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A right to free education

Friday, September 7, 2012

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  • GSMC wants to know how students feel about tuition fees

    GSMC wants to know how students feel about tuition fees

Written by Abigel Lemak

“Education is a right, tuition should be free,” said External Affairs Commissioner, Dominica McPherson.

This past Tuesday, the Guelph Student Mobilization Committee (GSMC) held a discussion on tuition fees in Ontario to update students on the current state of post-secondary education, why they advocate for free education and how the recent protests in Quebec effect students at the University of Guelph. 

The speakers included Communications and Corporate Affairs Commissioner, Drew Garvie, External Affairs Commissioner, Dominica McPherson, and GSMC members Peter Miller and Denise Martins. 

“Student debt in Ontario has doubled in the last ten years,” said Martins. “It’s pretty absurd.”

The overwhelming debt faced by the majority of students was a central concern brought up by all four speakers. One of the key problems they found with student loans and debt was that, on average, students from lower income families end up paying more for their education in the long run, then students from higher income families. 

“This is something we should be ashamed of,” said Miller, who focused his discussion on the Quebec student strike, and how it affects students in Ontario. “If their fees go up, then fees in Ontario go up and then we’re all screwed. That’s why we really need to care about what goes on in Quebec.”

He goes on to further explain why students shouldn’t just brush off Quebec as, “already having the lowest fees,” but rather recognize the efforts of the students who fought for their right to affordable education and became a model for student activism in Canada.

“The reason why Quebec has a model to look towards is because students have struggled for lower tuition fees, and struggled for a more accessible public school system [for so long],” said Miller.

McPherson focused on the increasing corporate presence on campus and the potential problems campus research faces when tied to private interests.

“[Due to] lack of government prioritization, we’re seeing an increase of private dollars coming in to our university, funding it in a variety of different ways,” said McPherson. “Some of the most prominent ways we’re seeing it today is through research dollars.”

McPherson stresses that this lack of public funding, when paired with private funding, could tie the little public money universities have to private agendas.

“[Here,] education is being defined as a private good,” adds McPherson.

With the lack of government funding and increased corporate influence on campus, the question of whether free education is even possible rose, but was quickly dismissed by GSMC members. 

“We’re told we can’t pay for free education, when we really can,” said Miller. “Its about priorities, and it’s something that we could win. We could win free education.”

During his presentation, Miller drew upon the recent strikes in Quebec, and the many victories won by students who took to the streets in protest.

“This strike resulted in three of the largest demonstrations in canadian history,” said Miller. “[Because of students,] Quebec is going to stay with one of the lowest tuition fees in the country.”

The question of how this could be achieved for Ontario students was met with great enthusiasm, drawing on key budgetary plans the Canadian government has that could fund our education instead. 

“One year of the national defense budget could pay for an entire decade of half-priced tuition fees in Canada,” said Miller. “So once again, it’s about priorities.”

Garvie ends the discussion with a final call to student activists, and thoughts on why students in Ontario are ready to demand for some change.

“We have the highest tuition fees in the country, we have the highest debt load in the country, we have the biggest student movement in the country, in terms of population,” said Garvie. “The conditions are set. People should be pissed off. I think they are pissed off, but I think one of the major reasons why we don't see more people in this room is because people don't know how to get there.” 

He goes on to mention the importance of solidarity with Quebec student activists and how their struggles and victories help motivate students across Canada.

“When they see hope, when it’s presented to them, then they respond-- so it’s a matter of tapping in to that,” said Garvie.

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