Should university tuition be free for all students?

By in Opinions

University tuition has been an important issue in Canada in recent years, starting with the 2012 Quebec student strike. Ever since the protests began, free tuition has been debated among students and taxpayers and discussed by politicians, but students in Saskatchewan have not seen any change.

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Although free tuition would be nice, it might not be an option in Canada.

Those in favour of free university tuition for all students argue that with consistently rising tuition, a university education is becoming harder to accomplish for far too many people. Tuition has nearly tripled since the 1990s, meaning that it is no longer possible for a student to work to pay for their tuition and as a result, student loan debt is higher than ever.

There are some obvious reasons why tuition is not already free in Canada, and many people don’t think that it should be. One concern is that the government simply can’t afford free tuition for everyone. There is also the concern that students who are not receiving professional degrees should not get free tuition, since it is likely that they will be working at jobs that do not require a degree after they graduate.

There are plenty of countries that currently offer free university tuition for all of their residents. One of these countries is Norway, where public universities are completely tuition free.  However, the cost of living in Norway is much higher than most other countries to cover the costs of free university tuition, as well as other social services.

There are some problems that Canada might face if they were to try to adopt the same model that Norway has in place. Canada has a much larger population than Norway, so it would be much more expensive to provide free education to everyone who wants it. Also, the cost of living is already too high for many people in Canada and it would be difficult to introduce tax raises to cover the expenses of introducing free university tuition.

Maybe university tuition shouldn’t even be free for all Canadians. One of the arguments for implementing free university tuition for all students is that it will make everyone equal, but this isn’t necessarily true. 

One of the biggest indicators of whether a student will get a university degree is how much their family’s income is. According to Statistics Canada, 67 per cent of Canadians in the top 1 per cent income bracket attended university. However, only 21 per cent of all Canadians over 15 have attended university. Further, the more highly educated a person is, the more likely they are to earn a higher income.

While it is possible for low-income students to get loans to attend university, it becomes much more stressful to earn a degree and also harder to get on your feet after graduating because of the debt that needs to be repaid.

So perhaps rather than providing free university tuition for all students, it would make more sense to provide free university tuition for students who otherwise can’t afford to attend university without going into debt. This approach would actually create more equality among students, and would also help to bridge the ever-increasing income gap.

Ontario has recently done studies to find that they could be a leading example in providing equal education for students. In 2016, the Ontario government announced a new policy of providing funding for students whose families’ net income is less than $50,000 per year, which will mean that tuition will be fully covered for these students and cost them nothing.

As well, they will have university education heavily subsidized for all students from families with a yearly income of $83,000 or less, which means that they will only pay a fraction of tuition out of their own pocket.

They are able to do this by cancelling their previous educational tax credit programs, and re-allocating that money into these new government education grants. 

Ontario will be implementing the new grant system for the 2017-18 school year, so maybe the best thing for Saskatchewan to do is to wait and see how it turns out for students and citizens in Ontario, before taking any further action.

Lyndsay Afseth

Photo: quinnanya / Flickr