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Speculative Diction

Higher education news round-up: August 2011


Each month here at Speculative Diction I provide a short update on some of the latest post-secondary education news from Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

First up, in Canada earlier this month Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, to announce the winners of the 2011-2012 Vanier Graduate Scholarships (PhD awards each worth $50,000 per year for three years). McMaster landed 6 scholarships while the University of Toronto received the most awards (28). Some commentators have suggested that the announcement was part of a long-term strategy to win Hamiltonian support for the federal Conservatives.

Pre-election campaign announcements have begun in Ontario, including several in the past month from Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty. The incumbent Liberals plan to extend the interest-free period on student loans to one year for graduates who take jobs with non-profit organisations, and they have announced changes to credit check requirements for OSAP (Ontario student loans). Hudak’s plan involves reducing the amount of funding available to international students, while increasing access to OSAP for middle-class students.

Nationally, Statistics Canada reports that university completion rates for “first generation” students (those who are first in their families to attend university) have increased, a development that analyst Martin Turcotte attributes partly to a general rise in female enrollments over time. In politics, federal NDP leader Jack Layton’s death on August 22 was mourned throughout the country by those of all political stripes.

The biggest event in UK postsecondary education this month was the release of A-Level results and the university placement process that followed, called “clearing.” This year, an unprecedented 200,000 students will miss out on entry to university due to a “crunch” in available student spots. One reason for the bulge in applicants was that many students were trying to avoid the tuition fee hikes that will come into effect in 2012.

Universities in Scotland are now planning to charge up to £9,000 fees to students from England; lawyers have argued that jacking up tuition in this way would violate human rights laws, and the Scottish House of Lords is now attempting to make the increases illegal. Under the proposed increases Scottish students would continue to enjoy free higher education, as would those from the European Union.

Also in the UK, with impeccable timing, the Office for National Statistics reports that the pay premium has fallen for undergraduate degrees, a development that some have blamed on the recession, while others link it to the increase in postsecondary graduates over time.

After the budget crisis in the United States was resolved in early August, Pell grants have been saved (for the moment) but graduate students will face an increased “burden” in the form of unsubsidised student loans.

New Zealand’s parliament has passed the Student Loan Scheme Bill, which is designed to make it easier for the government to collect loan money from overseas residents. It aims to use this legislation to take aim at “serious [loan] defaulters”, many of whom live and work outside the country. New Zealand’s government is also considering changing the process of visa approval for international students, proposing that students’ visa approval be linked to the “quality” level of the institution the plan to attend.

Melonie Fullick
Melonie Fullick is a PhD candidate at York University. The topic of her dissertation is Canadian post-secondary education policy and its effects on the institutional environment in universities.
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  1. M-H / August 30, 2011 at 00:00

    Two of my adult children have left NZ without paying all of their loans back. It’s not clear to me how the NZ govt will locate these ‘defaulters’, many of whom have been out of NZ for more than ten years now. If they haven’t taken up citizenship elsewhere they may be hard to locate – won’t appear on electoral rolls, for example. And who is in the phone book these days?

    Really, the system should have been set up better in the first place. When my son left for England in 1999, there was no cheap way to remit money back to NZ, and his interest bill went up and up in the meantime. Some kind of deal should be offered to people if they want them to return.

  2. Melonie Fullick / August 30, 2011 at 21:21

    Hi Mary-Helen, thanks for the comment!

    It sounds like NZ has loans that collect interest all the way through studies and also through period where the borrower can’t afford to make payments? I don’t know enough about the details of past policies (or even current ones), but I’m guessing if the interest is a problem then that’s how they’re doing things. I know NZ has a more marketised system than Canada but not to what degree (more gov’t funding available in Canada I think).

    A lot of countries have the issue with people moving overseas to avoid payment (and they “disappear”), though I assume the situation in NZ is more extreme if they’re willing to implement a policy like this. I agree that the initial policy sounds like a problem anyway if people were moving away to avoid payment. Some might have thought they could make more money in the UK as well (cost of living there, and wages, seem to have changed that).