CANADA's federal government has passed a law aimed at helping bring down the cost of university.
The centrepiece of the law is the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, a funding body handling a Can$2.5 billion (Pounds 1.1 billion) endowment and expected to give bursaries averaging Can$3,000 a year. It is expected that 100,000 students will benefit over ten years when it starts in 2000.
But the plan is already facing criticism from campaigners. Elizabeth Carlyle, chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said there was a much easier way for governments to ensure accessibility and low debt-loads. "It is called the taxation system," she said, adding that the foundation, which is still in the process of being set up, is too closely tied with the private sector.
The CFS and the Canadian Association of University Teachers recently applauded those provincial finance ministers who, in the light of increased federal revenues, called for the restoration of a Can$6 billion cut, which represented one-third of transfer payments to the provinces for education, health and welfare.
The average Canadian student, outside the province of Quebec, is expected to owe the Canada Student Loans Programme Can$25,000 once they graduate. Students in Quebec, where a separate loans and bursaries programme exists with lower tuition costs, will soon be carrying an average Can$11,000 debt.
The government said the foundation will add to the approximately 50,000 private scholarships already available to students.
It defended its involvement with the private sector, saying that it wants to help shore up increased corporate funding for students. Private sector dollars would supplement the fund and help extend it beyond its ten-year life.
Claude Proulx, associate director of the Canada Student Loans Programmes, said existing legislation forbids the private sector from benefiting directly from their grant money and said the fund is being directed "first and foremost" at those students in need. He said that some students will be eligible for the grant every year, which means they could receive more than just the $Can 3,000.