I told myself I wouldn't use this blog to attack other bloggers but I can't help myself on this one. I usually like reading Paul Wells. He's usually so clever and astute. So who took over his computer and posted this bullshit? His post "Higher tuition, better access" reminds me of the neo-liberal kids that argue that increasing tuition increases the real market value of their education. Wells doesn't go quite that far but his post reeks of the same elitist remove from the lives of ordinary students that the young neo-cons suffer from.
Excuse me for being one of the exploding heads that Wells refers to with his signature condescending and dismissive tone, but this post made me angry and I thought 'what better time for a rant on post-secondary education than a week before the CFS National Day of Action?' So this is where I attempt to debunk some of his cliché arguments and let off some steam about the state of access to education in this country:
First and foremost, the whole 'lower tuition subsidizes affluent students' argument is so tired and old. With a truly progressive tax system the government would be getting enough of young Thad Winslow III, Esquire's parents' money, and all of his friends' parents' money, to subsidize post-secondary institutions properly. Under this system, Thad and his friends from Upper Canada College would be admitted into post-secondary institutions based on their scholastic achievement instead of how much money they have in their trust funds.
Next, while creating spaces in post-secondary institutions is good, it is not enough. The provinces need to have a strategy for making the most of their PSE systems and addressing skills shortages. A properly implemented strategy would transform the way we view certain institutions, creating an increased usage of trade schools and colleges. Wells points out that a few years ago the cutoff entry grade for UBC was at 89%. That would be an astonishing figure if UBC was the only post-secondary institution in BC, but its not even the only institution in the Lower Mainland. Not everyone needs to go to UBC, or a university for that matter. But the deciding factor of where one goes to school, and even whether or not one attends a post-secondary institution, should be a combination of one's own interest and scholastic capacity and not one's social and financial status.
So I know that I am playing right into his hands by taking the bait and going off on a rant but these things need to be said. Despite all of the complacency that seems to exist on campuses, students today are in a uniquely desperate position. The federal Liberal governments of the 1990's shifted the federal debt onto the backs of students and forced the provinces to make drastic cuts to all social spending. Some provinces, like Quebec, have managed to keep tuition from skyrocketing- thanks to enormous pressure from student groups- while others, like Nova Scotia and BC have seen such drastic increases in tuition that many potential students see any education beyond high-school as a financial impossibility. For many of those who do find a way into a post-secondary institution, the debt-load is ridiculously severe. To paraphrase something said by BC MLA Rob Fleming at a recent forum on PSE, it's as if governments are using this generation as test subjects to see how much debt a generation can sustain without economic collapse.
The arguments made by the CFS and other student organizations for lower tuition and replacing the grants are coherent, rational, and compelling, however Wells, and others like him, still try to paint student activists as a bunch of whiny radicals.
Paul Wells calls those of us with grades high enough to be in university the "lucky" ones. While I recognize the privilege enjoyed by a university-educated person, I don't feel particularly "lucky" to be carrying debt so large that it will take me at least the first 10 years of my career to pay it off. That is why on February 7th you can find me on the lawn of the BC Legislature with all of the other "lucky" students, and some not-so-"lucky" non-students, telling Gordon Campbell what we think of his and Paul Wells' ideas on how to improve access to education.
1 hour ago