As a student having begun my journey into post-secondary education, I find the little savings that I had are gone, and in its place, an ever increasing student debt. Tuition fees in Canada have consistently risen — doubling since 2000 — with no apparent stop. In Ontario, for instance, tuition fees continue to rise by up to 4.5% every year, even though it already has the highest tuition fees in the country. The situation is similar elsewhere, not just in Canada but also abroad.
Canadian students not only face the challenge of saving up for school, they also find it extremely difficult to deal with the massive debt incurred during their years of study. The current overall unemployment rate currently sits at 7.1% according to Statistics Canada. However, the rate is much higher — 17.6% — for those aged 17-19 years old who are trying to save for life after high school.
What other alternatives can students depend upon? In an article in Maclean’s magazine, Moody’s, an international financial research and analytical corporation, suggests that students attempt to limit their debt burden, select areas of study that will be in demand, and to complete their degrees on time.
Sounds like good advice, no? I would like for these “experts” to please expand on how they expect a young adult to pay living expenses, tuition fees, and the high prices for textbooks while earning minimum wage. How can I ever take a full course load in order to “earn [my] degree on time” while still working enough hours in order to “limit [my] debt burden”? Furthermore, selecting fields of study which are in demand would mean that a lot of fields — which are necessary — would no longer be chosen because they are not in demand; teachers, for example, discover that it is hard to find work thanks to all the cuts to the education budget. The current system of paid post-secondary education is discriminatory and unsustainable. Education has become a privilege only for those who can afford it.
This wasn’t always the case. Until relatively recently, many Western European countries had free tuition, including, in some cases, grants given out to students. Both Cuba and Venezuela, two so-called Third World countries, are able to provide their students with free post-secondary education, as well.
Until now, through years of struggle, Quebec students had the lowest tuition in Canada, paying 1/3 of the amount that a similar student in Ontario had to pay. Tuition fees in that province are rapidly being ramped up; students are the ones who are having to pay for the Quebec government’s debt load.
The corporate media, the bosses, and their allies in government are constantly telling us that free education is a pipe dream, and that it is unaffordable. The fact of the matter is that the federal government has wasted over $18-billion, so far, in waging war in Afghanistan. Just a fraction of that money would be enough to pay for free education in Canada several times over. We just have to ask ourselves which one is a bigger priority — educating our children, or invading another country?
Free post secondary education is possible. Instead of spending money bailing out private companies the government should be spending those taxpayer dollars on social goods which will actually have a return that will benefit the greater society, rather than the pockets of a few shareholders.
We consistently see a positive correlation between socio-economic status and many other factors which contribute to a good standard of living. Post secondary education has been shown to increase one’s well-being and reduce crime in their respective communities. Statistics have also consistently shown that there is a strong correlation between family income and their children’s participation in post secondary education. Economic inequality diminishes quality of life and is a persisting division amongst people which is unacceptable for a country which considers itself fair and equal.
Tuition fees have become an enormous barrier to some. Many working-class youth will never be able to achieve their dreams because they didn’t have the luxury of being born into wealth. The corporate handouts which our governments have consistently given out can be put to better use. All of this is money can be used for improving services; it can go toward making education accessible to all those who want to make use of it.
Free education is the key demand which can unite hundreds of thousands of working-class youth. It is vital that our organizations, especially the Canadian Federation of Students and the NDP, adopt this demand and make it a central part of their platform.