultural, language, family background and geographical barriers. Where you live and where you were born can in fact be barriers to whether or not you go on to further education.

Dr. Kirby mentioned the tax issue and Ms. Lang talked about tax incentives that, across the board, are popular but not necessarily the most effective way to reduce the barriers to higher education to help those who need it most.

What other types of public policy issues should we look at as a committee to reduce the barriers? We are here today to talk about those living in rural areas, specifically, but if you cross over to talk about other things you have talked about, that would be fine as well. Ultimately, we want to have good public policy to help our young people and our older people who wish to further their education.

Dr. Kirby, in one of your papers you said that we are not doing a great job in making programs for those who are going back after they have retired or because the company they worked for has closed down in their community, particularly in rural areas where they cannot go down the street to get another new job. Please talk about retraining for older people as well.

Mr. Kirby: I do not want to monopolize any further time, because my colleagues might want to get a word in edgewise. However, it is important for the federal government to re-establish itself in literacy, adult literacy and not-so-adult literacy. It is particularly acute in my province, in the Atlantic provinces and in rural and urban communities. It is rife in this country. The fact that such a large number of Canadians cannot pick up a newspaper and read it is horrendous. Think about my comments earlier about the numbers of new jobs requiring post-secondary education. The high school population is going down; we will need some of those older workers to be retrained. If they cannot read the newspaper, they will not be able to read many other things or to use computers, and so on. The same goes for Aboriginal people living in Aboriginal communities with low literacy rates. The federal government could do something positive in re-establishing itself in literacy across the country and taking the lead on it.

Ms. Lang: If we could have only one request today, it would be related to literacy in all its forms — literacy in language, numbers and computers. Lack of literary in those is a true barrier to access. We have talked about other barriers, but if there is anything that is at the core of this, it is the issue related to the lack of literacy.

It is almost unimaginable. As a teacher, I am sure you can appreciate that. It is heart-breaking to see. For those of us who take literacy for granted, it is extremely painful to see those students struggling, and the young males struggle even more than the young females. We need to address the issue of the underperformance of males in the education system. Once they graduate, they still do better financially than females, but we are falling behind in the education of males.

We also need to have a national Aboriginal education strategy as well.

The Chair: You are giving us lots of advice.

Mr. Mueller: I will not comment on the policy, but I will tell you what some of the research says. Such things as targeted grants, as Dr. Kirby suggested, have been shown to be relatively effective, not only in Canada but elsewhere as well.

As Dr. Lang mentioned, early literacy skills are hugely important. In the literature, people are looking at it, and as I mentioned before, if we start thinking high school, it is too late. We need to think before that. It would take a generation or so for us to catch up if those policies were implemented today, but they are hugely important. In the literature they show large effects.

On the softer side, something we have not talked about that has been shown to be important is information. Let us ensure that the kids know these options are available to them. If they do not know the options are available to them, they cannot pursue those opportunities. That has been shown in the research in a couple of papers I can think of. If you put this on their radar screen, all of a sudden they are interested. They did not think about it before. I suspect it is more of a problem in rural areas where the kids do not know anyone who has ever been to university and do not know what a university looks like.

Research has also shown that things like filling out aid applications and pointing kids to where they can get financial aid, especially for low-income students, have been beneficial in helping these kids access information. Those are a few things that the research has shown that would be important.

Senator Cordy: You are all saying that we cannot just talk about post-secondary education in isolation; you have to go back to elementary school. I used to be an elementary school teacher so I fully understand the importance of literacy, numeracy and strong computer skills.

Going back to your comment about the national Aboriginal strategy, that is a federal responsibility, so we do not have to worry about provincial jurisdictions here. You talked about it being a complex, multi-tiered process to get help for Aboriginal students entering school. The fastest growing demographic in Canada is the under-25 Aboriginal. If we do not do something now, we will pay later. If we do not do something to ensure that our young Aboriginal men and women are trained, then we will have mega problems in the future.

Looking at a national Aboriginal strategy, you talked about dealing with different ministries. You phone one department, then phone another, and by the time a decision is made, it is almost too late and the young person has lost interest. If we are looking at a national Aboriginal strategy for education, where would we start?

Ms. Lang: What you have raised is extremely complex. It needs to be done in partnership with the local communities. It is one of those concepts in which, when we talk about it in post-secondary education, we make a difference one learner at a time. It is allowing that to happen and allowing there to be enough support for those learners once they come into our systems. They do need additional support around literacy skills and numeracy, as well as cultural support. Right now, when they come into our systems we do not have sufficient support for them in order for them to be truly successful.

The way we measure our success is not the way they want to measure their success. Our success is measured by finishing a two-year program in two years. If you do that, you have done exceptionally well. The reality is that some of those students need a longer period of time, and some of it is related to having to go back to help their communities and families because there has been a suicide in their family or amongst their extended family members.

We need a national Aboriginal strategy, but it needs to be by region because all the regions are different across Canada. We need to figure out how to do it in an even smaller element than that, to reach out to those on an individual basis.

