UWindsor Lance: In Search of Free Tuition

UWindsor Lance
Issue 33, Volume 85
March 6, 2013
Jon Liedtke

Tuition in Ontario continues to grow more expensive, and some believe it should drop to zero

The cost of post-secondary education more often than not sets graduates on the road to bankruptcy or financial ruin, rather than the glorious employment promised. There is a belief among many students and some countries that higher education should not come at a direct cost to the individual, but rather to the country and taxpayers as a whole.

The movement towards free tuition exploded last year when students in Montreal protested the provincial government and demanded that tuition increases be rolled back, ultimately demanding free tuition. Support for the students spread worldwide and when the government eventually fell, many credited the students with providing the impetus.

Mohammad Akbar, vice-president university affairs for the University of Windsor
Students’ Alliance (UWSA), believes that education is a right and should be provided for free.

The UWSA does not agree.

“I personally think education is a right … it’s one of the most important things you can provide to a society. If you want to fix economic inequality and create a just society,” said Akbar, who added that the benefits of providing free tuition are “many and the cost is relatively small.”

“The UWSA does not have a declared stance on tuition fees, it changes year-to-year. We should have a strong stance in favour of what students want,” said Akbar.

According to Statistics Canada, on average, undergraduate students paid $5,581 in tuition fees in 2012-2013 and the Canadian Federation of Students says the average debt for university graduates is almost $27,000.

Justifications for providing free tuition are numerous: the need for a post-secondary degree to secure gainful employment, the need to compete on a global
scale, the exorbitant cost of tuition and the fiscal drain it can cause, ever increasing tuition fees, and simply the burden placed on students overall.

In the article Debt-ridden and unemployed: We are the class of 2012 (The Globe and Mail, June 1, 2012), Memorial University of Newfoundland graduate James MacLean provides four justifications as to why Canada should provide free tuition:

  • Canada was a signatory to the 1976 UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a legally binding international treaty which commits partners to “the progressive introduction of free education” at the post-secondary level.”
  • Young people should not have to bear a debt of tens of thousands of dollars upon graduation.
  • Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, and can afford post-secondary education for its young people as easily as (or, in many cases, more easily than) other countries that do not have tuition fees.
  • With regard to qualifications for employment, one or more university degrees are today the equivalent of a high school diploma 40 years ago.

MacLean summarizes that since post-secondary education is now necessary for students to attain gainful employment that it should be considered a “fundamental human right that should be provided to young people without charge by the community as a whole.”

Having received the University of Windsor’s second highest entrance scholarship for her undergraduate studies, Kate Hargreaves considers herself to be lucky to have received financial support for her education.

“It didn’t cover all of my university and, especially with the rising cost of tuition, it covered less and less of it as the years went by. But it did cover a nice chunk of it,” said Hargreaves, who also received a full tuition scholarship from the university for her master’s degree and a scholarship that was awarded based on her grade point average.

Hargreaves believes that tuition should be free for all students. “You should have the right to access [higher education] regardless of your financial situation and I know many of my friends and family come out of university with a great
deal of debt,” she said. “It really hinders you.”

Just last week, the German free state of Bavaria decided to abolish tuition fees, and it’s been done in other countries around the world to success, including Norway, Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Roughly 20 countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development offer either free education or nominal tuition.

Last month in China it was announced that the country would begin charging tuition fees to all post graduate students.

While the economy of China is steadily growing, the county will provide student aid as opposed to tuition waivers which were offered up until the change.

In Scotland, where post-secondary education has always been free, there is a push to abolish its commitment to free tuition following claims that Scottish universities are being starved of much needed funds to compete on an international level. In neighbouring England, the annual tuition that was locked at £1,000.00 ($1,552 CAD)
up until 1998, has climbed to £9,000 ($13,971 CAD) in 2013.

UWindsor Lance
In Search of Free Tuition
Issue 33, Volume 85
March 6, 2013
Jon Liedtke
Page 7

Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Associate News Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.


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