UVic students and community members gathered in the front of McPherson Library on Wednesday to join thousands of students across Canada rallying for free post-secondary education as part of a National Day of Action, hosted by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).
Around 80 students assembled with signs and banners that read “Drop Student Debt” and “Education shouldn’t be a debt sentence,” while local speakers from organizations such as the Young Communist League, the B.C. Green Party, and the B.C. Student Alliance spoke on the reality of student debt, both personally and economically.
According to co-organizer Kenya Rogers, the last 25 years has seen a 137 per cent increase in student tuition fees, and some in power push the idea that education is a privilege. Students graduate with an average of $28 000 in student-related debt, and the average amount owed to the National Student Loan program increases by one million dollars a day.
“We know that this user-fee model is making our education system inaccessible to middle-income and low-income families,” said Rogers.
Zoë-Blue Coates, another rally co-organizer, agreed. “Education is a right for all, not a just a privilege for the few,” she said.
Throughout the hour-long rally, speakers demanded universal access regardless of background, justice for marginalized groups that are pushed out by the current system, and a refusal of for-profit education.
“There should be more government services,” said rally participant Nadia Sheptycki. “This is not a new concept . . . Education should be public up to [and including] the post-secondary level.”
UVic students in attendance were part of a Canada-wide movement that saw, according to Rogers, over 500 students in Ottawa, 2 000 students in Toronto, and 1 000 students in Halifax band together to demand lower education costs across the board. However, some ralliers weren’t happy with the support, or lack thereof, from the UVSS Board of Directors.
“While this was intended to be a non-partisan event, that hasn’t stopped certain partisans from opposing it,” said Tyson Strandlund, co-organizer of the rally and member of the Young Communist League. “That not all ideological aspects are represented here today is not reflective of a lack of invitation, but of their own decisions.”
“Some of them think our position on this issue is too extreme,” he said.
Rob Fleming, B.C. NDP MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, reminded the crowd that the upcoming provincial election can be a chance to make change by removing the current Liberal government that, according to him, isn’t doing anything for post-secondary students and their families.
“Post-secondary education represents the most powerful instrument that government has to reduce inequality and to promote economic prosperity,” said Fleming. “Inequality is growing wider and wider every decade the B.C. Liberals are in office. We can do a hell of a lot better, folks.”
While the turnout to the rally dissipated to about 60 people in the second half of the event, the remaining ralliers were clear about what they wanted.
“We believe in a Canada that can do better, a British Columbia that can do better,” said UVic professor Laurel Collins, speaking against the debt that post-secondary students incur through their studies. “It takes a toll on student’s health and well-being, it takes a toll on their prospects when they exit university, and it takes a toll on our society at large.”