Mr. Kirby: I could not agree more. At the Happy Valley-Goose Bay campus of the College of the North Atlantic, which is the provincial college system in Newfoundland and Labrador, there is a bridging program designed specifically for the Aboriginal communities in Labrador. It has shown itself to be quite effective. Yes, it takes a bit longer, but many of those young people and not-so-young people need a bit more time and assistance to make up for what they did not get in terms of formal education at the secondary and elementary levels. That is a worthwhile investment but, again, on a small scale. I would agree that this must be done on a community-by-community basis.

[Translation]

Senator Champagne: Those who know me will say I am an eternal optimist. Since I am the last person to speak after going around the table, I would like to look at the positive aspects of what we have been doing over the years.

If we look back as far as a little over 50 years ago, that is, when I was ready to go to university, there were no student loan programs. There was no such thing. People had to find ways to get by.

However, five or six years later, when my sister reached that stage, a student loan and bursary program did exist, which she was able to take advantage of.

The group of young people I know best lives about 80 or 100 kilometres from the Université de Montréal, or 150 kilometres from the universities in Sherbrooke. They either have to move, or they have to spend three hours a day on the bus to get to school. Despite these challenges, among OECD countries, Canada has one of the highest proportions of working-age citizens who have post-secondary qualifications.

We must have done some things right. We need to look at this and determine where we stand. What have we done? What have we achieved with this? If we are among the best in the OECD, then that is not so bad. I am not saying there is not more to be done. That is not what I am saying.

Consider all the different assistance programs for students, the increasing number of summer jobs and the fact that students can often chose from the field in which they are studying. They use the summer as an opportunity to gain valuable real-life experience.

I agree that, clearly, in order to benefit from a tax credit, one must be earning an income. But quite often, between people who are poor — truly low-income individuals — and people who make good money and pay a lot of taxes, there are people who fall somewhere in between, on the line. I think my family fell into that category; we were not rich, but nor were we living in the street.

How can we encourage these young people who went to elementary school and high school, and who by driving, getting a ride or taking a bus for an hour a day have been able to finish CEGEP and are now going to university?

This means leaving one's small town or community, moving to the city, renting an apartment, buying food and so on. It is for these people that I would like to find a solution. I am sure you can propose a viable solution.

For those people, not those who are extremely isolated on native reserves for example, but those who are 100 kilometres from a university and want to go, those who are very aware of how important it is to get an education. I do not want to discourage them from attending vocational schools. Finding a plumber on short notice these days is just as hard as finding a family doctor.

For those who wish to pursue their studies, how can we help families that are neither rich nor poor, those right in between?

Ms. Lang: I have not practiced my oral French in public for a very long time. I will reply in English, because otherwise, I might make too many mistakes.

[English]

Senator Champagne: I do understand English, but I wanted to present what I wanted to say in my own language. We made our translator work for once in the whole committee.

Ms. Lang: The issue that you have raised is important. What you are talking about is the middle class, or the working poor in some ways. The biggest challenge with that group is a lack of awareness of what these opportunities are. Many of those students are what we call first-generation learners. They are the first in their families to pursue post-secondary education. I do not think we are doing a good enough job, as educators, getting the informing and opportunities out there to them.

One of the examples that we are using in Ontario right now is a project called the School/College/Work Initiative, where we actually offer our college-level courses in high schools. Students are exposed to college teachers and to college-level expectations while they are still in high school. The program is broadening those opportunities and creating awareness for them that they would otherwise not have. It is not a singular answer, but one of the biggest pieces of it is that we just cannot figure out ways to get the information to them around the kinds of opportunities that are there.

The more we can do to ease that transition from high school to college to university, the better that will be. The more opportunities we have to bring those students on campus so that they can actually see what it is like to be on campus, whether it is through a summer program, or a First Nations ranger program that we offer, or any of those programs, is important. We have an Aviation Centre of Excellence and a summer camp in aviation. If they are in love with airplanes, imagine the excitement of being around airplanes every day. There are also our multimedia programs, where they can play with the technology available to make movies. The more we can do to bridge those gaps in information and opportunities, the more that would go a long way to provide part of the solution to what you have addressed.

Mr. Kirby: You make a good point. For the record, I would like to point out that fewer than 45 per cent of Canadians — I am not sure of the exact percentage — actually get loans from the Canada Student Loans Program. It is not like we have an impoverished society or system; I would never infer that. I think we are doing exceptionally well in comparison to other countries.

Another thing that we have not talked about is summer employment. That is something else that the federal government has done well in the past. Last summer, we had the highest student unemployment or youth unemployment on record since Statistics Canada started recording this. There is a need for some federal assistance in this area, whether in large communities or small communities. Think about the contribution of that work to community building and building community capacity, and then those students' future employability. You know the saying that you cannot get a job without experience. That goes a long way to helping those young people out. Keep that in mind in your deliberations as well. Young people can work for financial aid as well.

Mr. Mueller: As far as what the research says, I would not disagree with anything I have heard here. Information is the key — that is, getting the information to the kids and making them aware of what is going on.

