By: Obinna Esomchukwu
In Canada, it seems there is no middle ground on the issue of free tuition: you are either for zero tuition or against it. Those who argue the affirmative, believe free tuition can and should be offered by the government, no matter what the economic consequences. Those who argue the negative are of the opinion that free tuition is unsustainable for the economy and an unnecessary subsidy for the rich. However, amid what appears to be a clash of irreconcilable ideas, both parties agree on one thing at least: education in Canada can be more affordable.
On the second day of November, one of the federal organizations representing students in Canada, the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), launched a Day of Action campaign to protest against the cost of postsecondary education. As you may be aware, the UPEI SU is a member of both the CFS and the Canadian Alliance for Student Association (CASA), which is another federal organization. Tending to align with the CFS, the Graduate Students’ Association of UPEI decided to participate in the Day of Action rally. In contrast, the UPEI SU is more aligned with CASA which, as described by many, focuses on lobbying and meeting politicians. Since the modus operandi of these organizations differs, the UPEI SU chose to take a neutral role and not take part in the event.
However, it is important to realize that despite apparent differences in ideology and approach, both CASA and CFS represent the best interest of the students. So, it would be unjust to accuse either of deliberate impotence or unnecessary radicalism. There is certainly no clear cut path to the change we desire; therefore, it is only wise for these organizations to explore the available options and do the best job possible. After all, education is meant to be the great equalizer — the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. But how can those words be true when it costs an arm, a leg, and two part-time jobs to attend university? The reality today is that students have to take on huge debts to attend university. In cases where the student cannot access loans (as in the case of international students), parents have to work multiple jobs and the students have to do the same. The middle class and low-income families are taking the biggest hit with the continuous rise in the cost of education.
Wale is an international student from Nigeria. Since he moved to Canada his mother has had to take on extra shifts at the hotel where she works as a cleaner. His father works for the government but has not been paid for the past four months. Wale is not eligible for student loans because of his international student status. As a result, he has to depend on whatever his parents are able to send him and whatever he is paid from his part-time job. He works night shifts at Sobey’s on the weekends and tutors on campus. He is very aware of the immigration regulation which prevents international students from working more than twenty hours a week, but he recently took on a second job at Atelka, where he has the opportunity to pick up extra shifts. In addition to taking five classes and working three jobs, Wale also volunteers at the Soup Kitchen — yet he maintains a B+ (79%) average. Students like Wale — hardworking, focused, and stressed — are all around us. But in order for such students to attain their full potential, the conversation around the cost of postsecondary education has to intensify. Whether it be tuition freeze, needs-based grants or free tuition for all, we — the student body — have to support organizations like CASA and CFS.
In conclusion, despite the different ideologies, both organizations deserve praise for their effort in addressing this pressing issue. At this point, both groups should focus on the common goal — reducing or eliminating tuition fees.
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