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Should university be free for all?

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Isn’t university great? Whether it’s sports, learning about business, history, biology, and English, or pizza and Timmies at 4 o’clock in the morning, you can somehow make the best out of it. However, not all of us get the opportunity to go to university without struggling to pay university tuition and fees, considering university tuition has uncontrollably skyrocketed throughout the years. Sometimes we wish it was made free for all. In fact, why can’t everything, including parking, at UFV just be free?

Worry no more, because your concern has been heard. On Oct. 18, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh earned himself a big round of applause during his visit to Northern College when he said he wanted to make post-secondary education free for all. This sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it? Free university would lift a huge burden off Canadian youth, because this means everybody would get access to higher education, and as a result, to more employment opportunities.

But before we get hyped up, let’s do a reality check.

According to Statistics Canada, more than half (54 per cent) of Canadians aged 25 to 64 had either college or university qualification in 2016, significantly higher than that of the 1960s. But Canada’s unemployment rate has fluctuated since 1966 with a record low of 2.9 per cent in June of 1966 and a 5.9 per cent average in 2018. Higher education does not necessarily correlate with level of national unemployment.

Let’s go back roughly 40 years. Many of our parents didn’t get the opportunity to go to or finish college, let alone get a university degree, but most still managed to successfully build a career and raise us. Why is a university degree nowadays equivalent to a high school diploma 40 years ago?

First of all, there has been a need to push people through “free” public education, which occurs because the state cannot afford to keep people in school permanently. This means that public education must be watered down. Statistics from the Statistics Canada show that in all six Foundation Skill Assessment exams (FSAs), non-elite independent schools had a higher five-year average score than public schools by statistically notable amounts. A high school degree used to mean actual educational attainment; now it means virtually nothing.

For employers, since almost everybody gets a high school diploma, university becomes a sorting mechanism. An applicant with a university degree still has more advantages than another one with just a high school diploma. But when we expand university to everyone, a university degree becomes another high school diploma. This situation mandates a new sorting mechanism, and soon graduate school will become a prerequisite for employment. At that point graduate school will be demanded to be free.

Now let’s look at how much it would cost to make university free for all. Singh said the cost would be roughly $6 billion to $9 billion a year. Where will that money come from? The answer, I think, is fairly simple — our pockets. We already pay thousands of dollars in the form of taxes to get “free” healthcare and public schools every year. Also, let me kindly remind you that as of the second quarter of 2018, Canada is looking at a national debt of more than 2.4 trillion dollars, according to Statistics Canada. The agenda to make university tuition free for all will demand tax to go up to increase government funding for public post-secondary institutions.

Take for example the Scandinavian states, where people get free post-secondary education. Scandinavian countries are also known for having high taxes on income. The OECD recorded Denmark, Norway, and Sweden’s standard income tax rate being 26.4 per cent, 19.7 per cent, and 22.1 per cent respectively, compared to those of Canada (24.7 per cent) in 2016. If university tuition was made free for all, that number will significantly increase.

So, one way or another, directly or indirectly, you will have to pay for university. But the difference lies in the amount of money you choose to or have to pay. To make university tuition free for all, you don’t have a choice in how much you have to pay in the form of tax. If you have no interest in attending university, you will have to pay for it anyway. Whereas when you pay for your own university, you get to choose how much you will pay. Another thing to consider is that higher tax would mean small businesses would have to lay off or cut down hours of their employees because they are making less profit.

Whether you choose to go to university or not, or have the opportunity to attend university or not, your life matters. Those who work hard and never stop trying deserve a better life. So what’s better: free university tuition for all, or more employment opportunities and more control of your expenditures? You decide.

Image: KMR Photography/Flickr

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