INAC spokesperson Patricia Valladao confirmed that the federal government is considering converting the present bursaries available to First Nations students into repayable loans.

Valladao would not confirm whether INAC has transferred control of the $314 million in student grants for First Nations university and college students to the provincially administered Canada Student Loans Program.

This prospect is worrying some aboriginal leaders and university officials. The First Nations Education Council, a Quebec-based Aboriginal group, is circulating a petition opposing the step.

Statistics Canada data demonstrates that, at 35 per cent, Aboriginals in Canada have a much lower rate of graduates from trade, college or university programs; the rate for the general population is 51 per cent.

The major concern on behalf of the Aboriginal groups and university officials is that if Aboriginal students have to repay their loans instead of receiving free bursaries they will be less inclined to pursue post-secondary education.