Keep tuition fees affordable to ensure access to education

Originally published in the Brandon Sun

Kerry Auriat’s March 25 column “Allowing Tuition Hikes Strikes Right Balance” improperly frames post-secondary education as an individual responsibility in order to justify increasing costs for students. 

Auriat himself was able to benefit from both the benefits of strong public investments in post-secondary education, and the fact that upon graduation, he entered a job market where one could reasonably expect to get a full-time, well-paying job. It is unfortunate that he supports a political decision to increase the distance between his experiences in education and experiences of students like myself.

The cost of post-secondary education in Canada has fast outpaced the cost of living.  In 1975, students in Manitoba had to work 183 hours at minimum wage to pay for their tuition; that number rose to 366 hours in 2013.  The increase in tuition fees for students is directly correlated with a decline in government funding for post-secondary education. 

The burden of paying for education has been shifted from the public to the individual, aligning with the rhetoric that education produces primarily individual, rather than societal, benefits.  But this is untrue: societal benefits that come from an educated population include longer lifespans, fewer health problems, lower levels of poverty, higher levels of civic participation, and lower incarceration rates.

While I agree that universities and colleges should not suffer because of limited revenue, I disagree that the solution is to increase tuition fees.  Increasing tuition fees does not, for example, take into account that even in terms of public funding, only 15% of post-secondary funding goes to institutions located outside of Winnipeg. 

Nor does it take into account the disproportionate impact that tuition has on marginalized communities such as racialized, Indigenous, and disabled people.  A better solution is needed to ensure that post-secondary institutions are well-funded, and this solution must center accessibility for students.   Regardless of what the provincial government may say, there is money for education.  Leadership is needed at both the provincial and national level to prioritize post-secondary education because it is the right thing to do.

This issue is important to me as someone who understands the inherent value of a public system of post-secondary education.  But it is also important to me on a personal level, as a student who comes from a low-income family and likely would not have pursued post-secondary education if the cost in Manitoba rose to the national average. 

Even with the tuition fees as they were, I’ve incurred huge student debt, which accumulates $5.11/day in interest alone.  I do not want to see others like myself turned away from accessing education because of where we come from.  But this may be the impact of the decisions made by the Pallister government to allow tuition to rise by 5% plus inflation each year. I do not need to pay exorbitant tuition fees in order to recognize the value of education, and high fees in fact make it more difficult for students to graduate. 

Rather than entering into a race to the bottom in terms of the inaccessibility of education, Manitoba has an opportunity to become leaders in ensuring that education in the province remains accessible to all, including those in marginalized communities.  Investments in education reap economic and social rewards and build better communities, and we should work to improve upon this system, rather than adopt a model that has failed in other provinces.

Carissa Taylor is the Chairperson of the National Graduate Caucus. Carissa served as president of the Brandon University Students' Union from 2012-2013.