Frequently Asked Questions

www.FreeEducationAct.org
Home
Free Education Week
Free Education Act
Post Secondary Education Costs Around the World
Petition for Free Education
What is Free Education? Frequently Asked Questions
Free Facts
Media
Community, Links and Resources
Art
Archives
Campaign Materials
Site Map
About the Coalition
Contact

Free Education?  Isn't that crazy?

Free!? What do you mean, free!?

Isn't free education a bit of a ridiculous concept?

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.


Free!? What do you mean, free!?

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 United 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.

Top

Isn't free education a bit of a ridiculous concept?

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 States.

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.

Top

Shouldn't students pay some fees because there is a private benefit to post-secondary education as well as a public one?

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.

Top

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?

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 debt however.

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.

Top

If I borrow money from a bank, I pay interest on it. Why shouldn't my loan be the same?

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.

Top

If I was a truck driver I'd have to borrow money to set myself up in business. Why shouldn't students borrow money to set themselves up in a career?

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.

Top

Why should the taxpayer fork out money for students?

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.

Top

Won't higher taxes discourage investment and make corporations and people leave the country?

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.

Top

Free education is never going to happen because it costs too much money.

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.

(with thanks to the Ontago University Student Association - www.ousa.org.nz)

APUS | ASSU | CUPE 3902 | GSU | OPIRG | SAC | Women's Centre