Thank you very much, Chair.
With me today is Christine Cram. Christine is the assistant deputy minister for education and social program partnerships. Next is Allan MacDonald, who is with the Office of the Federal Interlocutor, and then Christopher Duchesnes, who is the head of our Inuit relations secretariat.
Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee,
I am pleased to be here today to discuss the important issue of post-secondary education. I will outline what we're doing to improve the educational achievement of aboriginal students and, specifically, what we are doing to improve access to post-secondary education for first nations and Inuit students through our post-secondary education program and other education initiatives.
I think we all understand the importance of aboriginal education. Education is key to a better future for a young and growing aboriginal population. The Centre for the Study of Living Standards and other research institutes have confirmed the potential for this young and growing population to make a significant contribution to Canada's GDP, tax revenues, and reductions in social transfers. The demographics of a young and growing aboriginal population and an older non-aboriginal population mean there will be important opportunities for well-educated aboriginal youth in both today's labour market and those of the future.
However, available data suggests that the number of first nations and Inuit students accessing funds through our post-secondary education program is going down, at a time when population needs are rising. Under our department's post-secondary education program, approximately 23,000 first nations and Inuit students across Canada are receiving about $314 million to help with the cost of tuition fees, books, transportation, and living allowances. This is down from nearly 30,000 students a decade ago.
Although clearly this poses a challenge, some progress has been made. In 2006 approximately 7% of first nations people between the ages of 26 and 64 had a university degree, which is up from 5% in 2001. Similarly, 4% of Inuit students had a university degree in 2006, up from 2% in 2001. However, in comparison, 23% of the non-aboriginal population had a university degree in 2006. Attainment levels are, however, significantly better for college certificates, with 17% of first nations having a college certificate in 2006, compared with 20% for the non-aboriginal population. Clearly, the gap in achievement levels means that we need to speed up the rate of improvement to improve educational outcomes for students.
That is why it is so essential that now, more than ever, the federal government play an active role in supporting access to post-secondary education, especially for aboriginal youth. This year alone, the Government of Canada is investing a total of about $9.8 billion on post-secondary education to address this important issue. What's more, through Canada's economic action plan, HRSDC are making additional investments in labour market and skills development for aboriginal people. These investments will help aboriginal men and women to not only develop vital skills but also take advantage of existing employment opportunities.
In budget 2008, the government committed to review Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's post-secondary education to ensure that it is coordinated with other programs and that it provides the support that first nation and Inuit students need to stay in school and complete their education.
Committee members may recall that the post-secondary education program was examined by the Government of Canada--including this committee in 2006--and outside evaluators a number of times over the past several years.
Some of the observations are that the current program does not ensure that students who most need support get funding; and, awareness among First Nation and Inuit youth of the full range of options for post-secondary education funding is limited, especially for those on reserve.
There needs to be better information on the results being achieved by the program, so that the government can improve the way it reports to all Canadians.
Through the current review, we want to determine how best to increase student access to post-secondary education and ensure that the maximum number of students benefit from the resources available. As well, the review will provide recommendations on how best to support first nation and Inuit students through greater complementarity with other Government of Canada programs. The review will also look to ensure that funding reaches the students who need it most and that the program is accountable to aboriginal students and to all Canadians.
The review is looking at the financial and non-financial barriers faced by students. For example, students may underestimate the costs of attending college and university or may not explore what other types of student financial assistance are available to them. We know that first nations students are more likely to be older, female, and have child care responsibilities; these factors increase the barriers to completion. They are more likely to interrupt their studies to earn employment income. While many of these barriers exist for non-aboriginal students, we know that they are more acute for first nation and Inuit students living in remote, isolated areas.
We are currently in the early stages of work on the review and we will want to hear from others as the work advances, especially from students and their families and from first nation leaders who have primary responsibility for delivering the program funds to their students. One of the issues identified by educators as key to increasing access to post-secondary education is the need to start early and ensure a solid learning foundation.
For first nation and Inuit students, this issue is especially applicable given the low rates of high school completion. Greater success at the post-secondary level is contingent on better results at the high school level. That is why, in addition to the review of post-secondary education, we are exploring other avenues to improve the education of first nation children, including ongoing work on kindergarten to grade 12, improved support for aboriginal economic development and skills, and the provision of career development opportunities, the latter managed largely by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada in partnership with provinces and territories.
I want to take this opportunity to tell you about work underway at INAC to set the foundation for long-term improvements in education. On December 1, 2008, the Department launched two new education programs: the First Nation Students Success Program, and the Education Partnerships Program.
The first nation student success program will support first nation educators on-reserve to develop success plans, conduct student assessments, and put in place performance measurement to assess and report on school and student progress. In particular, the program will help first nation educators to plan and make improvements in three priority areas of literacy, numeracy, and student retention.
