STUDENT DEBT/FREE TRADE

by Anne McDonagh


originally published in the 2014 Spring Issue

According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives titled Degrees of Uncertainty: Navigating the Changing Terrain of University Finance, “The cost of a university degree in Canada is getting steeper, with tuition and other compulsory fees expected to have quadrupled from 1990 to 2017, adjusting for inflation, students in Ontario are paying the most”. Average fees, in current dollars, have increased from $1,464 in 1990-91 to $6,348 in 2012-13. Estimates of student debt upon graduation vary from $25,000 to $50,000. The pay off for the sacrifices students and their families make for a university education has always been a good income down the road. That is still true to some extent, but there are enough well-educated young people who cannot find a job with many of them feeling betrayed.


An increasing number of adult students (over 25) are attending university both full and part-time. The sacrifice they and their families are making and the risk they are taking is tremendous. Let’s hope that they avail themselves of the financial help that is available. (see end of this article)


Besides taking on debt, students are working at part-time—some even full-time— McJobs and taking longer to finish their education. As a result of these circumstances, the milestones of their lives are put on hold, such as working in the field their education prepared them for, getting married and starting a family, buying a house, etc.


We are one of the richest countries in the world; yet it seems we cannot afford to educate our young people or adult students who are in an even more critical situation since they must pay the fees and support their families as well. Why are university fees so high?


One reason seems to be that Canadian values have changed in the last forty to fifty years. We have lost the sense of community that created universal health care and other social goods. Canadians used to think of government as a way of looking after each other, recognizing that we are all in this together. Now we vote in the politicians who offer us the lowest taxes and the most goodies, goodies that give us short term gains but in the end don’t move society forward.


With a good chunk of tax revenue given away, there is less money in government coffers to support post secondary education properly. A lot of the blame goes to the free trade agreements which are destroying our way of life including a highly educated population.


Free trade has fit in with a narrowed vision of what government can do and has contributed to the high cost of post-secondary education. Although the free marketers, the deregulators, the “greed is good” guys promised that free trade would create jobs and a booming economy, five years after the recession, despite the government’s boasts, we have not yet recovered. Free trade has been disastrous for many ordinary Canadians. Corporations, freed from national regulations and tariffs, naturally moved from jurisdiction to jurisdiction in order to get the cheapest workers, the lowest taxes, the least environmental protections and the most lenient health and safety regulations. The corporations that had provided good jobs to thousands of people deserted Ontario because Ontario workers could not and cannot compete with the lowest paid workers around the world. It is no wonder that manufacturing in Ontario has virtually disappeared.


What, you may be thinking, has free trade to do with the high cost of university tuition? If the citizens of Ontario are unemployed, precariously employed and poorly paid, the taxes the government collects decrease. The government then has to choose where to put its money. Quite often it is not put into education. Free trade has so cut the tax revenue of government that more and more the cost of post-secondary education has to be borne by the students themselves.


Free trade agreements have given corporations more power than governments, Taxes have become the “bête noir”. In fact, big business treats government as the enemy insofar as it perceives government wasting taxpayers’ dollars on frivolous luxuries like health care and education. In Ronald Reagan’s immortal words, “Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem”.


Government more interested in getting re-elected than in public policy and, let’s face it, afraid of the corporations, lowers taxes especially for the already wealthy and the corporations. At the same time, it cuts back on the services it still delivers.


Instead of subsidizing post-secondary education, government makes it easy for students to borrow and that is how graduates end up with such huge debt. Today’s university graduates have been mightily betrayed by successive governments, but we the citizens of Canada have made it easy for government not to invest in social goods. Even though most of us did not vote for the current government, we should be making more of a fuss about the debt burden university graduates are shouldering.


To suggest free post-secondary education would seem outlandish in the current political and economic climate; however, you should know that many countries provide free education up to university graduation. Some in the Nordic countries even offer free education to foreigners. You will remember the student uprising in Quebec and that the students were objecting to a rise in post-secondary tuition even though their fees were already lower than anywhere else in Canada. There is an answer: Quebec’s civic life follows many of the traditions of Western Europe rather than North America’s; in that context, we can make sense of the student protest. In fact, North America is more the exception than the rule in the world in funding (or not) post-secondary education.


Some might say our willingness to let students go into burdensome debt is an indication of societal values; on the other hand, the fact that students are willing to go into great debt to get an education tells us that they at least value education. Those who cannot afford post-secondary education are at a great disadvantage; clearly unaffordable post-secondary education contributes to the gap between the rich and the poor. Even in these uncertain times, education is still the most important element in a person’s success in life.


We value your opinion. Please let us know what you think about this article. Let us know at learningcurves@hotmail.com



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If you are interested in funding for part-time students, look up this article: Ask and You May Receive! Finding the Money for Part-Time Studies by Joanne MacKay-Bennett: Spring 2013. To read this article, go to www.learning-curves.ca and click on Spring 2013


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                   EDUCATION LEVEL TO EMPLOYMENT RATE


 EDUCATION LEVEL     

  UNEMPLOYMENT

  RATE  

 EMPLOYMENT

 RATE

Some high school   28.0%  31.0%
High school graduate   16.0%  56.5%
Some post-secondary   14.4%  52.6%

Post--secondary certificate

or diploma

  9.5%  73.1%
Bachelor's degree   11.2%  69.3%
Above bachelor's degree   17.1%  67.8%


ASK THESE FINANCIAL SERVICE OFFICES ABOUT STUDENT FINANCIAL AID FOR PART TIME STUDENTS


COLLEGES


George Brown College

Financial Assistance Office

416-415-5000 Ext. 2519

Try the George Brown College Assistance Fund.


Seneca College

Student Financial Aid Office

416-491-5050 Ext 22480

Try the FCET Student Levy Bursary


Centennial College

Student Financial Services Office 416-289-5300

Try Continuing Education Bursary and Part-time Day General Bursary


Durham College

The Financial Aid and Awards Office

1- 905-721-3036


Humber College

Financial Aid Office

416- 675-6622 North Campus Ext 4245

Try the continuing education tuition bursary


Sheridan College

Student Financial Aid Office

905-815-4060 Trafalgar


UNIVERSITIES


G.Raymond Chang School of Continuing

Education at Ryerson University

Financial Aid 416-975-5035

Also try The Continuing Education Students’

Association of Ryerson bursaries

416-979-5193


York University

Student Financial Services

416-736-5614-Undergraduate


University of Toronto

Enrollment Services

416-978-2190


University of Ontario

Institute of Technology

The Student Awards and Financial Aid Office

1-905-721-8668


University of Guelph

Humber Financial Services 416-798-1331 Ext 6256


UNIVERSITY FEES ACROSS CANADA


Canada: $2,243 to $6,842

BC: $2,770 to $5,639

Alta.: $1,970 to $7,431

Sask.: $2,367 to $7,280

Man.: $2,316 to $4,086

Ont.: $2,574 to $8,756

Que.: $1,385 to $3,759

N.B.: $2,949 to $6,527

N.S.: $2,974 to $6,969

P.E.I.: $2,871 to $6,710

Nfld.: $2,059 to $2,655

Toronto, Canada