Report questions effectiveness of New Brunswick's tuition access bursary
A report from the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies expresses doubt about the effectiveness of the Gallant government's tuition access bursary in getting low-income students through university.
Patrick Webber, the research associate who wrote the paper, said there are better ways to help students get a post-secondary education than the bursary program also known as TAB.
"There are ways in which you can actually achieve the goal of giving access to people who have financial challenges but much more cost-effective than just across the board," Webber said in an interview.
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Webber said there is room for financial considerations in a bursary program, but ability to pay isn't the huge deterrent for low-income students that many may think.
"Your willingness to go on to post-secondary education [is influenced] a great deal by how well you did in high school, what were your parents attitudes towards education," said Webber.
"TAB doesn't do anything to address those."
Instead, Webber thinks that how much a student gets in financial aid should be based on a mixture of financial need and the student's ability and merit coming out of high school.
"There is a direct correlation between how well you did in high school and your likelihood of graduating and completing university," said Webber.
The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies describes itself as an independent economic and social policy think tank and does research into public policy issues affecting people in the four Atlantic provinces.
Begging to differ
Robert Burroughs, the executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, isn't a fan of Weber's tuition proposal and believes it would be detrimental to low-income students.
"What I'm hearing is ... New Brunswicker taxpayers shouldn't be subsidising poor kids to go to school," said Burroughs.
"That's the underlying message that I'm hearing here, which is fundamentally problematic."
Burroughs said TAB allows for an evening-out of the playing field for disenfranchised groups.
"It allows government and New Brunswick society and universities to use tuition policy effectively as a mechanism to try and reduce some of the intergenerational inequalities, some of the financial and economic inequalities in this province," said Burroughs.
The report offers three other recommendations. It says the government should do more to ease debt burdens of New Brunswickers who have already graduated, citing the high number of graduates in the province with debts higher than $25,000.
A focus on improving scores in primary and secondary schools and a greater emphasis on trades and skills training round out the recommendations.
Earlier this year, the New Brunswick government added another line of tuition support for students in the province. Under the new program taking effect in August, a bursary amount would be based on the size of a student's family and its income. The program is supposed to help thousands of students in need of financial aid who weren't eligible for the tuition access bursary program.