2019 Federal Budget Provides More Funding for Indigenous Students

Following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for action, post-secondary institutions across the country sought to increase the number of Indigenous students on campus, as well as support events focused on reconciliation. Many institutions, such as Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, have seen significant funding for their reconciliation work such as the $13.5 million from Mastercard. Despite this funding for institutions, many Indigenous students continue to face difficulties and limitations in accessing funding for a post-secondary education, which occurs through the federal Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP).

While much of the post-secondary education system is under the purview of provincial governments, the federal government maintains responsibility for Indigenous education, international students, student financial aid, and graduate research funding. The Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP) apportions money to band councils which is generally passed on as non-repayable grants to band members.

In the 1990s, the Liberal Party of Canada government capped funding increases to the PSSSP. As tuition fees continued to skyrocket over the subsequent two decades, PSSSP funding failed to keep pace. The result is that already stretched band councils were forced the make impossible decisions about funding for band members to attend post-secondary institutions. Indigenous people attain post-secondary degrees at a rate far below the popular average. Even the Right Honourable Paul Martin, Minister of Finance at the time, has since suggested that introducing the PSSSP cap was a mistake.

The recent 2019 Budget announcement seeks to correct this as the PSSSP will receive a number of investments for Indigenous students and communities. This includes and expansion of the program by $327.5 million for First Nations communities to disperse to those seeking post-secondary education, while also working with Indigenous communities to develop long-term post-secondary education models. Inuit communities will see an investment of 125.5 million over ten years. A Métis Nation-led post-secondary education strategy consisting of financial assistance for Métis Nations students will see an investment of $362.0 million over ten years.

Some advocates within Indigenous education and sovereignty are concerned about how the funding will be managed, given the limitations that exist under the current system.

That will make the ongoing consultation and review of the program promised by the budget and Ministry integral to successful implementation of the investment.