Don’t Kid Yourself: We all pay for the defunding of higher education

I went to McGill in the late 80s and early 90s when tuition fees were less than $1,200 a year, so with summer jobs and some parental help I graduated from my first degree debt-free. For my MA, which I took in Ontario, I worked part-time and graduated after one year with a debt of $10,000.

By way of comparison: my partner went to university in Ontario after grants were eliminated, and when the first round of tuition fee hikes were implemented. He completed a BA and then an MA, and graduated with a debt load (and compound interest) requiring monthly payments of around $650 for 10 years.

We know we benefited, and are benefiting from, our education. Both of us have found employment that allows us to make use of what we studied, and each of us paid back our loans. But that debt (particularly my partner’s), until it was fully repaid, impacted every major decision we made as a couple and then later as a family. And we still live with those decisions: when we bought a house, when we had kids, how many kids we could afford to have, the fact that we don’t own a car, how often we see our families who live out of town. (The other determining factor is the high cost of child care outside of Québec.)

“Have you set up RESPs yet?” we’re often asked. Are you kidding—with both kids still in child care? And since we have fundamental issues with the RESP system, the public money it represents and how, like the RRSP system, it’s geared to the wealthiest families who can most afford to save, we’ll be exploring other ways—once child care expenses go down—to save for our kids’ education so that they can start their adulthood as debt-free as possible.

Of course, if our house needs major repairs it promises to throw a huge wrench into “the plan”. Because for many of us, life is as precariously balanced as a three-legged stool: alter one element (like when I broke my leg last year, rendering me immobile for several weeks) and the whole thing threatens to topple.

Our societies are likewise delicately balanced: educated societies are healthy societies; equitable societies are safer societies. There is no one panacea—these elements work together. And they need to work well together—which requires accountability, sufficient financing, transparency, and effective administration. So the question is not “health care or education, what’s it going to be?”; the question is, what do we need in order to create an equitable, healthy, educated and engaged society, and what’s the best, fairest, most efficient way to get it?

It is within this context that we need to examine the rhetorical criticisms levied against the Québec student strike and the people involved.

Discarded placards in Place Jacques-Cartier, Old Montréal after 200,000 people marched through the streets against Québec’s tuition increases on March 22, 2012. photo by David Widgington

Tuition fees in Québec are the lowest in the country. What have they got to complain about?

It’s less surprising that Québec students are protesting than Continue reading

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