Access for All: Making Student Aid Work for Everyone

Significant investments are made in PSE at the provincial and federal level in Canada every year. At the federal level, the government spent over $12 billion on PSE in 2013-14. Annual federal investments in PSE are primarily made through the Canada Social Transfer, research support, various tax programs and the federal student financial aid system. CASA advocates on diverse issues related to improving student financial aid because it is an important mechanism for increasing access to PSE for all Canadians.


While this paper focuses on financial barriers to PSE, it is important to recognize that barriers to PSE are multi-faceted, with financial and non-financial barriers creating overlapping obstacles. Non-financial barriers can include quality of primary and secondary education, parental education levels, exposure to and knowledge of PSE opportunities, and systemic barriers faced by marginalized communities, among other factors. This paper’s focus on financial barriers is not intended to minimize the importance of also addressing non-financial barriers, and CASA is committed to finding solutions that address all barriers to PSE in Canada.


With a specific focus on financial barriers to PSE, CASA envisions a financial aid system that gives every Canadian access to higher education regardless of background or family income. There are some tools already available that support accessibility and affordability for students, but with further reforms more and more Canadians can reap the benefits of our strong post-secondary system.


Throughout this paper, CASA proposes several policy and funding changes that would improve the current federal financial aid system. In particular, CASA supports:


  • Ensuring that necessary financial support for post-secondary education is available to Indigenous peoples in Canada and respecting the role of First Nations and Inuit people in administering post-secondary funding at the community level.
  • Addressing the barriers students with disabilities face to PSE through funding and financial aid program flexibility.
  • Reforms to Canada Student Grants for a more diverse distribution and expanded access for graduate students.
  • A financial aid system with simple, fair and understandable rules that all borrowers can navigate.
  • Improved student loans that reflect rising costs and are dispersed when needed.
  • Providing students with a clear appeals mechanism for financial aid decisions.
  • A system of financial aid that does not burden any graduate with excessive costs through ongoing improvements to loan repayment processes.


The full paper is available to read in PDF format or in an accessible Microsoft Word format.