An institute at the University of New Brunswick dedicated to advancing public policy research has launched a benefits analysis of two flagship initiatives of the provincial government designed to enhance learning and economic opportunities for children, students and families.

Today, the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training (NB-IRDT) announced an agreement with the Government of New Brunswick to conduct a long-term study of programs offering tuition relief and improved early learning. The study will provide evidence-based research to government policy-makers that tracks program performance and benefits to children and families in terms of health and wealth, along with gains to New Brunswick as a whole.

“This agreement is a clear indication that the Government of New Brunswick is serious about using the best evidence available to guide policy development for the benefit of New Brunswickers,” says Dr. Ted McDonald, director of NB-IRDT. “The partnership between the Government and NB-IRDT is unique in Canada and sets an example for other provinces to follow the great benefits that can come about from such a collaboration between policymakers and academics.”

Details of the study and its rationale are included in the report Tuition Relief and Early Learning: A Benefits Analysis, produced by the NB-IRDT in partnership with the Government of New Brunswick.

Social policy expert and former New Brunswick deputy minister of Social Development James Hughes contributed a foreword to the report and says the study is precedent-setting.

“The metrics that will be used to determine success have both micro significance for students, parents and families and macro significance for the province,” he writes. “… [t]he province is giving itself the right framework to evaluate the true returns on investment of the two programs. I would add, in proposing a five-year renewable mandate to examine program results, the province is bestowing upon itself a gift that may keep on giving for a long time.”

New Brunswick’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Roger Melanson says the research will improve understanding of benefits and impacts of programs designed to deliver significant support to families.

“With the right support, we believe families, children and youth can build a strong and prosperous New Brunswick. We are removing barriers to child care and education so that all New Brunswickers can build careers and invest in themselves and their communities,” said Minister Melanson. “This research will help us adapt and improve our programs to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. We are proud to work with NB-IRDT on this important study.”

Through its highly secure facility on UNB’s Fredericton campus, NB-IRDT has been on the forefront of data-driven research on health in the province since 2015.

This study builds on previous agreements and data-sharing arrangements laid out in legislation that enables public bodies to store prepared data sets at the institute. Prepared data is record-level data that has been collected by government departments and agencies, from which all directly identifying information – such as name, address, and Medicare number – has been removed. The data will be used for research purposes. The study’s main objective is to help inform the development of data-driven public policy and more cost-effective program interventions.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner is supportive of the work conducted at NB-IRDT and has thoroughly reviewed the operations of the research institute.

Researchers will only have access to the minimum amount of raw data necessary to conduct their research. In addition, the data can only be accessed in an ultra-secure facility. The computer network does not have an internet connection. Within that closed network, NB-IRDT uses a wide range of security and audit measures to ensure data are only accessed for the approved purpose.

By adding data from other sources to the research institute’s area of study, New Brunswick will be able to create linked data sets that would enable researchers to find patterns and make casual connections that have never been made before. This will help the province find new ways to address long-standing issues by better understanding the sources of such problems.

The two initiatives identified for this study include programs launched since 2016 that provide tuition relief for post-secondary education students and early learning supports for pre-school aged children and their parents. The Free Tuition program offers free tuition at public universities and community colleges for students with a household income of less than $60,000 annually. The Tuition Relief for the Middle Class program offers bursaries to students with household earnings above $60,000.

The New Brunswick Early Learning Centre program ensures that families with an annual income of less than $37,000 will have access to free childcare and offers subsidies to middle income earners to ensure that no family will pay more than 20 per cent of their gross income on child care costs at designated centres.

Media contact: Hilary Creamer Robinson