OTTAWA, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- University education in Canada is becoming less affordable, according to a study released Tuesday.
Average tuition and other compulsory fees for Canadian undergraduate students are estimated to rise by almost 18 percent over the next four years, from 6,186 Canadian dollars in 2011-12 to 7,330 dollars, says a report by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.
"Since 1990, with very few exceptions, the tuition-fee burden across the country has been increasing faster than incomes," said Erika Shaker, co-author of the study and director of the education project at the Ottawa-based social, economic and environmental justice research institute.
She explained that between 1990 and 2011, the average annual increase in tuition fees and ancillary fees in Canada was 6.2 percent, or nearly three times greater than the 2.1 percent rate of inflation during this period.
If fee increases had kept pace with inflation, they would currently be at an average of 3,096 dollars rather than the 2011- 12 national average of 6,186 dollars, the study said.
The cost of post-secondary education also varies across Canada' s 10 provinces.
In 2011-12, the easternmost province of Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest tuition and compulsory undergrad fees at 2, 861 dollars and will only increase by 32 dollars in 2015-16 after the provincial government implemented a freeze of fees in 1999- 2000 and later rolled them back by 25 percent to 1996-97 levels.
At the opposite end, Canada's most populous province, Ontario, had the highest tuition and ancillary fees at 7,513 dollars in 2011-12, which are expected to skyrocket to 9,231 dollars by 2015- 16.
The study used a "cost of learning" index to measure tuition increases against the rise of income for the average family, and arrived at some startling conclusions.
"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," said Shaker. "By 2015-16, that will have increased to four times more affordable."
And despite this year's massive student protests against planned tuition hikes in the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, fees there are still among the lowest in Canada.
If the newly elected separatist Parti Quebecois government doesn't reverse the defeated Liberals' proposed increases, tuition and compulsory fees will rise to 4,472 dollars in 2015-16, putting Quebec in third place behind the prairie province of Manitoba on the affordability scale.
If premier-designate Pauline Marois scraps the hike, Quebec will be the second least-expensive Canadian province for undergraduates, with fees set to slightly rise from 3,278 dollars in 2011-12 to 3,664 dollars in 2015-16.
The report noted that instead of reducing tuition fees to improve the cost of learning, most provincial governments "have chosen to go the route of after-the-fact assistance: debt relief, loans forgiveness, tax credits, or zero interest."
While those measures can provide "some modest relief" for qualifying students, "it does not help with the upfront costs: you can't pay your university bill with a tax credit," the report concluded. (1 U.S. dollar = 0.9734 Canadian dollars)