Post-secondary costs highlight list of concerns in 2019 CIVIX Student Budget Consultation

Canadian high school students say the cost of post-secondary education is one of their biggest concerns as they look ahead to the next federal budget. -- photo

Education, poverty and the environment are high on the list of budget priorities for Canadian high school students.

That’s according to the 2019 Student Budget Consultation, an annual survey of Canadian students conducted by CIVIX, a non-partisan charity dedicated to building political engagement among young adults. More than 8,000 high school students took part in this year’s survey, including 45 from the Prince Albert area.

Crime and fiscal responsibility rounded out the list of top five major concerns, but education was by far the one item students wanted to see supported in the federal budget, especially post-secondary education.

CIVIX content director Dan Allan said most students remain confident they’ll be able to find a job when they graduate. However, not all think they’ll be able to pay for the training and education needed to get one.

“Education is one of the results that we see really strongly this year, as an area that students think the government can really help them,” Allan explained. “Whether it’s lowering the cost of school or making debt a more manageable thing, (education) is a top thing which, for the group that’s taking the survey, makes a lot of sense.”

A total of 93 per cent of all students surveyed want the government to either increase spending on post-secondary education, or spend at least the same amount. Almost half of students, 48 per cent, say making student debt more manageable is the best thing the federal government could do to help young Canadians enter the workforce.

Post-secondary costs also topped the list of concerns when CIVIX asked about what steps the federal government should take to assist families. Roughly 35 per cent of students surveyed said the government should make post-secondary education more affordable and accessible. Lowering personal income taxes was the second highest response, with 27 per cent of students picking that option.

Although students are concerned about the need for more accessible education, most don’t want the government to break the bank to do it. Allan said students are very conscious of the Canadian debt, and are worried it‘s getting out of control. In fact, 72 per cent of students surveyed wanted the government to prioritize lowering the federal debt as much as possible.

“One of the things that students have told us is that they’re worried about is the amount of debt the government is taking on, that will have to be paid back when their older,” Allan said. “There is very much a mixture of concerns. They’re hoping the government spends now to help them, as well as wanting the government to be mindful of what they spend.”

While 92 per cent of students said they wanted the federal government to either spend the same or increase spending when it came to the environment, they remain fairly neutral on one of Canada’s most controversial issues: the federal carbon tax. Roughly 47 per cent of students surveyed said they are neutral about the federal government’s plan to implement the tax, with 35 per cent supporting it and 18 per cent opposing.

Students were also uncommitted about federal government support for struggling private media companies, with 49 per cent saying they’re neutral. Another Roughly 28 per cent say they oppose the federal government giving support to media organizations, while 22 per cent agree.

Roughly 400 Saskatchewan students responded to the survey, representing 43 of the province’s schools.

Saskatchewan and Alberta students were the most likely to support Canada’s oil and gas industry, however Saskatchewan students were also the most likely to agree with the statement “wealthy people have a greater financial obligation than everyone else to help those who are in need.”

The federal Conservatives and NDP were the parties Canadian students were most likely to support, with each party getting 31 per cent of the vote. The Liberals were next with 24 per cent of the vote, followed by eight per cent supporting the Green Party and five per cent supporting the People’s Party of Canada.

Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta were bastions of Conservative support, with students in all three provinces favouring them. Saskatchewan had the highest rate, with just under 50 per cent of students agreeing with the Conservatives. Students in B.C. gave by the strongest vote of confidence to the NDP, while students in Ontario and Atlantic Canada were more evenly divided across party lines.

Allan said there’s an assumption that most young people are less conservative than their parents, however this survey shows that’s not true on the prairies.

“It’s not really a surprise,” he said. “We never want to have any preconceived notions about where students are going to fall, but … what we find over the years is that nine times out of 10, students in a given area will vote along the same lines as adults do. We’ve done votes in Saskatchewan, both for the 2016 provincial election and the 2015 federal vote, and the results of students who took part pretty much lined up exactly (with the actual vote) in those cases, so it doesn’t surprise us that the results in these cases pretty much line up.”