20 current and former foster children will get free tuition at McMaster University

McMaster University is opening up space for 20 foster children to get their university or graduate degrees without paying for tuition.

Any current or former Crown ward can apply toward a first degree or a graduate degree

McMaster University will allow 20 former or current Canada Crown wards to study without paying for tuition. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

McMaster University is allowing 20 foster children to get their first degree or graduate degree at the school without paying for tuition.

The Child Welfare Political Action Committee Canada made the announcement with the southern Ontario university on Wednesday.

The statement said it applies to any current or former Canada Crown ward for study toward a first degree or graduate degree. So long as they have the grades to apply, they are eligible.

"In recognition that current and former foster children are some of the most vulnerable in society, McMaster will be making places available for up to 20 students from these groups and accepting applications regardless of the age of applicants," read the statement.

The organization says foster children typically leave care at 18 and can work for years to gain stability.

Jane Kovarikova is a former Crown ward who is pushing for more access to post-secondary education for former foster children. (Rebecca Zandbergen/CBC News)

Jane Kovarikova, founder of the Child Welfare PAC, says there's no data on exactly how many foster children there are in Canada because of a lack of tracking from the government.

"They're often invisible in society and our outcomes aren't that great. We experience higher rates of criminal justice system involvement, poverty, homelessness, early parenthood after we're evicted at age 18," she said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

"To correct that, in most evidence based pathways, is acquiring post-secondary credentials."

She said it didn't take much convincing to get McMaster on board. And she hopes to see the program grow with the support of the community.

The university said it is planned as a permanent program and will be planning to monitor the uptake to decide if the number needs to be adjusted.

The Hamilton university is the 11th school in Canada to adopt this through the child welfare group. But Sandy Shaw, NDP MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, said it is the first in the GTHA.

"Equitable access to education is life changing, and this is a significant step forward," she said.

Donna Skelly, PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, also praised the school and the organization.

McMaster president David Farrar said he's happy to usher in the new program.

"We are very pleased to launch this program at McMaster," he said. "It will not only help to remove financial barriers for Crown ward students, but will enrich our campus by introducing new and diverse voices to our community."