Privatization of Higher Education in Canada:
Poverty Among Students is a result of Neo-liberal Policies
By Ian Beeching
As the iron boot of Canadian imperialism falls on the heads of Afghans, so too does the overbearing weight of oppression fall on the shoulders of those young people in Canada who are working and going to school, now faced with the reality of debt and increasingly degrading working conditions. Canadian students return to school as the government which administrates them sends 2,000 soldiers to "kill People" in Afghanistan. The government of Canada wages a ruthless war against working people, through attacks on CBC workers to the complicity in Telus' battle to send jobs overseas where it can oppress working people, to levels not yet possible in Canada, for more profit. Education is being swept from the poor masses in Canada by becoming increasingly inaccessible in favour of an elite system for the sons and daughters of the ruling class and rich people.
War Drive vs. Education Drive
It is an outrage that tuition has more than doubled, at a rate four times faster than inflation, in less than five years. As the average student will now have a debt of $25,000 after a four-year program (a 300% increase from 1990) the government of Canada doubles the military budget increasing it by $12.8Billion. There has become only two options for students wishing to continue their schooling, debt or join the army. With the average student working low paying unskilled jobs without union protection, tuition consumes an unliveable proportion of their income. The average tuition for a full-time university student is above $4,000 a year and when a person earning just above minimum wage couldn't hope to make more than $15,000 a year if they were working full-time which full-time students cannot do, we begin to see their financial reality. The cost of education throws most students well below the poverty line making them some of the poorest people in Canada. The disparity of students opens the doors for the military, which promises to pay students' tuition for their services. The military requires educated people to wage their high tech warfare capable of bringing death to third-world countries with just the pushing of buttons and thus turns to poor people who have a post-secondary education, students.
Students as the Underdog
With an economic crisis for the Canadian ruling class around the corner reflected in their imperialist expansion, the Canadian government needed to find more dramatic ways to convince working people that occupation is acceptable. Their solution is ignorance. The same ignorance that allows Canadians to forget that Canada is occupying the lands of the indigenous people. By striping the Canadian working class of the tools which education affords they effectively stunt criticism allowing only the ruling class into the intellectual debates. Not only on an economic level are students being attacked but also on an intellectual level. As an increasing stranglehold is being placed around academic freedom, graduate students who choose to research independently of corporate sponsors often find their work minimalized, under funded and shut out of the academic community.
Freedom of speech is also under attack. On January 20th students protesting Bush's inauguration were severely beaten by police while protesting at Vari Hall in York University, Toronto. These students were exercising their democratic right in the university's main hall when they were met with violent repression. This incident is not an isolated to York, during the student strike in Quebec the police arrested students involved in actions against the governments that was trying to cut $103Million dollars in bursaries. In Quebec workers and students stood united for their interests two are inseparable.
In BC, Gordon Campbell has eliminated 10,000 summer jobs for students through cutbacks, lowered the minimum wage to $6 an hour, raised tuition and lowered labour standards. The attacks on working standards further separate working people from post-secondary education. When a student has to work while going to school their grades usually suffer for it, they are less likely to have access to expensive private tutors and often survive off of poverty level foods.
Public Education System Under Attack
At the same time as post-secondary education is under attack so is grade school. With increasing class sizes and less individual attention, young students are finding it harder and harder to succeed. Universities are raising standards to let only limited selections of students have access to education. With worse high school programs and higher enrolment standards as well as higher tuition many students are choosing not to go to university. Rich parents can also afford to send their children to expensive private schools increasing their children's odds at success.
Cuba: A Positive Example
Attacks on students always coincide with attacks on workers. As tuition is raised the wages of hospital employees are slashed and as the voices of students are silenced so to are those of working people. We must demand an end to the elitist system of tuition and private schools. We must call for universal and free post-secondary education. Free universities and colleges can work in Canada and has worked in Cuba in decades.
In Cuba education is for everyone. Its purpose is truly to benefit society and not an elite few. Everyone in Cuba has access to education from small children to seniors. Intellectual debates are encouraged amongst common people and in Cuba the people steer their own country. In Cuba there are special universities set up for seniors. Students get paid to study and every year 12,000 students from around the world study free of charge in the Latin American School of Medicine. The only condition for studying in Cuba is that you return to work in your home country.
If Cuba a third-world country under blockade for more than forty years by the world's largest imperialist power can send its citizens to school for free as well as accepting foreign students for free then surely an industrialized wealthy country like Canada could do the same. If Canada spent the money it does on its military on education there would be no tuition fees. Canada is spending billions of dollars killing people in Afghanistan, in places we have no right to be, all so a few elites can get really rich all the while students are living below the poverty line. All working and oppressed people of this country and the world must stand and demand: Free Schooling for All! No to private schools! Abolish tuition fees in Canada!
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