Through the education partnerships program, we are working to bring together first nation and provincial educators to improve the academic performance of aboriginal students in first nation and in provincial schools. The closing date for the first-round submission of proposals was February 16—a few days ago—so we are just beginning the work with first nations and provinces to roll out these programs across the country.
Off-reserve, the quality of education for aboriginal students is of critical interest for the Office of the Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians, or OFI, as we call it, which works closely with provinces, national and provincial aboriginal organizations, federal departments, and organizations to improve the quality of education available to off-reserve aboriginal Canadians. OFI is collaborating with several provinces, universities, and other stakeholders on specific projects to address the needs of aboriginal students within provincial systems. INAC is also working with leaders from the four Inuit organizations and key provinces and territories on an Inuit education accord and a related national Inuit education strategy. We'd be pleased to speak in more detail about these initiatives, if the committee wishes.
Mr. Chairman, work is under way across the department to increase access to post-secondary education for aboriginal youth. Clearly, there are no simple solutions to the challenges facing this growing population, but we believe that the work we have started on the review and on improvements to kindergarten to grade 12 education will ultimately help more first nation and Inuit students pursue their educational goals and make a greater contribution to their communities and to Canada.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this important issue with your Committee.
Well, we can take you through that, certainly. Maybe we can just do that fairly quickly and then provide more detail if you would like.
There was a series of recommendations around improving information available on the web, and we've done a fair bit of work there between ourselves, in terms of the department website, and HRSDC. There is the CanLearn website, which collects a lot of this information. There's also the Aboriginal Canada Portal, which is an across-government website that provides very good access to the whole array of information on post-secondary programs. So we've actually done a fair bit of work on that.
There was also a recommendation on the 2% cap. I think we've talked about that. That remains a challenge for us.
Another one, recommendation three, deals with increasing the budget for post-secondary to reflect increased needs, and as you know, we've basically been dealing with the 2% cap since that period of time.
There was also a recommendation on looking at the number of first nation and Inuit learners who might be eligible. We don't have that kind of very detailed information. Various numbers have been raised there, so we've not really made much progress on that.
In terms of data collection overall, you had a series of recommendations on data collection, and we are pleased to report some progress there. We have recently obtained some funding to develop a data system for education and post-secondary education, which we are confident is going to provide a lot better information right across the board on data.
Thanks again for coming here today.
I want to start off with a comment about the decreasing number of students. The millennium scholarship funding study that was done in 2004 says that one possible reason for the decline in the number of students is that funding levels have remained unchanged and costs have risen. I don't think it's any surprise to any of us that one of the reasons the bands are struggling with many more students is simply that it used to cost x number of dollars and now it costs x plus, so that's one good reason for a decline.
I want to come back to the fact that the committee did some very good work on a report in 2006. Back in 2000, the Auditor General indicated that at least 22 studies between 1991 and 1999 had been conducted on education, K to 12 and post-secondary, and then went on to say that the total cost of the studies “is unknown”, adding that “None of the study reports that came to our attention was accompanied by a departmental implementation plan that identified how and by whom the necessary remedial action would be taken....” That was in 2000.
In 2004, the Auditor General went on to again highlight the fact that the department had again had any number of studies and there really wasn't a lot of action as a result. She commented in chapter 5.61 that “the Department informed the government that a comprehensive review of the policy was ongoing” and that it was “committed to developing recommendations, in consultation with First Nations, to update the policy framework and program delivery...by 2003.”
When the committee went on to do its study in 2006, one of the reasons we looked at post-secondary, even though we recognize that K to 12 is a very important building block for post-secondary, was that the department was in the midst of conducting a review of primary and secondary education programs, with new policy and management frameworks due for completion by early 2007. We haven't seen that either.
So when I hear there's another review going on.... I was on the committee on Status of Women when the women's organizations talked about the fact that in one of their broken-down offices they could hold up the corner of their table by the stack of reports that had not been acted on. It appears to be the same when we're talking about education, both elementary and post-secondary.
I'm going to raise another point. From 2004 to 2006, INAC worked with the Assembly of First Nations to renew the authorities for the post-secondary education program. What's happened with that review on the authorities? Has there been any reporting out on it?
Certainly. Chair, some of the issues that have been identified include the following.
I think we're all aware that the number of students involved in the program has declined in the past 10 years. We're quite concerned about that.
Other studies have shown that the awareness of the full array of student support programs amongst first nation and Inuit youth is very low. That concerns us, because there are many options available; it's not just the INAC post-secondary support program.
We also know that there are many barriers to success, and a straight student financial assistance program doesn't necessarily get at any of those barriers. We need to think about more holistic and integrated approaches to our support for post-secondary.
There's been an issue raised about the equity of access to funding for the program. It is allocated at a community level, which largely presumes that the need for post-secondary is the same across all communities in the country. I think we know that's not the case.
Also, issues have been raised about how we ensure that the students with the highest needs get the most support. Again, with the type of program we have, we really can't be assured of that.
