Education should be a boon, not a burden

During this time of economic recovery, many young Canadians are seeking to improve their chances at developing meaningful careers by opting to invest in higher education. But with federal funding of colleges and universities having been slashed almost continuously since the early 80s, students are expected to make up this shortfall by paying unreasonable tuition fees.

While tuition fees continue to rise across the country, successive governments have done very little to ensure that affordable education is available to every Canadian. Many will argue that the increases are simply a reflection of national inflation, but, as we’ve seen recently, tuition rates have increased 3.6 per cent between 2008 and 2010, while inflation has declined by 0.8 per cent over the same period.

Families in Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing are aware that Ontario students have been hit particularly hard with regards to the cost of higher education. Over the last year, average tuition fees jumped from $5,667 to $5, 951 per year for undergraduate studies, an increase of 5 per cent, which is the limit legislated by the Ontario government. For those who come from low-to-middle income families, the burden of tuition fees has caused a massive disparity. Along with tuition, additional fees for such things as athletics, student associations, and health services have also increased dramatically. Add to this the standard cost of living, and many Canadian students are left with a system that will leave them in significant debt for years, often decades, to come. The results add up to more youth-out-migration, a problem that Northern families are far too familiar with.
According to Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition survey, prospective students who opt out of higher education have overwhelmingly cited “financial reasons” as the most common barrier. Higher education is increasingly being reserved for the rich, while many of our brightest students are being left in the dust.

Compounding the problem for families is the 30 year ‘freeze’ in the buying power of take home wages. Canadian workers are all too aware that the wage gap between rich and poor is increasing. Between 1980 and 2005, take home wages in Canada only rose $53 in buying power which indicates that wages have not come close at all to keeping up with the cost of living. Add to this the burden of increased tuition costs on families, and we see a system that is not equipped to help those in the margins.

If the cost of higher education continues to rise, so too does the burden we put on youth who are attempting to gain a fighting chance at a brighter future. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that every prospective student has the means to seek higher education, and by association, a better life. Benjamin Franklin was once quoted as saying “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” This is a sentiment shared by the New Democrats, and one that we hope the current government will come to realize.