University education in Canada becoming less affordable: study

September 11, 2012

OTTAWA—Average tuition and compulsory fees for Canadian undergraduate students are estimated to rise almost 18% over the next four years, from almost $6,200 in 2011-12 to over $7,300, says a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The study looks at trends in tuition and compulsory fees in Canada since 1990, projects fees for each province for the next four years, and examines the impact on affordability for median- and low-income families using a Cost of Learning Index.

“Since 1990, with very few exceptions, the tuition fee burden across the country has been increasing faster than incomes. Between 1990 and 2011 the average annual increase in tuition fees and ancillary fees in Canada was 6.2%—nearly three times greater than the rate of inflation,” says Erika Shaker, co-author of the study and director of the CCPA’s education project.

The study’s Cost of Learning Index clearly demonstrates that provincial governments play a significant role in ensuring university education is more—or less—affordable for median and low-income families, particularly when household debt is at an all-time high and incomes have been stagnant for over two decades. 

According to the study, Newfoundland and Labrador is the most affordable province for university education, both for median- and low-income families, while Ontario and Nova Scotia are among the least affordable.

“It is now almost three times more affordable for median-income families in Newfoundland and Labrador to send their children to university than it is for median-income families in Ontario. By 2015-16, that will have increased to four times more affordable,” Shaker says.

The study also looks at how the legislated fee hike in Quebec would have impacted the Cost of Learning, particularly in a province that, through low fees, maintained a strong commitment to affordability in the past.

“Instead of reducing tuition fees, the majority of provincial governments have chosen to provide after-the-fact assistance such as debt relief, tax credits, or zero interest,” says Shaker. “While this can provide some modest relief for students who qualify, it does not help with the upfront costs: you can’t pay your university bill with a tax credit.”


Eduflation and the High Cost of Learning is available on the CCPA website:

For more information contact Kerri-Anne Finn, CCPA Senior Communications Officer, at 613-563-1341 x306.