A leading Canadian university has significantly increased the proportion of students it recruits from modest-income homes through a 25-fold increase in its aid package.
A 2003 survey by Toronto University shows that the number of undergraduate students whose families earn less than C$50,000 (£20,000) increased by 15 per cent from the previous year, even though tuition fees rose. Even faculties such as medicine, dentistry and law, where fee increases are highest, had 13 per cent more poorer students.
Students from modest-income families make up 45 per cent of Toronto undergraduates. The university's needs-based financial aid has increased from about C$1.5 million to more than C$40 million (£16.6 million) over the past decade.
Toronto has a policy that lack of financial means should not prevent a student entering a programme. The university tops up government loans to cover additional living expenses. "One student - an undergraduate with a family - received C$40,000," Robert Birgeneau, Toronto president, said.
Since 1998, the provincial government has mandated Toronto and other Ontario universities to set aside 30 per cent of any tuition-fee increases for redistribution in student aid.
Many students, however, fall under the radar of student aid programmes, especially those who spend more time in paid work. A study from the Educational Policy Institute found 64 per cent of Canadian students seek part-time work to fund their education, compared with barely a quarter in 1964. Parental contribution made up 35 per cent of a student's budget in 1964, compared with 17 per cent today.
Last month, the Canadian government announced a first-year grant of C$3,000 - about $1,000 less than the average undergraduate annual tuition fee - for about 20,000 of the country's 380,000 students.