(Originally published in The Chronicle on Oct 21 2014 and online at http://chronicle.durhamcollege.ca/?p=2098 )
Scotland, Finland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Greece, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Switzerland and now Germany all have free tuition. So why not Canada?
On Oct. 2 Germany declared education would be free for all students. Most of Germany was already tuition free except for Lower Saxony until now. Politicians changed this because they believe everyone has a right to education. Dorothee Stapelfeldt, senator for science in Hamburg, was quoted in The Times saying, “Tuition fees are socially unjust. They particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies.”
There are so many countries showing a good example. You would think that more would follow suit.
Canada should know better. Canada even signed the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on May 19, 1976. This treaty states in Article 13.2.c 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.”
But instead of following the treaty, tuition fees have risen instead of getting progressively smaller. According to Canadian Federation of Students tuition from 2000- 2010 went up 51 per cent in Ontario.
This is leaving students buried in debt. According to Statistics Canada in 2012 the average household had $28,272 in student loan debt by comparison with only $19,974 in 2005. Leaving post-secondary students thousands of dollars in debt, which adds stress and doesn’t give students the chance to succeed. To pay off the $28,272 – without interest – a student would have to work 2,571 hours at $11.00 an hour.
A debt-free student has a higher chance of renting or even buying a house, buying household items, clothing and cars. This would give the economy a boost creating a higher demand for jobs. There would also be more taxpaying citizens instead of unemployed students buried in debt they can’t afford.
Some have argued free tuition it would break the Canadian government. According to the Financial Post, as of May 16, 2013 Canada’s national debt was $1.2-trillion and rising. Tuition would add to this debt but right now all of that debt lands on the individual students instead of all of the taxpayers as a whole. Having more educated citizens is matters for the greater good so shouldn’t for the greater good everyone participate in paying for it? Canada doesn’t need to be fully out of debt or have the highest GDP (gross domestic product) to make it work.
According to Statista.com, Germany has a GDP of $3,875.76 standing at fourth highest. Canada is eleventh with $1,768.97 but Switzerland is twentieth with $693.53 and has free tuition. If a country that has less GDP than Canada can swing free tuition, why can’t we?
Free tuition in Canada would alleviate a lot of issues. There would be more options for Canadians to get an education. This could help our labour shortage. According to Working in Canada, for example engineers, therapists, technologists, and specialists are the most in demand workers right now. All of these careers need expensive degrees. If Canada had free tuition more students would be inclined to take longer programs because debt and tuition wouldn’t be a factor anymore.
Canada needs to become a follower in the free tuition revolution so that the country can grow and become what it claimed to be in 1976: progressive.