My younger years.
To the Editor:
In recent weeks, students across Ontario and throughout Canada have undertaken various initiatives to raise awareness about declining access to our colleges and universities. In addition to meeting directly with government officials - including local MPs and MPPs - students have organized forums, petition drives, and letter-writing campaigns. At Queen's University and the University of Guelph, students occupied administrators' offices. On Wednesday, February 6, thousands of students will demonstrate on campuses and in communities from coast to coast.
Simply put, affordable, public post-secondary education is under attack. So severely have federal and provincial governments starved colleges and universities of needed funding, that campus infrastructure is crumbling, quality of education is declining, and accessibility has been compromised. In Ontario, this government-created crisis has been compounded by the deregulation of tuition fees for certain programs and the decision to allow the establishment of private, for-profit universities. The outcome: still higher tuition fees and declining accessibility.
Meanwhile, university administrators have been reduced to institutional fundraisers and public relations apologists for the selling off of public education by stealth. Their role, essentially, has been to act as the buffer between detrimental government policies and the rest of us. Indeed, university presidents and administrators pay lip service to the lack of government funding. But their behind-the-scenes government "lobbying" amounts to begging for such policies as the deregulation of all tuition fees, enrollment caps, and regressive student loan repayment schemes.
Like complacent messengers of government, administrators tell us that tuition fee increases are necessary in order to maintain quality and excellence. Indeed, they even make this argument in Ontario, where tuition fees are the second highest in Canada and student-professor ratios are among the worst. Moreover, administrators tell us not to worry because tuition fee increases do not compromise accessibility. They make this argument - using partial data sets and spurious correlations - despite a rapidly growing body of evidence to the contrary emerging from Statistics Canada, numerous independent studies, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, nationwide public polling, and international experience.
In a nutshell, administrators' arguments defy basic logic and common sense: it doesn't matter if we raise tuition fees to a million dollars because we'll "set aside" a certain percentage for students in need. Heck, who needs government funding or up-front grants for students when you have magnificent user fees, student-funded financial assistance, and back-end debt remission based on post-graduation income? Why not just tell government to cancel funding completely since we already have the solutions in students' pocketbooks? Besides, once we're entirely private we won't have to ensure accessibility, anyway: education is a service, students are customers, and we need to remain competitive in this rapidly changing knowledge-based economy. Period.
Universities are governed by undemocratic boards of governors dominated by influential corporate sponsors. Such is a world in which it is not what or how you argue, but what you own or control that matters. Students must rely on their numbers and mobilizing power to defend the right to education. We happen to think that education is a right and a necessity. Students also rely on their immediate allies, including faculty members and support staff. So it comes as no surprise that Western's own administrators might try to pit us against each other, stifle our mobilization efforts, oppose tuition fee freezes, and then deploy the same old arguments each year to justify tuition fee hikes.
Of course, students know better - and we have the public on our side. In Ontario, 82% of people support tuition fee freezes and reductions. Now is the time for a united front to demand adequate government funding to freeze and reduce tuition fees. Sadly, administrators' thinking has not quite caught up with the rest of us.