Government should ensure access to education, says Rae

CUP British Columbia Bureau Chief

VICTORIA (CUP) — Bob Rae, a potential contender for the Liberal leadership, shared his views on education at a public lecture at the University of Victoria March 28.

Rae, a former NDP premier of Ontario, called for a “national vision” in education.

“Education and the learning agenda has to become a much bigger part of our national life than it has ever been,” he said. “We need a national vision to make learning a real priority.” Without that, he said, we will fall behind economically, which could affect our standard of living and social programs.

Rae said he is strong believer of the “Billie Holiday school of public policy,” explaining that the famous singer said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and rich is better.”

“If you want to distribute wealth, you have to have the wealth to distribute.”

For that reason, he said, we have to get away from the false dichotomy between the economy and social justice and recognize that the two areas are connected.

“In a modern economy, it takes educated people, it takes a good infrastructure, it takes liveable communities, it takes a sustainable environment, it takes a whole range of investments that make for a quality of life and in fact create the conditions for prosperity.”

Rae also recognized that education has value beyond just the economy, noting that is provides opportunities for Canadians. Seventy per cent of all new jobs require post secondary education; however, only 50 per cent of this generation attends college or university.

According to Rae, cost of education is a concern, but the biggest barrier to access is not tuition, but time out of the workforce”?the money you’re not making while going to school”?and the living cost.

“The federal government should be saying to all Canadians, ‘You have a right to an education, and we will make sure that there are no financial barriers to your attending college or university. We will ensure that Aboriginal people can go to college and university. We will ensure that people who are new to the country can go to college and university. And in fact we will provide you with the means to do that.'”

Although education is the jurisdiction of the provinces, he said there is nothing stopping the federal government from ensuring access for students. He did maintain, however, that the federal government cannot”?and should not”?reduce tuition fees.

In his 2005 review of education in Ontario, Rae recommended the end of the province’s tuition freeze and increased student financial aid.

“From my experience in life, you can’t ever improve the quality of something unless you’re prepared to invest in it, whether you invest in it as an individual or as a government,” he said.

“I think there’s been a tendency to overestimate the cost of education and underestimate the value.”