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Democracy centre calls for equity to be a criterion for university excellence


In a discussion paper to be presented today in Toronto, Queen’s University’s Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) states that “in a healthy and genuine democracy equitable access to a higher education should be a political and philosophical given”.

Primary author and research co-ordinator of the CSD, Valerie Ashford, suggests that “meaningful efforts to enlist a greater population of diversely defined students, whether in terms of class or race or any other marginalization, should count as a criterion of excellence.” The paper points out, for example, that The Higher Education Authority of Ireland has an explicit commitment to equity. The Centre recommends that Canada adopt this policy.

Equitable Access to the Canadian University and Quality: Can We Have Both? will be presented to representatives from Maclean’s magazine, the Higher Education Quality Counsel of Ontario, representatives from York University and the University of Toronto, and the Social Enterprise Development Institute.

The paper reviews current definitions of ‘quality’ in higher education, both in Canada and internationally; the current situation on access to post-secondary education, and the plethora of education incentives, both federal and provincial. “We are seeking to spark a national discussion about post-secondary education”, says Ms. Ashford, “as nothing is more important for our goals of social justice and economic opportunity”.

The recommendations aim “to create an increasingly democratized system of education which, by significantly enhancing Canada’s human capital development, can have the effect of deepening the potential for excellence in Canada’s work force, research, academies, public leadership and citizen engagement.”

Some of the paper’s specific suggestions include that:

• The Council of Ministers of Education have a national round-table on access and quality. Ontario should initiate this debate.
• Universities in Canada explore an open university system based on the UK model.
• More transparency and predictability of costs and aid.
• Creation of refundable tax credits, or elimination of the tax credit system.
• The provinces match the federal Canada Learning Bond.
• The first $6,000 of assistance for low-income students be grants, not loans.
• The federal government match the first $1,000 in savings by low income Canadians in the new Tax-Free Savings Plan.

A PDF of the paper is available upon request.

The symposium, being hosted by the University of Toronto and presented in partnership with the Registered Education Dealers Association of Canada, will be moderated by CSD’s Chair, Thomas Axworthy.

For more information contact Communications Assistants Molly Kehoe,, 613.533.2877, or Alissa Clark,, 613.533.6000 ext 77513, Queen’s News & Media Services


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