Rising tuition rates prompts protest by UVic students

Student leader says rising cost of education is pitting students against families seeking affordable housing in Saanich

Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming of the NDP speaks to some 100 students during last week’s National Day of Action organized by the Canadian Federation of Students.

The rising cost of post-secondary education pits students against families and others seeking affordable housing in Saanich, according to the local co-organizer of a national rally against student debt held last week.

Kenya Rogers of the Education is a Right Club at the University of Victoria made these comments after some 100 students had rallied outside UVic’s McPherson Library as part of the National Day of Action that the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) organized on Nov. 2.

Held across Canadian post-secondary campuses under the banner of “Day of Action for Free Education,” the rally asked government to follow the example of other developed nations in Europe that do not charge tuition fees for post-secondary education.

Saanich residents, she said, should be aware of this issue, because UVic students are part of the Saanich community.

“The increasing corporatization of the university system has meant that many students are pushed out of university services such as residence because the university is increasing costs beyond what low-income and middle-income students can afford,” she said.

“This means that students are flooding the housing market and this effects families and lower to middle-income folks who are trying to navigate the rental housing market in Victoria.”

Last week’s rally took place against the background of recent figures concerning the cost of post-secondary education in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, average Canadian undergraduates pay $6,373 in tuition fees for the 2016/2017 academic year, a figure 2.8 per cent higher than in 2015/2016.

While smaller than previous increases, it is consistent with figures from Statistics Canada that show Canadian undergraduates today pay 40 per cent more in tuition than they did 10 years ago.

Various speakers during last week’s rally including New Democrat Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, said rising tuition fees threaten to increase inequality.

Post-secondary, said Fleming, represents the “powerful instrument” in the hands of government to reduce inequality and promote economic prosperity in society. “And it is being misused and abused by this government, and I’m sorry to say that you folks are paying the inter-generational price for that neglect by this government.”

Rogers also reiterated points from research that links rising tuition fees and student debt with delays in the achievement of what scholars call milestone events.

“[It] means that an entire generation is entering our economy and can’t even think about buying homes, cars or starting families, and that’s not how we build a healthy economy for our communities,” says Rogers.

Students who borrow money through student loans to finance their post-secondary education graduate with an average debt somewhere in the mid-to-high $20,000 range according to various sources.

A Statistics Canada report published in 2012 says Canadians owe $28.3 billion in student debt – a figure below the figure of $1.2 trillion for the United States, where tuition fees are significantly higher than in most other developed countries.

A survey of 15 countries titled Global Higher Education Rankings 2010 finds that Canada ranked among a cluster of countries including the United Kingdom with ‘medium’ tuition fees. The United States and Japan in turn recorded the highest education costs.

This same report, however, also ranks Canada towards the bottom (12th) when it comes to the relationship between the cost of education and available incomes, just ahead of the United States (13th).

So Canadian tuition fees might be low in comparison to other countries, but perhaps increasingly prohibitive for locals based on their purchasing power.  Countries with no or patchy tuition fees, meanwhile, offer the best ratio between cost and accessibility, according to this research.