Finally, how do we report better, as I think this committee is asking—and for Canadians in general, how do we report better—on the results and the outcomes being achieved through this program? Again, there are challenges to that, given the existing structure of the program that we have.
So we have a set of fairly wide-spread issues.
Thanks to our witnesses for being here today.
A number of times today we have referred to the report that this committee did in 2006. Certainly I recall being part of that committee study, and I think a lot of good recommendations came from it. I want to remind the committee, however, that the government did table a response to that report.
There are some key elements we're missing in terms of response. Mr. Bélanger mentioned the different envelopes that are available. Mr. Duncan referred to the incomplete picture if we look at just INAC funding.
I just want to read a couple of paragraphs from that report for the committee, because some of us are new here.
||The Government believes that a concept of shared responsibility must apply in providing support for Aboriginal post-secondary education and that this entails exploring the range of resources available from public, institutional, non-profit and private sector sources. Thus a learner might seek funding not only from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's post-secondary education programs but also from the Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP), the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, the Millennium Scholarships and private scholarships, as well as from personal and family sources. Likewise, a program of Aboriginal studies might simultaneously receive support from an Indian and Northern Affairs Canada program, operate within a provincially funded institution and be sponsored by a not-for-profit foundation
It goes on:
||At the same time, the Government recognizes that it is essential to continuously monitor and reassess ongoing federal programs. Issues of funding for post-secondary education will be considered as part of the required review of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada's education programs. However, this must be done in the context of measuring outcomes, evaluating the effectiveness of programs, and exploring alternative models.
I know that seems like a long introduction, but I think it gets to the heart of the oversimplicity of thinking that we can increase the envelope of the 2% cap that's currently here and suddenly all of our problems will disappear. I think it's essential that ongoing monitoring and evaluation of our educational programs is done, because that not only benefits taxpayers in Canada, but in the end it benefits all first nations people, especially students who are wanting to access this program. The more efficiently those dollars are used, the more students will benefit from it. So I want to get that on the record.
If I still have some time left, I would like you to expand a little bit on the two new programs that you mentioned in your opening remarks. If I have them correctly, these programs are the first nation student success program and the education partnerships program. There are significant funds being invested in those over the next five years. Could you expand a bit on those for us? For us as new committee members, I think it would be beneficial.
I want to come back to that a bit more.
Committee members sometimes ask what the budget is, and when it's a high number some people say, oh my God, that's a lot of money. But we must always compare that money to the need that exists. I believe there is a general consensus that when it comes to primary and secondary education for aboriginal people, there is a gap between the money that's being contributed and what's actually required. There is a gap there.
I know there's a reluctance to remove this 2% cap even though the federal government itself, the Conservative government, had said when it came to the Canada social transfer that they have ballooned the Canadian social transfer to the provinces. They have ballooned that, but for aboriginal people it is at 2%. Why the reluctance to get rid of the 2% cap? I'd like to have some rationale on why there is a reluctance.
My second question is to Mr. MacDonald. It's good to see you again.
The committee recommended the government enter into consultation around access to post-secondary for Métis, non-status, and urban aboriginal people. Has any of that taken place, with a view to direct federal government assistance based on a PSSP model to these particular aboriginal groups?
One of the things they talked about in paragraph 5.3 is that as a result, the department.... There are lots of things about lack of information. We've already covered the fact that you're developing a system but that the department does not know whether program funds are sufficient to support the eligible students. So it's a little troubling that many people believe, and there was certainly a hint from the Auditor General, that there are not enough funds available to meet the need.
One factor that we know prevents students from attending, in many aboriginal communities, is poverty. We know that poverty rates on reserve are significantly higher than they are in the rest of Canada. When we look at the Human Development Index, first nations on reserves rank, in many cases, with people in the third world.
So when I hear that some of the options being considered are looking at going to Canada student loans or not having a 100% grant basis.... We already know that there are significant barriers to many first nations students attending. I can't remember the percentage, but there is a percentage of women who are attending, and you outlined the fact that they often have additional responsibilities caring for children and, as we also know anecdotally, caring for elders in their communities.
So when you look at these potential options, what other options are you considering that would address the poverty barriers to people attending post-secondary?
Thank you, Mr. Bélanger.
Now, members, we will adjourn in a minute or two, but there are couple of things I want to bring your attention to before we finish up.
The first is that the minister will in fact attend our first session on Bill C-5 next Tuesday. Similarly, it would appear—and I can't confirm this—we're working on getting him here for the supplementary estimates (C) the following Tuesday as well.
I would draw your attention to some materials that were circulated today, one sessional paper, and the other is the calendar, as promised, in terms of the work that we have in front of us for the next two weeks. It should be with your materials. Just make sure you have it. If you don't, please see the clerk at the end of the meeting.
On behalf of all the members of this Committee, I want to thank you for your presentations this morning. I am sure they will prove extremely helpful in our future discussions.
Thank you very much and we'll see you next Tuesday at 9 a.m.
The meeting is adjourned.