Tuition: pay 25% more or "Drop Fees"
Monday, March 9, 200915 Comments
In the last week of February the Educational Policy Institute (EPI), a non-profit think-tank, released a report touting a rapid 25% tuition increase in order to help recession-hit campuses. The recent news surrounding the release of the report vastly overshadowed the media coverage of last fall's "Drop Fees" rallies. Thousands of students participated in these demonstrations across Ontario in order to pressure the McGuinty government to alleviate their crushing student debts and ensure that university is truly accessible to all Ontarians. But the Educational Policy Institute certainly has a different view on what students are willing to pay. It is not clear from reading their report exactly how the final numbers were arrived at, but they conclude that the "average" family has enough money to pay for their child's education. Undergraduates graduate with an average student-debt of $28, 000. Are we supposed to believe that students take out these loans even though they don't need them? Maybe think-tanks pay well and the folks at EPI are confident in being able to afford a massive tuition bump, but for many families already stretched to the limit, and families that will loose out because of the recession, this is not an acceptable solution.
The EPI report concludes that, "in the end, it comes down to this: the [education] sector is going to be asked to do more with less". Who is going to be the one asking the education sector to do more with less? The central flaw of the EPI report is that it does not look at the bigger picture and remains within the neo-liberal model in order to find a solution to problems that were brought on by the neo-liberal model. It sees it as inevitable that public funding will be cut, or at least that it will not be increased in order to make up for a decrease in donations to universities, and a lack of attention from our elected officials. The real question is whether or not we as a society can afford not to increase public funding to universities.
This is actually a fairly straightforward question to answer. If tuition fees were less than the market could bare than they can be increased without damage. But Canada is not an egalitarian society and equal access to education means that tuition fees need to be affordable to the least well-off Canadians. Students from wealthier families are 5.6 times more likely to attend post-secondary education than low-income Canadians. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “40% fewer students from low-income families attended the University of Guelph” after the dramatic tuition fee increases of the last 15 years. So even without the 25% jump in tuition fees, it's pretty clear that accessible education is not a reality for Canada's low-income families.
It is not inevitable that we carry the destruction of accessible education any further. It is a matter of setting priorities as a society. Accessible education is central to maintaining equal opportunity for all citizens and fundamental to a democratic society where all classes have some level of power and voice. Many other countries have determined that education is a right. Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, France, Libya, Brazil, Cuba and others all have FREE post-secondary education. This is the only way to totally eliminate financial barriers. These countries are not any richer than ours, its just that they have decided that education is a priority. Canada can abolish tuition fees if it wants to. Although this is not being advocated in the mainstream, often there is the occasional glimmer of hope on the horizon. Last year, Liberal Senator Elizabeth Hubley suggested free tuition in a speech to the Senate. She points out that "as a society, we long ago decided to provide education through high school because it was the bare minimum needed to function in a modern economy". Why do we draw an arbitrary line at the age of 18? Hubley also points out that in today's world a high school diploma is not enough to get a decent job, with 70% of all job postings needing some kind of post-secondary education. She probably didn't make any friends in the Liberal party when she stated that "if the bare minimum now is a post-secondary education, it should also be tuition-free".
The estimated cost of abolishing tuition fees in Canada is $5 billion. If you're like me, when you hear about billions of dollars in governmental spending your eyes glaze over and you have no idea how much money that actually is in terms of other public expenditures. Lets look at the war in Afghanistan. That debacle, which hasn't benefited the average Canadian or Afghani at all, will cost us $22 billion. Our governments have set our priorities for us. War trumps education. In a joint statement from last fall, The Canadian Peace Alliance, the Council of Canadians, the Housing Not War Campaign, the Canadian Federation of Students and Greenpeace Canada demanded a reevaluation of these priorities. As the recession first hit they wrote: "In the context of economic uncertainty, rising poverty and the climate change crisis, Canadians worry that spending as much as $30 billion each year for the military is a foolhardy use of Canadian taxpayers money". The statement goes on to say that, "that money should be used in a massive national program to address the climate change crisis, aimed at achieving the KYOTOplus targets for greenhouse gas reductions, as well as to provide affordable housing, abolish tuition fees, create a pharmacare program". The difference between this statement and the EPI report is that it sees the bigger picture. It is possible to re-prioritize. As the times get tougher, we're stronger as a society thats in it together, as opposed to divided and struggling to make ends meet on our own.
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