Canada should provide free post-secondary education for everyone

Apr 20, 2023 | OP-ED, Opinion

Access to education is an essential aspect of creating a healthy society. That is why public education from Kindergarten to Grade 12 education is a right for residents of Canada with some exceptions.

That same right should apply to post-secondary education.

Education is expensive and there would be significant costs to restructuring the funding of post-secondary. However, the benefits would significantly outweigh the costs and the price of inaction is far greater.

Student debt affects the entire economy, not just struggling students. The average student debt at graduation including undergraduates and graduates was $26,075 in 2015. That adds up to more than $18 billion in total student debt which takes an average of nine to 15 years to pay off.

The cost of living continues to rise and debt puts a significant strain on young graduates, which in turn affects the health of the entire economy.

This also exacerbates existing inequalities and limits the social mobility of graduates from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Education is an investment in the future of our society. We need to ensure all young people are given the tools they need to succeed and be financially stable as they navigate into the workforce.

This is not a novel concept. Free post-secondary education has been implemented in various forms across the world. More than 39 countries have made it free or almost free and several extend that right to international students as well.

While Nordic and central European nations like Finland and Germany are commonly mentioned, there are examples from every continent, including Argentina, Mexico, Morocco, Philippines and Fiji.

Another aspect to consider is Canada’s exploitation of international students.

Data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) shows there were 807,750 international students holding valid study permits in 2022. These students pay an average of $36,100 per year for undergraduate studies, compared to an average of $6,693 for domestic students.

International students are often recruited with false promises of the ‘Canadian dream’ only to find their reality is much different.

Canada’s treatment of international students is unjust and they are being used to supplement and prop up a failing system that is suffering from decades of underfunding.

The Ontario Auditor General reported in 2021 there has been a trend of increased international student fees offsetting decreased public funding and tuitions paid by domestic students.

Not only are education institutions failing our students, they are also failing our faculty.

There is no shortage of labour disputes in recent years tied to insecure employment, low wages, workloads, class sizes and academic freedom. After several high-profile strikes, not much has changed.

Our education system is not working. Structural change is needed and part of that is redefining our cultural values around higher education.

Post-secondary education should be focused on creating the conditions for the success of each generation and ending the exploitation of international students and faculty.