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Education: Provinces In Canada Responsible For Financing Advanced Studies

Ottawa, 14 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Under the Canadian Constitution, responsibility for the educational system rests exclusively with the 10 provinces and two territories. Provincial and territorial departments of education, headed by an elected minister, set standards, draw up curricula and give grants to educational institutions.

Canada is second only to the United States in the percentage of the populated aged 18 to 24 enrolled as full-time students in universities, colleges and technical institutes. More than a quarter of the Canadian working population has a university or college degree.

The federal government is involved only indirectly. It provides much of the funding for education through "bloc" transfers to the provinces and territories, which put up additional money to subsidize the post-secondary educational system. Per capita spending on education in Canada is one of the highest in the industrialized world - about eight per cent of Gross Domestic Product - or $36 billion a year.

In addition, the federal government, through the Canada Student Loans Program, helps students who do not have sufficient funds to pursue their post-secondary studies. The program provides loan guarantees and interest rate subsidies. The provinces and territories offer complimentary programs of loans and bursaries. Spending on student aid totals about $400 million. There is also a range of scholarships available to help cover the costs.

In all of Canada except the French-speaking province of Quebec, students graduate from high school after completing 12 or 13 grades. In Quebec, high school ends with grade 12 and then students may attend what are called CEGEPS - publicly-funded junior colleges - for two years, earning a diploma before they apply to university.

At the post-secondary level there are colleges which offer two-to-three-year diploma or certificate programs. These offer courses in applied arts, business, health science, agriculture, trades and technology. Then, there are universities which offer four-year degree-granting programs.

In order to apply to a university, a student must have completed what are called special Academic Credits in six subjects such as English, Mathematics, Chemistry, History, Physics and so on. These are higher-level and harder than the general classes offered in the same subjects at the high school level - a kind of two-tier system with one group of classes designed for those wanting to attend university and more general classes for those who do not.

In each province, university and college applications are handled centrally rather than students applying to individual schools. That is due to the way in which the post-secondary system is subsidized - the provinces need to know how many students will be attending school because it affects how much money they receive from the federal government. It is also intended to ensure that colleges and universities are funded on an equitable basis.

Students are allowed to apply to three schools - either in his or her home province or in another part of the country. Each university application costs 45 dollars while college applications are 25 dollars.

Admittance standards may vary from year to year depending on the average grades of the students who apply but, generally, grades of higher than 80 per cent are required in order to be considered. The applications are sorted through and the university or college will then make an offer. The student replies to the central application center, indicating whether or not the offer is accepted. A student may not accept more than one offer.

In placing students, preference is given to students from within the province, followed by students from elsewhere in Canada and then international students. Transfers from one school to another are permitted but, again, they must be handled through the central agency. Currently, there are about one-and-a-half million people enrolled full- or part-time at the post-secondary level. Of that, 55 per cent are women.

The cost of tuition at a Canadian university is about $2,500 a year, if the student lives at home. The cost of housing - such as a dormitory or boarding house - plus books, transportation and other expenses can add up to three or four times the cost of tuition. International students must pay a much higher price - four or five times more, to reflect the unsubsidized cost of post- secondary education. As a result, the number of foreign students is decreasing: in 1996, there were about 73,000 students from more than 200 countries - 12 per cent fewer than in 1991.

Student debt is a growing issue. Most students take advantage of the student loan programs available at the federal and provincial levels. On average, students are borrowing between three and four thousand dollars a year which means that, when they graduate, they are starting out with debt loads in the neighborhood of $12,000-to-$16,000 A few years ago, some of the loan programs initiated partial forgiveness programs.

As for curricula, all colleges and universities are self-governing. Through associations and other organizations, there is general agreement on the minimum requirements for degree-granting but there is no national standard. The provincial and territorial education ministers meet on a regular basis to discuss funding and program direction.

Every year, about 180,000 university degrees and 600,000 college diplomas are granted in Canada and of these, about 27,000 are master's and doctoral degrees.