Day of Action: revolution or devolution?

Critics question whether a rally for tuition cuts is what the economy needs

On Feb. 1, supporters of the Canadian Federation of Students National Day of Action will march to the legislative grounds to demand lower tuition fees, more government funding, and removal of interest from Manitoba Student Loans. David Seburn

Supporters of the Canadian Federation of Students National Day of Action are preparing to march to the legislative grounds on Feb. 1 to demand lower tuition fees, more government funding and removal of interest from Manitoba Student Loans.

However, the campaign is raising eyebrows with critics.

Philippe Cyrenne, professor and chair of the department of economics, said demanding immediate tuition cuts will cause more problems than it solves.

“Suppose you cut tuition fees to university in half tomorrow: either the universities would have to reduce their program offerings, or the government would have to find money to make up for that tuition revenue,” said Cyrenne.

A more effective solution would be the implementation of a governmental system of income contingent loans, where students who achieved higher incomes after university would be required to pay back a higher percentage of the cost of attending university, said Cyrenne.

According to Cyrenne, lowering tuition and increasing funding will not necessarily increase the numbers of under-represented groups and low-income students attending university.

“In terms of public policy, if the government decided to reduce expenditures, what it does is it lowers the cost of who is going to university, and they tend to be usually of the middle to upper income,” said Cyrenne.

Outreach programs targeting low-income youth and bursary programs for low-income families are more likely to benefit the under represented population, said Cyrenne.

Conversely, the university’s Student Revolutionary Faction (SRF) is calling for an intensive restructuring of Canadian society that would abolish tuition fees entirely, said Alex Garcia, a member of the SRF.

“One day of action is not necessarily enough. Campaigns have been launched to reduce tuition fees, but my tuition has gone up since I started going here,” said Garcia.

At the Student Group Fair last Wednesday, Jan. 18, SRF members handed out flyers encouraging a citywide student strike.

The Day of Action slogan, Public for the People, is also misleading, since universities are not accessible to many members of the public, said Garcia.

“Higher education is a good thing and it should be made as accessible as possible, but will the CFS model provide equal access to education?” said Garcia.

David Jacks, former UWSA president and CFS chairperson, said the UWSA’s public demonstrations are an effective way of voicing concerns.

“There’s no quantifiable way of identifying how effective it is, but every year we had a rally, we kept the freeze,” said Jacks.

Jacks stressed the economic importance of keeping student debt low.

“There’s going to be a hiccup in the economy when this generation starts paying into its loans instead of into the economy,” said Jacks.

Lauren Bosc, president of the UWSA, said the global economic crisis prompted the CFS to focus on student debt in its campaign this year.

Average student debt in Canada is $19,000 upon graduation and student debt will rise to a projected $15 billion by the end of this year, said Bosc, referencing studies done by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives as well as researchers hired by the CFS.

Many Day of Action expenses are being covered by CFS Manitoba, with UWSA expenditures for the campaign totaling approximately $500, including advertising and lead-up activities, said Bosc.

The cost of refreshments on Feb. 1 has not yet been calculated.

Published in Volume 66, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 25, 2012)

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