Saturday, February 24, 2018

Open Space: It’s time to eliminate tuition in Canada

September 7, 2016 by Josh Christopher, contributing writer

Tuition should be eliminated, and we the students need to make that happen.

For many years I’ve heard warning klaxons signal the approach of the debt apocalypse. Social spending must be cut due to constant budget shortfalls; in other news, our corporate benefactors will abandon us if we do not lower their taxes and entice them to keep jobs in Canada. Something seems amiss.

Education has long been a casualty of these government hatchet men. Since 1992, federal cash transfers to provinces for post-secondary education have declined from 0.41 percent to 0.2 percent of gross domestic product. Over the same period, undergraduate tuition has soared by 238 percent. So, college and university funding has been halved, while tuition has more than doubled.

When money is charged for education, it becomes a privilege, not a right. Students paying interest on loans are actually paying more for their education than those who can afford to pay up front. These reductions in social services catapult Canadians back to the cruelty of the Great Depression.

This story originally appeared in our September 7, 2016 issue.

This story originally appeared in our September 7, 2016 issue.

Why should we not all share the cost of education as we all share the cost of health care?

Finland, Germany, and Norway provide tuition-free post-secondary education to their students, including their international students. Canada is leaving students out in the cold.

How can we return to a more fair and inclusive country? The students of Quebec pay the second-lowest tuition in Canada for a very good reason: civil unrest.

In February 2012, Quebec’s Jean Charest Liberal government raised tuition by 82 percent over five years. 300,000 students responded by boycotting their classes and taking to the streets across the province for over 100 days and nights of raucous protests. Not to be ignored, students banged pots and pans throughout the night. Many marched in their underwear to gain attention despite the brisk Montreal air. Rain, snow, and sleet did not deter them.

The protests were a big reason why the Liberals lost in an election later that year. The Liberals’ successors, Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois, proposed a yearly three-percent tuition hike, declaring that “the social crisis is behind us.” Hours later, thousands marched with signs saying that “social peace is behind us.” They demanded the complete elimination of tuition, not a small increase.

Today, the government of British Columbia is slapping students with a two-percent yearly increase to our already astronomical “student taxes,” which are 63 percent higher than Quebec’s.

It’s easy to think, “What can I do? I’m only one person.” Such apathy is our worst enemy, but there is also power in that statement. I am one citizen. Every time I join with other citizens, “I” becomes “we,” and our power multiplies.

The tyranny of tuition ends when we say it ends. Following in Quebec students’ footsteps can begin by attending Camosun College Student Society meetings and seeking others who share our outrage. You are not alone.

So don’t give in to despair. If Europe can provide free education and if Quebec can provide it at drastically lower levels, then tuition can be eliminated nationwide.

One thing is certain, though: we need to fight for it, because it will not be handed to us.

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