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 discussion.
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 external factors.
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 been through.
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 that.
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 is about.
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 differing perspectives.
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 society.
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 Scholarship Fund.
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 post-secondary education.
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 economic situation.
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 country.
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 system.
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 Assistance.
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 us.
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 population.
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 Canadians generally.
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 appropriate.
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 that topic.
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 evidence.
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 those.
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 cohesion.
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 college.
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 country.
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 Career Colleges.
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 province.
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 authorities.
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 legislation.
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 in.
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 throw out.
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 individuals.
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, please?
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 particular area?
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 on.
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 at all.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: Very few?
Mr. Townsend: That is correct.
Senator Lavoie-Roux: That is not the impression we get from the statistics we have.
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 economy.
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 issues.
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 financial assistance.
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 found.
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 after graduation.
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 new phenomenon?
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 graduates?
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 job readiness.
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 process.
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.