Scrap the tuition fees; education is a right

Image Credit: Andrew Moss (Flickr)
Image Credit: Andrew Moss (Flickr)
Image Credit: Andrew Moss (Flickr)

I’ll let you know right off the bat that I’m currently $25,000 in student debt. With another two years of post-secondary education on the horizon, I estimate I’ll be at over $30,000 in debt by the time I finally graduate — a figure that creeps over the average amount of debt Canadian students leave school with.

As I edge closer to the prospects of finding work after flinging the mortarboard, an unnerving swarm of anxiety quickly erupts in my gut at the realization that this debt won’t just disappear. I’m not the only student terrified by the notion that I’ll leave university in a far worse financial state than I entered it with, and I’m further frustrated that, in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, students have to pay for their education in the first place.

A few months ago, the entire country of Germany scrapped its tuition fees. This may seem surreal to us Canadians; free tuition is like something out of a fantasy. The President of the Hamburg Parliament claimed that these fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies,” and that “tuition fees are socially unjust.” And he’s correct in every sense.

Education is our right. To attend and graduate from a post-secondary institution is a value to us as students, and for the whole of society. Our country would not have the ability to govern itself as effectively, nor would services operate as smoothly (if at all), if people did not attend a college or university. As Canadian citizens, we should all be granted the chance to gain the skills necessary for the job market, without having to bear thousands of dollars of debt upon graduation.

Our government could easily afford to shift its monetary priorities in our favour.

I’m flabbergasted that countries with less money and sometimes larger populations than us — Brazil, Norway, France, Sweden, and Finland — can shell out the dough to help their students thrive, while Canada spends billions on war efforts rather than the people of our future. Three words, Harper: ignorance, thoughtlessness, and greed.

What further troubles me is that taxpayers already pay for the Canadian Student Loans Program, a system designed to help students pay for their education. Wouldn’t this be better dealt with if these fees were jettisoned altogether?

A university degree today is basically equivalent to a high school diploma four decades ago. Thousands of desperate students take the risk and work their asses off for that master’s degree with the hope of finding reliable work, thus spinning them further into a financial hellhole.

Point blank, tuition is discriminatory. It perpetuates an economically divided society, and it places barriers on those with low incomes who truly have the necessary skills and tools to succeed in a post-secondary institution. In light of Germany’s retraction of these fees, it’s time for us to seriously consider whether our country could follow suit.

Free tuition is not a fantasy. Our government can easily afford to shift its monetary priorities in our favour through a commitment to increase and sustain financing for universities. In this way, we can compete with our wealthy European neighbours, and we can create an environment that doesn’t pluck out the well-off while leaving those in a harsh financial state to say ‘adios’ to their career goals.

I don’t want our next generation of students to have to spend even more borrowed money than they can afford on something they have a human right to obtain. We simply deserve better than that.