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More money needed for post-secondary students

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With the federal election less than a week away, candidates in the University of Calgary's riding of Calgary-West acknowledged the importance of post-secondary education.

All five candidates challenging incumbent Conservative MP Rob Anders note the key factors in making post-secondary education affordable are providing access to as many as possible while keeping costs down, although they differ in the specifics of how government should reach that goal.

"Education should be free for all," said Marxist-Leninist Party candidate Andre Vachon. "You have a situation today where education is subject to the same rules as the private economy, where if there's no money to be made at the end of it, then education suffers."

The other candidates shared Vachon's enthusiasm, noting the largest barriers are a lack of financial assistance, high interest rates for student loans and the high cost of education.

New Democratic Party candidate and U of C student Teale Phelps Bondaroff said his party aims at reducing costs through a dedicated education transfer, grants to those with student loans and debt relief.

"We should not be discouraging people from going into education with massive rates," said Phelps Bondaroff. "I think that's what the Conservatives and Liberals have done over the past 25 years, they've essentially neglected the education system and that's a huge problem."

Liberal Party candidate Jennifer Pollock explained that her party's plan contains increases in bursaries, grants, lower interest rates for student loans and an increased grace period of two years.

"This plan was done entirely in consultation with student groups," said Pollock. "There are increases in the number of bursaries for students who have need. There is a change in the tax structure so students can get a grant each year that they attend rather than tax credits, which some of them can't use for years."

Independent candidate Kirk Schmidt supports the creation of a dedicated educational endowment from federal surpluses aimed at relaxing student debt for those who meet certain criteria and providing scholarships and grants.

"[With] a $2 billion endowment that puts $100 million approximately into education per year, we'd be able to relax about seven times as many loans as we already do as a government," said Schmidt. "There'd be more incentive to staying in Canada and working and at the same time, we'd be able to help those that have incurred a lot of debt."

Randy Weeks of the Green Party shared his party's view that post-secondary education is too expensive and feels that eliminating half of student debt for graduates staying to work in Canada would go a long way towards increasing accessibility.

"Education is becoming a place where only the rich elite can afford to go," said Weeks. "Part of it is the student loan thing. Education is the mainstay of a successful country and we have very strong education policies."

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