I used to teach down in the United States in a rural area. I was trying to get these kids into a university that they were familiar with because it was one of those instances where a university was close to a rural area. I would then take them to the big city on a field trip to see the big financial institutions and so on, and the kids would say, "Wow." This was not on their radar screen. This was a city four hours away from where they lived, yet they had never been there before. It was an eye opener for them. They would say, "Okay. I will come here and get my education. Maybe I will end up here one day, where there are paintings on the walls rather than paint peeling off the walls." They were really influenced by that. They have to know what they can do. I suspect many of them — and the research would support this — do not see the benefit of this education. You get a four-year degree, then go back and work at something that you do not need that education for in the first place. It is the awareness that is hugely important, whether that be for colleges or for universities. Information is key, and the research supports that.

[Translation]

Senator Champagne: I simply wanted to say that we cannot consider last summer a typical year regarding the percentage of students who found a job. We were in the midst of a recession. Many parents were also unemployed.

This year, we have earmarked even more money to help our young people do what they want in the summer, that is, work and gain valuable experience.

I would like to come back to what Ms. Lang was saying. It is important to let people know, whether through newspaper ads or television commercials, that loan and bursary programs do exist, and we need to let parents know that they can put money aside in a registered education savings plan, which helps.

When such a large amount is accumulated, 1,500 bursaries a year for Master's and Doctoral degrees, assistance is available.

People need to know that this assistance exists. One of the recommendations I will make when we are preparing the committee report is to ensure that people know that help is available, but of course, as the saying goes, "God helps those who help themselves." And so does the government.

[English]

The Chair: One challenge we heard about in previous meetings, which we touched briefly upon today, is that there is a greater chance of children not pursuing post-secondary education if their parents have not had post-secondary education.

How big an issue is that in your view, particularly with regard to rural communities, where I suspect that would more often be the case? How do we overcome a lack of value for post-secondary education in a family?

Mr. Mueller, you said that opinions on pursuing post-secondary education are formed at a very early age. Post-secondary education is of keen interest to the federal government, but if we have to get people thinking about and valuing it, even if their parents did not, much earlier in the education system, that brings it down to the provincial governments' responsibilities as well.

How big is this problem? How big is it in rural areas, and what do we do about it?

Mr. Kirby: Data shows that if both parents have a university education, the child is that much more likely to participate. Much of it goes back to early years education. If it does not happen early, they will have problems later. I echo everything that Mr. Mueller said about education. If young people do not know what going to university is all about, they will be intimidated by it and probably will not want to do it.

Over the last 20 years, schools in many provinces have been under-resourced for guidance. Counsellors spend a lot of time dealing with mental and other health issues as well as social issues, and they do not have the time or resources to provide information and education around career development as early as they probably should. They end up doing that in senior high school because those students are the closest to the door. That is an important thing to think about at the provincial level.

Ms. Lang: You mentioned that it was a value system in families. I am not so sure it is as much about values as it is about awareness. Perhaps we have more to do around the issue of awareness. Perhaps we need to do a better job of integrating all levels of education. We talked today about articulating colleges and universities better, but we need to do a better job of articulating all the way along so that there is a higher level of awareness of opportunities.

On the question asked earlier about bursaries and scholarships, we often have to tell students that there are bursaries and scholarships for which they can apply, because they think they would never qualify.

Awareness is one key to turning this around.

Mr. Mueller: I agree with what both my colleagues said.

Senator Ogilvie: I want to thank all of you for being so candid and thoughtful in your comments. You have helped us identify a number of the real underlying issues to access to education as opposed to those that are, perhaps, more politically expedient, either from the protester or from other sectors, particularly the issue of broadband and high speed. I think we are misunderstanding the lack of access, even within short distances of major centres. I personally know that difficulty. Professor Kirby and I can both deal with those issues in certain regions of the country.

Also, literacy and numeracy of our citizens of all ages is a major issue.

Mr. Mueller, you pointed out there is a higher return value for a university education. All the studies I have seen on the value of education tend to ask people their highest level of educational attainment. In my experience, and this came up in your comments, some people get a bachelor's degree and then return either to a community college or to a university that provides certificate programs. Mount St. Vincent University advertises quite widely the number of university graduates who come back and take a certificate in an area in which they actually become employed.

Can you develop a way of getting statistics on that? That would put the value back on the certificate program rather than on the university bachelor's degree that did not lead people into the economy.

Mr. Mueller: I agree with what you said. Until recently we could not look at the rates of return for various levels of education because the data sets collected information on the highest level of education attained. If someone had a bachelor's degree and went back and became an electrician, for example, the bachelor's degree would be listed as the highest level of education.

More recently we have been working with a data set called the National Graduates Survey, with which I think we might be able to do what you suggest. The sample size might be statistically too small to do much with it, but what you are saying is interesting. There might be some work done on it already, but I cannot speak to that. Your point is well taken.

Senator Ogilvie: If you find anything, please give it to us.

Mr. Mueller: I will. I will get on it this afternoon.

Ms. Lang: We know that in Ontario 19 per cent of the students who are enrolled in community colleges have also been to university. Therefore, we like to call our college system the finishing school for universities.

Mr. Mueller: The universities must love that.

The Chair: We have come to the end of our time. I again thank the three of you for providing helpful information and suggestions to our dialogue on this issue.

(The committee adjourned.)