CAUT executive director James Turk addresses students & their supporters during a rally in Ottawa Feb. 7.
Thousands of students rallied at events in more than 30 university and college communities across Canada Feb. 7, marking a day of action as part of the Canadian Federation of Students’ campaign for affordable, high-quality post-secondary education.
Students have been mobilizing all year to raise awareness about the effects of government underfunding. CFS says high tuition fees, deep student debt, unfair wages and crumbling buildings are all undermining the post-secondary education system.
“With elections coming up in several provinces and perhaps federally, we want to use this momentum to help win commitments from political parties,” said CFS national chairperson Amanda Aziz.
Since 1990, tuition fees have nearly tripled in most provinces as a result of federal funding cuts. Student debt has ballooned to nearly $20 billion as students, for the first generation in Canadian history, are saddled with mortgage-sized student loans.
“Education shouldn’t be a debt sentence,” Aziz said. “We have terrific universities and colleges in Canada, and access to them shouldn’t be determined by the size of your wallet.”
Students have already won ongoing commitments to tuition freezes in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. New Brunswick is the only province that has not lowered or frozen tuition rates in the last decade. CFS wants that province to implement a freeze, and is calling on provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario to reintroduce a freeze on tuition.
“Most jurisdictions have frozen or reduced tuition fees, so it’s well within the reach of each province, and will be more within their reach if the federal government plays a leadership role,” Aziz said.
In addition to their call for lower tuition fees, CFS is also calling for a reinvestment in post-secondary education at the federal level and the creation of a national system of grants to reduce student debt.
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says Ottawa would like to increase transfer payments to provinces for post-secondary education, but the details need to be left to the provinces.
“There’s no question that the primary responsibility of setting tuition rates, creating universities and community colleges is that of the provinces,” he said.