Canada: Universities just for the rich?

by Tyler MacKinnon
The first-year university student is typically bright and energetic, ready to embrace a whole new world of ideas that allegedly can be grasped only by the cream of the intellectual crop. The student worked for months, pulling up high school grades, working on countless essays and tests, still recovering from a lack of sleep endured last May and June. But all that work finally paid off. At last s/he is a true scholar. Then comes the tuition bill. The colour literally drains from the eyes. All emotion is sucked dry at a glimpse of the absurd price.
University fees are pushing working-class scholars out of their deserved classroom seats and into the service industry faster than you can say delta-hyde. According to a report by the Canadian Federation of Students, the share of university operating budgets funded by students’ tuition fees more than doubled between 1985 and 2005, rising from 14% to 30%.
This, plus unprecedented levels of student debt, have been a growing concern for working-class students for the past 20 years, despite the popular student movement slogan “education is a right, not a privilege”.
The CFS report shows that student debt skyrocketed between 1999 and 2004, going from $21,177 to over $28,000—an increase of more than 33% in just five years.
Even the once reliable government assistance programs and scholarships, which were introduced supposedly to give struggling students support while they pursue post-secondary education, take months to deliver. 
And when funds are finally released, the amount is barely enough to get a student through the first term. Whatever doesn’t go towards tuition gets spent on text books, transportation and basic living conditions.
Researchers also state that financial issues are the most commonly cited barrier for students trying to get into post-secondary learning. Speaking from experience, I can honestly say that OSAP will cause more sleep loss and stress than any exam ever will!
If something is not done soon about this issue, university will revert to the conditions of the early industrial revolution. Only the rich will be educated; the poor will be denied. That ought to keep the latter from “getting dangerous ideas in their heads”. 
If government can afford to fight an unjust and unwinnable war, then it can afford to provide access to free education to every man, woman, and child. Education is a right, not a privilege. Let’s make it so. Drop fees! Tax the corporations!

> This article was originally published in the February 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.