Aboriginal Education

The Post-Secondary Student Support Program

The federal government provides funding for Status First Nations and Inuit people (as defined by the Indian Act) through the Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP). Funding for the PSSSP is distributed by band councils under their own eligibility criteria. For example, some bands fund more students at a portion of the total cost of their education, whereas other band councils give a grant covering all of a student’s expenses.

Of the Aboriginal students enrolled in post-secondary education, about 25% of those enrolled in college and 15% of those enrolled in university receive funds through the PSSSP.

When accounting for inflation and population growth, the value of the federal government’s contribution to the PSSSP and other support programs has not been increased meaningfully since the mid-1990s. Funding for INAC’s Post-Secondary Education Program, which includes the PSSSP, has been capped at 2% annual growth since 1996.

In 2005, the federal government announced plans to tax PSSSP funds as income, removing the funding from tax exempt status and violating the federal governments’ fiduciary responsibility to First Nations people. The Canadian Federation of Students, as well as many First Nations groups in Canada, successfully lobbied the federal government to halt the proposed taxation of the PSSSP.

The Federation has been lobbying the federal government to increase funding to the PSSSP to ensure that no eligible student is denied funding to pursue post-secondary education. In addition, the Federation is proposing that consultations begin immediately between the federal government and Aboriginal organisations with a view to developing a plan to include students not currently eligible to receive funding under the Indian and Northern Affairs Canada Post-Secondary Program (non-Status First Nations and Métis students).

National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation

The 2003 federal budget included a $12-million endowment to establish post-secondary scholarships for Aboriginal people. The scholarships will be administered by the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, a private charity that provides funding to Aboriginal students for education and training. No details were provided on the number of scholarships that will be funded through the endowment, nor the dollar amount of individual scholarships.

While new money to assist Aboriginal peoples’ participation in post-secondary education is welcome, this one-time endowment does not constitute the type of long-term investment that is required. When adjusted for inflation, annual funding through Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for Aboriginal post-secondary education actually declined by almost $14 million between 1998 and 2002, after which funding was capped at a rate slower than population growth. At the same time, rising tuition fees mean that post-secondary education costs a student much more than it did a decade ago.

Tuition Fees

As with any non-repayable student financial assistance, skyrocketing tuition fees have dramatically depreciated the value of programs like the PSSSP. Moreover, the scarcity of education funding for non-Status Aboriginals means that financial barriers to post-secondary education remain insurmountable.

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