Higher-income Canadian high-school students are two-and-a-half times more likely to attend university than their low-income schoolmates, according to statistics.
The study, released by Statistics Canada, based its findings on a survey of 2,000 18 to 21-year-olds in 1998, who were asked if they had attended university some time in their life. The researchers looked at their families' earnings when they were 16 and divided them into four equal income brackets. The students from the highest-earning families scored a 40 per cent participation rate for university enrolment. The lowest scored only 16 per cent. Middle-income groups averaged a 26 per cent participation rate. There was a per cent average for all four groups.
University tuition fees in Canada have risen significantly. In 2000, the average student paid 44 per cent more in tuition fees than in 1995. Debt has also increased - critics say that the high costs deter poorer students from going to university.
The gap between the low and high-income groups in the survey was less striking when all forms of post-secondary education were factored in. While the high-income group scored a 70 per cent overall participation rate, 49 per cent of the low-income group had attended a university, college, vocational training or trade school.
According to a survey by the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, family income may play a lesser role in university participation than commonly thought. A survey released last month showed that half of Canadian students involved in all post-secondary education do not receive any financial assistance from their families.
The foundation said student financial assistance programmes in Canada, which assume that everyone receives help from their parents until the age of 22, were overestimating family support. It surveyed over 1,500 university students and found that one third of those under 22 was not receiving financial help from their parents.
The group also tracked students' reliance on credit cards and found that 19 per cent of students surveyed had debt of more than C$2,500 (£1,100). The Canadian Federation of Students is pressing the government to introduce grants.