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REF NO.: 109

SUBJECT: Memorial University president says recent Ekos research poll supports research done in this province
DATE: Jan. 21, 2004

Memorial University President Axel Meisen says that results of a recent Ekos Research Associates poll would seem to support research conducted in this province on the value of post-secondary education. The recent poll indicates a large majority of Canadians see the benefits of a university education and believe government should do more to ensure there's a spot for every qualified student.

According to the poll, at least three-quarters of Canadians say a university degree greatly improves one's chances of getting a job and has a big impact on a person's quality of life and personal growth. An even larger number, 82 per cent, believe a degree positively affects lifetime earnings and career advancement opportunities.

"We have long known that students graduating from Memorial University have an advantage when it comes to finding jobs and finding higher paying jobs," said Dr. Meisen. "Our provincial government's own research supports what most Canadians believe about the benefits of a higher education," he added, referring to the post-secondary follow up research, Career Search 2002, undertaken by the Department of Youth Services and Post-Secondary Education.

The Ekos poll also explored Canadians' perceptions of the capacity of Canadian universities. When asked if they thought universities have enough room for all qualified students who want to go, two-thirds of Canadians said no.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) - the national organization representing Canada's 93 public and private not-for-profit university and university-degree level colleges - estimates that rising demand will push enrolment up at Canadian universities by at least 30 per cent, or 200,000 additional full-time students, in the decade ending in 2011. As of fall 2003, following the two largest year-over-year enrolment increases ever seen in Canada, full-time enrolment has already risen by nearly 100,000 students - already half way to the total enrolment growth predicted in the 30 per cent growth scenario.

"This sort of enrolment growth is not sustainable if universities don't receive additional funding to hire more staff and expand their physical and technological infrastructure to meet student demand," said Robert J. Giroux, president of the AUCC. "Without adequate government investment in universities' institutional capacity, either access or educational quality - or both - will suffer."

"Our university still has the capacity to take some more students," Dr. Meisen noted. "However, we face funding challenges related to deferred maintenance, the recruitment of and retention of professors, acquiring new teaching equipment and staff support."

The public is firmly behind increased funding, with nearly four-fifths of Canadians supporting additional government grants to universities to expand their capacity. As well, 85 per cent said it's time for the federal government to invest more in support of university education. An overwhelming 89 per cent - nearly nine out of 10 Canadians - see this spending as a good long-term investment for the country.

"Federal investment in post-secondary education is a complex issue," Dr. Meisen said. "The federal government has, over the last number of years, created major programs to bolster research at Canadian universities. Memorial has also been able to move ahead with some significant projects such as the Bonne Bay Marine Station, the visualization centre in earth science and the Inco Innovation Centre. The latter was partly supported by the Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF), a fund that is now almost completely committed. It is extremely important that there is a successor to AIF and that the federal government strengthens the national granting agencies, particularly the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. I made these points at the recent roundtable with Ralph Goodale, the federal minister responsible for finance."

The poll showed that 89 per cent of respondents also support university research and its benefits to Canadians and Canadian society. In addition, there appears to be strong support for preparing students for a global future, with 85 percent of Canadians agreeing that knowledge of other cultures and an understanding of the world are increasingly important qualities for employees to have in today's labour market. In a related development, last week, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Canadian Federation of Students called on the federal government to use the upcoming Speech from the Throne as an opportunity to stress the importance of post-secondary education for all Canadians. They recommended that the federal government commit to working with provincial and territorial governments to design and implement a fiscal transfer to the provinces and territories for the specific purpose of funding post-secondary education. In a joint letter to the prime minister, these groups - which represent students, faculty, scholarly associations and more than 200 post-secondary institutions across the country - emphasized that accessible and high quality post-secondary education is vital to Canada's economic, social and cultural development.

The poll results, part of the Rethinking Government Study by Ekos, were based on 1,550 telephone interviews with a random sampling of Canadians aged 16 and over between Dec. 3-16. The results are considered accurate plus or minus 2.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Full results of the Ekos poll are available on the AUCC Web site at www.aucc.ca.

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