Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

November 29, 2004

Report on improving access to higher education released

The University of Guelph today released a groundbreaking report on improving access to university education both at U of G and across the system.

The report by the Presidential Task Force on Accessibility to University Education is the culmination of more than a year of research, analysis and consultations.

It contains recommendations for U of G to consider as part of a strategic plan to enhance accessibility on its campus, as well as suggested changes at the provincial and federal levels. These include establishing a deferred tuition plan, revising student financial assistance programs, and reaching out to aboriginal and minority populations.

“I want to thank all of the task force members who have worked tirelessly these many months to produce this final report,” president Alastair Summerlee said. “I have no doubt that their thorough and critical review will ignite an important dialogue on our campus and across the educational system about this crucial issue.”

During his installation as president last October, Summerlee pledged to be a “tireless advocate of accessible and affordable public education.” He created the task force that same month. It had a mandate to examine the various financial, social and academic issues that affect accessibility at the local, provincial and national levels.

The task force was chaired by Maureen Mancuso, provost and vice-president (academic), and was composed of three faculty members, four students and the university registrar. “We identified a fundamental goal: all qualified individuals should be able to attend university,” Mancuso said. “Our objective was to study and propose remedies for the barriers that prevent us from reaching that goal.”

The task force’s report discusses accessibility from a broad perspective, from financial aid to the admissions process. “Financial barriers are often oversimplified into an argument over tuition levels,” Mancuso said. “Our report emphasizes that tuition is just one part of the total costs of attending university. Living expenses, travel, ancillary fees and other expenses can exceed the amount of tuition, and are poorly addressed in current financial aid systems.”

The report also suggests that the admissions process focuses too narrowly on grade averages and should take into account applicants’ overall skills and experiences. Other key provincial and national recommendations include:

• Reforming the financing of education through a universal deferred tuition plan that would eliminate the key barriers that prevent low-income students from attending university.

• Committing to keep tuition fees from rising above current levels.

• Radically revising the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

• Restoring provincial funding to cover the actual costs of education.

• Allowing part-time students interest-payment relief, increased loan limits and increased access to grants.

In addition to advocating for systemic change, the task force made recommendations specific to U of G. These include supporting programs for aboriginal and visible minority populations and students with disabilities, creating scholarships to encourage enrolment of first-generation students, and establishing bursaries to offset the higher total costs that are inherent in residentially-intensive universities like Guelph.

“The committee did a tremendous amount of work,” said task force member Josh Alcock, a recent graduate, former student leader and member of U of G’s Board of Governors. “I was impressed by how much care was taken to understand the issues. We had some very lively debates as we considered and evaluated various competing perspectives. This report makes some very realistic recommendations that could easily be adopted by the current system. My hope is that students will see it as a real step towards improving accessibility.”

The report is accessible online. It will also be presented to the University Senate in December.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt (519) 824-4120, Ext. 53338, or Rachelle Cooper, Ext. 56982.

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