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Tuition: pay 25% more or "Drop Fees"

Monday, March 9, 2009

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Written by Andrew Garvie

The recession has officially hit and people are losing their jobs and their homes. Looks like a culture of credit-based consumption was not a long term solution to the economy's problems and it has all come tumbling down. Ontario has suffered most through the loss of manufacturing jobs, the latest example of which is last week's closing of Stelco in ex-"steeltown" Hamilton. So when more and more Ontarians don't have money and need to go back to school in order to find the few jobs that are available, now is the perfect time to up tuition dramatically! Sounds like a real Mike Harris, common-sense solution to me...

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.


To get involved with the Drop Fees campaign at Guelph email:

Or for the facebook group click here

Note from The Cannon Operating Committee: We believe the Cannon should not shy away from controversial issues, and therefore we permit opinion pieces that may be controversial in nature. We would like to remind readers that thecannon.ca does not take any editorial positions. The opinions posted on the Cannon reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces.

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  1. Posted by: Jammin' on Mar 10, 2009 @ 9:28am

    Life is expensive, deal with it.

  2. Posted by: Anotha Jamma on Mar 10, 2009 @ 2:38pm

    Billions of people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water, but Guelph students still find something to complain about? give your heads a shake, life is too short to worry about something of such LOW PRIORITY.

  3. Posted by: Not Jammin' on Mar 11, 2009 @ 2:01am

    say the people with the means to pay

  4. Posted by: on Mar 11, 2009 @ 11:03am

    Will abolishing tuition fees be a yearly estimated cost of five billion dollars?

    I have to say, with regards to the opinion poll on the cannons front page, I could not find a satisfying answer.
    I do believe post-secondary should be accessible to all, but I believe that students should be accountable with the degree programs they choose. Coming out of university with a bit of a debt is a way to ensure that students who wish to be educated to better prepare themselves with a marketable skill to be a productive member of society. We need all sorts of skills and talents ranging from arts and entertainment to physical and social sciences and everything else in between, but it must provide students with some means of generating income. Free tuition sounds very nice, but may lead to wasting our taxpayers dollars if students don't "spend" their allotted education wisely.
    University should prepare us as students to find employment with which we can pay back our debts.

  5. Posted by: megan on Mar 11, 2009 @ 11:04am

    However, 25% is indeed a drastic increase that I'm not sure I can afford, and would definitely make my student debt quite scary. The increase seems unreasonable - if universities require that much money from students, I'm surprised we are only hearing about it now.

    I do realize even for the well educated, jobs can be hard to come by, but we need to ensure we don't take our education for granted either.

  6. Posted by: brent on Mar 11, 2009 @ 11:39pm

    cant forget about those interest payments on all those student loans going straight to financial institutions.

    The university is nothing more than a glorified corporation, and the main goal of any successful corporation is profit.

  7. Posted by: sick of this debate on Mar 13, 2009 @ 9:10am

    Aside from the fact this debate is overplayed beyond belief, I'm sick of hearing that the university is just another corporation looking to make a profit. Of course it is...who wouldn't think that a university of this size with the resources it has would need to make a profit.

    a. we are in debt,...big debt as a university

    b. Guelph offers amazing resources and opportunities for people in their programs

    ie. one of the few places to offer human corpses for dissection for human kines

    so quit your fucking complaining about money. megan had it right....ppl who don't earn what they receive will never have the same perspective as someone who has to work their ass off to get to the same spot.

  8. Posted by: George on Mar 13, 2009 @ 9:41am

    Re: brent

    Regarding your comment “The university is nothing more than a glorified corporation, and the main goal of any successful corporation is profit” this is obviously not your unique perspective, you’ve pulled this rhetoric directly from the leftist “handbook”. Enough’s enough already. If you hate the institution, the tuition fees, the overpaid faculty, and everything else then you shouldn’t come here. I happen to love Guelph, am happy to pay tuition to receive a quality education, and look forward to my future after graduation as a Guelph alumnus.

    Pay your friggin’ tuition, worry about getting a high GPA, and then you will carve a great future for yourself. If you rack up some debt in the process, paying it off and managing your money post-graduation will likely be the best lesson in personal financial management you’ll ever receive!

  9. Posted by: Andrew on Mar 30, 2009 @ 3:26pm

    Less expensive education here than in the states, yet for the most part we have better overall universities. Of course excluding the uni's like Harvard and Berkeley and the such.

    Even compared to our neighbours we have it better, yes it's brutal that we'll have to pay more, but for something like education, unless you're an arts student in uni for the sake of uni, it's worth it.

  10. Posted by: Anna on Mar 31, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    DROP FEES! many students are only able to study thanks to scholarships and OSAP and spend years and years trying to pay off the debt once they graduate. raising fees would be catastrophic!

  11. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on Apr 6, 2009 @ 4:47pm

    *sarcasm alert!*

    i think it's a great idea to freeze tuition (i.e. make the government pay it). that way, when i'm done university i can continue to pay other peoples tuition through taxes because i love it so much!

    seriously, pay your own tuition for 4 years. when you're done reduce your debt as quick as possible. this "freezing tuition" proposal is cheaper in the short-term, but more expensive in the long-term. i don't want to have to subsidize tuition for 40 years after i join the workforce just so i can be replaced by a student fresh out of university.

  12. Posted by: Al on Apr 22, 2009 @ 1:04pm

    Education is a right and doesn't belong to the rich and spoiled. By the same logic we shouldn't have universal healthcare. Even the tax cuts offered for university students favour the rich considering most students don't make enough money to see any of that money come back to us.

    While we are better than other places around the world, it does not mean we shouldn't strive for a system that doesn't discriminate.

  13. Posted by: on May 22, 2009 @ 6:46am

    A student of 2 Unversities one in Egypt and the other is in Ontario and one college in Ontario, haven't graduated from any of them, got 16000$ of OSAP debt...worked as Mushroom picker for 2 days(underthetable)got 60$, worked in Macs for 2 weeks got 150$, Trained in a company called WEBHELP in montreal for 2 weeks got paid 500$(closed now=can't get reference), did one project 4 hours for CARA Operations got 100$ then got fired when i informed the comapny i cannot travel to another city (can't get reference too)...and these are all the jobs i worked and all the income i got...want to know more? :(

  14. Posted by: Sherif on May 23, 2009 @ 1:50am

    i will tell you more...my uncle and father had great support of me and all my brothers and cousins thank god :)
    i just need a yearly income ! hopefully?

  15. Posted by: Not_My_CSA on May 27, 2009 @ 2:44am

    re: sherif

    it sounds to me like you're not the most employable person. you listed half a dozen jobs that you stayed no longer than 2 weeks at and you've moved around to three different post-secondary institutions and still haven't graduated. perhaps you have adhd.

    sometimes you just have to start at the bottom and work your way up, be persistent, and work hard. it's not the most glamorous scenario but sometimes it's necessary. once you do graduate, work on your job skills. hopefully you'll be earning $40,000-$50,000/year and you'll be able to pay off your debt in 4-5 years. you spend 4-5 years going into debt so working 4-5 years to get out of debt seems reasonable. you have to be realistic. it's either that or drop out of school and join the workforce full time, save enough money beforehand and then be able to pay for school upfront.

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