Examine Free Post-Secondary Education

By Ashton, Steve | Winnipeg Free Press, October 24, 2016 | Go to article overview

Examine Free Post-Secondary Education


Ashton, Steve, Winnipeg Free Press


The tuition debate is back in Manitoba with a very different focus than in previous years. Recent comments made by the premier and education minister suggest that after more than a decade of a tuition freeze followed by legislation limiting increases in undergraduate fees to the rate of inflation, higher tuition-fee increases are under consideration.

To quote Yogi Berra, for some of us it is like déjà vu all over again. In my case, as president-elect of the University of Manitoba Students' Union in 1978, I was involved in one of the largest student protests against significant tuition-fee increases brought in by the Sterling Lyon government. Similarly, there were major tuition-fee increases under the Gary Filmon government.

There will no doubt be significant debate about whether to continue with the current legislation or to significantly increase tuitions. Across Canada and in the United States, there has been more and more focus on a third option: that of eliminating tuitions.

Why is the free-tuition movement gaining strength? The answer is clear: there is recognition of growing inequality and the impact it is having on the millennial generation.

The overall increases in tuitions across Canada didn't just happen. Much of the impetus came from the drastic erosion of federal funding that reduced its share of post-secondary funding from a 50 per cent level in 1967 to a current level of nine per cent for universities and only 1.4 per cent for colleges. This has led to a significant increase in the amount of private versus public funding in post-secondary education. This includes not only corporate and direct private funding, but increased tuitions as well.

Canada has one of the highest rates of private funding of post-secondary education in the world. As recently as 1990, public funds accounted for as much as 80 per cent of post-secondary budgets, compared with as little as 50 per cent today.

In the past, the counter-arguments to free tuition have been fairly predictable. These include the argument that people benefit from post-secondary education and therefore should pay for it upfront through tuitions, as well as arguments that there are other ways of investing in post-secondary education that can assist more people to attend post-secondary education institutions.

What has changed dramatically is the millennial generation is in many ways faced with the prospect of the end of the social contract that indicated that with a post-secondary education you would not only be better off than without it, but also as well off or better off than your parents. Many millennials face the prospect of being worse off than their parents and previous generations. …

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