Free!? What do you mean, free!?
Isn't free education a bit of a
Shouldn't students pay some
fees, since there is a private benefit to post-secondary education
as well as a public one?
Surely it's not a problem paying
for education, as I'm going to make so much more money over my life
as a result?
If I borrow money from a bank, I
pay interest on it. Why shouldn't my loan be the same?
If I was a truck driver I'd have
to borrow money to set myself up in business. Why shouldn't I borrow
money to set myself up in a career?
Why should the taxpayer fork out
money for students?
Won't higher taxes discourage
investment and make corporations and people leave the country?
Free education is never going to
happen because it costs too much money.
We really mean it - post-secondary education
should be free. There should be no charge. It should be underwritten
by society, like primary and secondary education, because -
according to many reputable groups, like the United Nations for one
- it is both a basic human right to be educated and a basic social
good to have a highly educated population. Article 13.2 (c) of the
Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights states that "Higher education shall be made equally
accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate
means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free
education." See our Free Facts
section for more information.
And we mean free education in every sense -
freedom from not just financial barriers, but from all barriers -
racist, sexist, classist, homophobic or otherwise. Education is a
basic right to which we all demand access.
Some would say that a ridiculous concept is
investing over $100,000 in a trainee doctor, but loading them up
with so much debt that the first thing they do is head to the United
A small increase in tax, or an additional tax
scale on richer income earners would allow education to be entirely
free. And this is a fair way to fund free education - we are opposed
to heavy tax increases to the the low and middle income classes,
especially since they currently face major financial restrictions to
attending post-secondary institutions.
In fact, the United Nations has policy
encouraging the progressive introduction of free post-secondary
education, as part of their mandate to encourage increased
accessibility. Many countries adhere to this policy, and have no
tuition fees: Germany, Austria, Ireland, Poland, and Greece are just
a few examples. Canada is a signatory to this UN policy, but in
practice, Canada have been ratcheting up tuition fees and decreasing
accessibility. We think this needs to change.
Yes there is a private benefit from
post-secondary education. There is also a private benefit to
primary, and secondary education, but these things can all be
accessed for free in Canada. There is also a private benefit from
accessing emergency services such as fire or police, as well as the
health system. However, no one ever sends you a bill afterwards
based on much additional income you will make as a result of the
fire service saving your life.
There is also a public benefit from
post-secondary education. Doctors, dentists, teachers, nurses,
business people, and scientists all learn their skills at
post-secondary institutions. High fees lead to high debt which is
likely to push these graduates to the U.S. with hopes of higher
incomes. If this happens there will then be no public benefit from
the taxpayer's investment in those graduates.
Again students are being discriminated
against. They are the only people in society that have this argument
used against them to make them pay money for a service that is
generally recognised as good for society as a whole.
First, nothing in life is certain. People can
get sick or become disabled, the stock market can crash - there is
no guarantee that one will make more money in the future.
Not all graduates walk into high-paying jobs.
A hairdresser, trained at a post-secondary institution, might start
on as little as minimum wage as a trainee. Professions such as
teachers, nurses or social workers all require post-secondary study,
some for four years or greater, yet have low incomes relative to the
debt they incur.
It's not even possible to say that certain
types of graduates will make a lot of money. An accounting graduate
might end up running their own business and doing very well. They
might end up going to teachers college, and being a secondary
teacher, and struggling to pay off their loan over many years. A
medical school graduate may become a plastic surgeon, or they may
work in low-income areas for much lower wages.
And not all people who start post-secondary
study finish it. Some drop out because they aren't achieving, but
some leave because of debt, financial pressures, or other
commitments, such as children. Some never intended to graduate, and
were just doing 'a couple of papers' to pick up skills. Lots of
students never graduate with a degree, and so the additional income
that they will make will be small or negligible. They still have
We know that women earn on average less than
men. Yet they pay the same fees and living costs. They also tend to
take time off for child-rearing. The student loan scheme doesn't
account for this in any way.
Remember also that while you are a student,
you have a negative income. If you weren't studying, you could be
earning as much as $25 - 30K in an unskilled job. You need to take
this into account when you consider the potential extra money you
will make later in life.
In reality, it's difficult to predict how much
money you're going to make out of University, until you retire.
Because if you borrow money from a bank,
you're likely to invest in a house, a car, or travel. This will only
benefit you. If you invest in education you will increase the
economic and social wealth of the country. If the government is
trying to encourage a 'knowledge-based society', it would seem that
policies which encourage people to attend post-secondary
institutions would be good.
If you were a truck driver and borrowed money
to buy a truck, you would be able to sell the truck and repay the
loan. At present there is no market for a second hand degree.
There are certain professions that simply
require post-secondary qualifications. Doctors, nurses, teachers,
lawyers, dentists, academics - these are all social professions,
working within the community. They all charge for their services,
either directly or indirectly. As their student debt increases, they
will charge more for their employment. These costs will be passed on
in higher bills for visits to the doctor or dentist, or higher taxes
to pay for teachers and nurses. If passing the costs on doesn't
work, then these qualified professionals will head to the U.S., and
we will lose their skills, and have to train others. Either way the
Canadian public will pay.
Because the taxpayer benefits from an educated
society, particularly graduates that stay in the country and create
jobs, do research, teach, and provide social services. Taxpayers
visit the doctor, have children who go to school, and live in a
society that is trying to ride the 'knowledge wave'. Many taxpayers
earn a living as a result of work done by graduates in starting a
business or research. And graduates themselves pay taxes - and these
will be higher if they are earning a higher income.
The extent to which this occurs is debatable
but indeed possible. Conversely, high student debt is certainly
making graduates go elsewhere. Canada will have trouble competing
for salaries and profits with many other countries (although it of
course competes very well on lifestyle, crime, education, health,
and several other factors).
Instead of looking at post-secondary education
as an increasing cost, look at it as an increasing investment. A
more educated society will perform better economically, make
scientific discoveries and become an important part of the
'knowledge wave'. An investment in education may actually increase
the tax intake in the long term, as graduates employ other people,
and create new goods and services for trade. It may be that
increased investment in post-secondary education will be largely
self-funding for the government. The benefits to society beyond that
(higher employment, education, cultural awareness) are massive.
Lots of things, such as welfare, health
expenditure, and primary and secondary education cost a lot of
money, but are paid for collectively because it is recognized that
they benefit us collectively. Post-secondary education is also a
collective benefit, for the reasons outlined above and many more.
We do not expect the government to suddenly
make post-secondary education free instantly. But we do expect an
honest attempt to honour our supposed commitment to accessible
post-secondary education. Post-secondary education is chronically
underfunded, and it needs a large injection of money just to retain
quality staff, and provide quality teaching. This should be a first
step; subsequent steps should aim at increasing post-secondary
accessibility, with the progressive introduction of zero tuition
policies, in keeping with our United Nations commitments. The
government needs to address these issues, and these in turn can be a
first step towards free education in Canada.