Students rally to keep tuition costs low

National day of action calls on governments to support post-secondary education

How much do you want to pay to get an education?

Nathaniel Hawthorne worked hard throughout high school – hard enough to get a scholarship that would pay for most of his courses as he got ready for medical school. But he still needed a loan to go to school, and because of that loan, he lost a scholarship.

“I dropped a course, and I tried to pick up another class,” he says. “I guess because I didn’t tell the student loan office – I never knew you had to – they cancelled my loan, which meant I couldn’t afford my classes, so I dropped the rest of them. And then I lost my scholarship, because I couldn’t afford to go to class anymore.”

Hawthorne is making sure that never happens to anyone else by attending the All Out Student Day of Action, a country-wide protest on Nov. 2 to fight for lowering tuition fees, eliminating student debt, and making sure post-secondary institutions are more publicly funded.

The movement was started by the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and has events and individual protests happening at most of the major universities, including the University of Winnipeg (U of W). 

Michael Barkman, chairperson for the CFS Manitoba chapter, says that tuition costs and student loans are tied to the fact that government funding for universities has diminished greatly.

“Education is a public good. It’s a public service we should be investing in,” Barkman says. “Around 40 years ago, education was 90 per cent publicly funded. Now it’s somewhere around 40 per cent, and those lack of funds have been made up by rising tuition costs that have risen faster than the rate of inflation.” 

Manitoba has one of the lower tuition rates in Canada. The U of W costs about $3,366 per year to attend, with other institutions such as the University of Manitoba falling close to that number. The exception is the Canadian Mennonite University, which sits at a $5,712 tuition average.

Manitoba’s tuition rates are lower than other provinces thanks to the Protecting Affordability for University Students Act, which ties domestic undergraduate student tuition to the rate of inflation. 

The new Progressive Conservative government in Manitoba has hinted post-secondary fees might increase in the future by anywhere between $2,000 and $2,500. 

Barkman says most of the students he’s talked to are afraid they might not be able to afford tuition if the fees go up.

“Students are certainly worried about tuition fee increases in Manitoba. That’s something I hear time and time again,” he says. “We hear from students who aren’t included in the affordability protection who want to be included. Our student debt rate is rising at an alarming rate.”

The U of W will give academic amnesty to any student who intends to take part in the demonstration, which means professors cannot schedule evaluations or penalize students for missing class to participate. 

Visit cfs-fcee.ca for more information about the day of action on Nov. 2.

Published in Volume 71, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 27, 2016)

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