Statement made on 16 November 2010 by Senator James Cowan
Hon. James S. Cowan (Leader of the Opposition):
Honourable senators, I rise today to congratulate the University of Victoria on the great success of its extraordinary pilot project, LE,NONET Research Project.
We all know the importance of a post-secondary degree in today's knowledge economy. We all know the research: Higher education levels are associated with better health outcomes, lower crime rates and the list goes on and on. However, in 2006, only 8 per cent of Aboriginal people aged 25 to 64 had completed a university degree, compared to 23 per cent of non-Aboriginal Canadians.
The University of Victoria decided to do something to change those statistics and create a university environment that would work for Aboriginal Canadians. In 2005, with money from the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation, the university established the LE,NONET Research Project. LE,NONET in the language of the local Straits Salish people, means "paddling a canoe in a storm and making it through to the other side." How prescient that name is.
The project has been remarkably successful. Thanks to LE,NONET, many more Aboriginal students are making it through difficult waters to the other side. There are seven programs within the project, all developed in close consultation with Aboriginal students and communities. These programs include a straightforward bursary program, under which students receive an average of about $3,500 a year. There is an emergency relief fund. Students were going home to their communities, for example to attend a family member's funeral, and not returning because the travel expenses were simply too high. This fund helps to defray those expenses.
There are programs designed specifically to create an environment at UVic to encourage Aboriginal students to stay, learn and succeed. There is a peer mentor program, which matches new students with experienced Aboriginal students; a community internship program; a research apprenticeship program; and a preparation seminar, which is a course focused on Aboriginal history, culture, research methods and skills for working in community settings.
The university recently published its findings from the four-year pilot project. Graduation rates have improved 20 per cent. The withdrawal rate was fully two thirds less than that of students not in the program. In interviews, an overwhelming 97 per cent of students credited the program with contributing to their success. The program has also helped to build community. Students felt more connected to Aboriginal communities both on and off campus as well as to the broader university environment. Paul Wells wrote about the program in Maclean's last week:
Sometimes people suggest being a member of the First Nations and being at university are contradictory. Most LE,NONET participants disagree.
In 1999, the University of Victoria had fewer than 100 Aboriginal students; today it has nearly 700. The number of graduate students has also exploded from fewer than 10 to nearly 150. Honourable senators, this project is a great success story. I would like to extend my sincere congratulations, and I suspect the congratulations of all in this chamber, to David Turpin, President of the University of Victoria, his colleagues, the people who partnered with the university from the Canadian Millennium Scholarship Foundation and, in particular, the Aboriginal students at LE,NONET. Together they are truly building a better future for all Canadians.