University students not burdened with debt, P.E.I. conference told

Dave Stewart
Published on September 27, 2015

Paul Davidson, CEO of Universities Canada


CEO of Universities Canada says half of all students graduate without owing a cent

Student debt isn’t as big an issue as the media makes it seem, says the voice of Canada’s universities.

Paul Davidson, CEO of Universities Canada, which represents 97 universities across the country, is in Charlottetown this week for meetings.

When the topic of university and college graduate debt came up, Davidson said students aren’t as burdened as has been reported.

“Half of all students graduate debt free, owing zero,’’ Davidson told The Guardian. “For those who have debt, about 40 per cent have debt of less than $12,000. You can’t get a used car for that.’’

Universities Canada was formerly known as the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, who is in town as well, agrees with Davidson, saying there is a tendency for some student groups to take the extreme number when it comes to debt.

Some people on social media disagree with Davidson and Halpin.

“That is horrifying as it means 50 per cent of students hold enough debt to make a $28,000 average,’’ said @jbiggley.

“Daughter in second year nursing at UPEI and will take loan for four years. Estimated debt $25,000. Son took year off but will need loan as well,’’ said @KristaBlue1967.

“There is no way that’s right,’’ @OrangeObsessed said in reference to Davidson’s numbers. “Everyone I know had loans, most still paying them 12 years later.’’

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, students studying in Ontario and the Maritimes have had the highest average debt loads, averaging more than $28,000. In September 2010, the total amount of student loans owed to government reached $15 billion, a figure they say doesn’t include provincial and personal loans, lines of credit and education-related credit card debt.

Davidson also said rising tuition costs aren’t as big a barrier many make it seem like.

“The lowest tuition in the country is in Quebec, (which) also has the lowest level of (post-secondary) participation in the country,’’ Davidson said.

He said when it comes to the cost of tuition, P.E.I. ranks fifth highest in Canada.

Davidson points out that tuition is only one part of the equation when it comes to the cost of education, citing other factors such as food and rent.

By the numbers

Following are numbers reported by Universities Canada:

-12 per cent of UPEI student population are international students, on par with the national average.

- 40 per cent of international students in the region indicate they would like to stay in the area after graduation. There are more than 10,000 attending university in Atlantic Canada.

- Universities perform nearly 60 per cent of the region’s research and development. That’s more than $200 million annually.