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Grants, aid pledged for students

Globe and Mail Update

Ottawa — More low-income students could tap into federal grants to cover the cost of post-secondary education and more financial assistance would go to students of moderate means under proposals made by the Liberal government on Monday.

As they make their pitch to voters during the coming election campaign, Liberal candidates will promise increased cash for graduate studies, incentives to encourage Canadians to study abroad, and an additional $1-billion this year for urgent investments in colleges and universities. The Liberals have yet to fully define where this money will go but it is intended to upgrade research and technology equipment required by the institutions.

They will also offer more money to create the kinds of workers being demanded by employers —through apprenticeships, literary trainings and more participation by immigrants, people with disabilities and aboriginals — and increased funds to provide better labour market information.

"Today we are committing an additional $9.2-billion in federal funding to support higher learning, skills training and a greater inclusion in Canada's modern work force," Finance Minister Ralph Goodale told the Commons finance committee.

Mr. Goodale also promised his party would devote a "further $2.2-billion over the next five years" to improve access to post-secondary education. But a further reading of his documents -- which are essentially a slice of the Liberal election platform -- shows that that amount is actually included in the promised $9.2-billion.

That total also includes a combined $1.3-billion for a broad assortment of proposals including money for people with disabilities, medical expenses and immigration. And most of it will be spread over five years -- if the Liberals are returned to power.

A loosening of the financial squeeze placed on Canada's post-secondary institutions over the past three decades, which has caused tuition fees to double and triple and student debt to balloon, will undoubtedly be promised by all federal parties as the election campaign begins in earnest.

The New Democrats have made post-secondary education one of their main priorities. And the Conservatives addressed it in their policy platform that was approved in Montreal last winter.

The Conservatives say that, while they believe education is a provincial responsibility, the federal money for colleges and universities would be distributed on the basis of the number of students enrolled.

In addition, the Conservatives would make scholarships and bursaries tax free, would eliminate the inclusion of parental income and assets in the assessment of loan applications and provide greater flexibility to students paying back federal student loans.

The Liberals are promising an additional $550-million over five years to improve the Canada Access Grant for low-income students, an additional $2.2-billion over five years to improve student financial assistance, $210-million more over five years for graduate students and $150- million over five years to help Canadian students study abroad and foreign students to study here.

There will be another $3.5-billion for increased employer-led training and $65-million to improve labour market information.

Mr. Goodale also said he would extend the early learning and childcare program beyond the five years for which it is currently funded. The program subsidizes regulated childcare spaces in every province that agrees to meet certain federal conditions.

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