Free tuition is not the ideal solution to student woes

Op-eds Opinions
Rallies such as the National Day of Action post too radical a solution to a complex problem, says Emily Fagan. Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief
Rallies such as the National Student Day of Action posit too radical a solution to a complex problem, says Emily Fagan. Photo by Myles Sauer, Editor-in-Chief

The #allnoutnov2 National Student Day of Action, a reactionary movement to ever-climbing tuition, sought foremost to push back against the notion that, as the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) puts it, further education is a “privilege and a personal benefit that students and their families should have to pay for.” But bringing free post-secondary education to all students in Canada, as the CFS strives to do, is a radical and costly measure that oversteps more easily achieved alternative measures already in place elsewhere in Canada.

The reality of today’s world is such that it is difficult to compete for good jobs, even with a bachelor’s degree. Student debt is rising, which has a disproportionate effect on students that are LGBT, Indigenous, from single parent or low income families, or have disabilities. It should be the responsibility of higher ed institutions to ensure equal opportunities for learning, not further the disenfranchisement of these already marginalized groups.

One of the primary reasons a bachelor’s degree is becoming less of a guarantee to secure a job is the decommodification of post-secondary education. With more students pursuing a university education, the bar has already been raised. By further lowering the costs, the career competition conflict would only worsen.

However, Newfoundland and Labrador started an initiative in 1999 to freeze tuition costs in an effort to keepenrollmentupandeducation affordable. For the 2014-15 year, when the national average for undergraduate tuition was $5 959, Global News reported Newfoundland’s average to be only $2 631. Currently, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec also have tuition freezes in place.

Comparatively, tuition in Canada is fairly low in relation to countries such as the United States, which charges an average of $9410–32 410 per year, depending on the type of school. This is certainly not to say that just because tuition is a bigger issue elsewhere in the world, Canada shouldn’t look to improve its own system, but it is by far not the worst.

Germany currently implements a system of free post-secondary that the individuals behind the Student Day of Action wish for Canada, but at the cost of immense taxes. Additionally, Forbes found that without the economic burden, public German universities have seen an increase in late graduations and dauerstudenten, or ‘eternal students,’ who take additional years to finish their degrees. If every student in Germany were to take an additional year on top of a three-year program, the economic strain on taxpayers would increase 33 per cent, Forbes reports. Private universities in Germany still charge tuition, and the Guardian noted that “the amount of money Germany’s higher education sector earns from private sources now is still higher than it used to be 10 years ago,” despite the fee-free public competition.

Furthermore, the Guardian found that only 27 per cent of young people opt to go to university, and German universities are expected to provide far fewer services for students, such as housing. To simply bring this model to Canada, which has a university system more like that of the U.K. or U.S., would be ignorant of the various economic variables that fees contribute to, such as the student union and sporting facilities.

The individuals behind the Nov. 2 protest might find more immediate success by making a stronger case for tuition freezes in British Columbia, or having universities put more money towards scholarships and bursaries for marginalized students. This would not onlydiminishtheoverallstudentdebt by cutting tuition and making university more affordable (yet still competitive), but it would also minimize frugal concerns of the taxpaying populace.

The CFS says that “education is a right for us all, not a privilege for a few.” But smaller and more calculated steps towards affordable education may ensure it is considered by universities and the provincial government with more speed and rigour.