Hudak would manipulate students through loans

Prof. Pettigrew on the Ontario PC Party’s plan

Hudak (Office of the Leader of the Opposition)

The conservative Ontario PCs have released a new policy paper on higher education. Amid the usual boilerplate rhetoric that conservative politicians trot out on such occasions was this little gem regarding student loans:

Decisions about who should receive loans and how much money is to be awarded should involve assessments of future employability and reward good academic behaviour. Rewarding good behaviour means not only making the smart and efficient choice about where to go to school, but also keeping students accountable for how they choose to spend the money the government is lending them. To maintain aid, students must demonstrate a minimum level of academic success. Too often, our loans and grants programs reward mediocrity.

It takes a while for the magnitude of what is being proposed here to hit you. When it does, you realize that the PCs are proposing twisting the student loan system into a bureaucratic nightmare of nearly Orwellian proportions.

For one thing, the implication seems to be that students will only be able to keep their loans if they maintain a “level of academic success” that exceeds “mediocrity.” The clear implication is that students will have to earn high grades (C’s and D’s and sometimes even B’s are mediocre at some schools) to keep their loans. This, in itself is a mild outrage since these same students are going to have to pay all this money back, with interest. And yet the right to be deeply indebted for years has to be earned with top marks?

But it doesn’t stop there. Loan recipients will, according to this document, not have free choice over which schools they attend. Instead, they will have to make a “smart and efficient choice” of schools which seems to imply the least expensive choice—perhaps not even a university, since the report also urges the government to steer more students to community colleges. Never mind your hopes and dreams—if you want a loan in Tim Hudak’s Ontario, you’re going to have to study where he says you can study.

And that’s not all. Since “assessments of future employability” will also be part of the process, this proposal may see the government decide what you get to study, too. Poor Ontario students may end up like Dickens’ Oliver Twist begging for another bowl of gruel:  Please, sir, may I have another course?

The worst part of all of this is that it promises to exacerbate the inequities already inherent in our current system of high tuition fees and high debt loads. As it is, better-off students can graduate with the freedom that comes with being debt-free, while poorer students have to bear the weight of tens of thousands of dollars in loans—loans that take a whopping fourteen years to repay, on average.

In the proposed system, that inequity gets added to the front of the system too. Rich students can study where ever and whatever they want because they don’t have to rely on student loans and won’t be monitored for “good behaviour.” The less fortunate must study at the whim of bean-counters and bureaucrats who grimly pronouncing on what is an “efficient” educational choice.

Though we would all be better off if students didn’t need loans at all, the existing loan system at least has the modest virtue of giving students options and choices they might not otherwise have had.

Let’s not let a half-baked education plan take those options away from them.

Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.

Find us on Twitter @maconcampus and on Facebook.


Hudak would manipulate students through loans

  1. Leave it to the “small government” conservatives to try to dictate to people how they decide to spend their own money and what they should and should not study.

  2. Well, university education is heavily subsidized by the government in Canada. I don’t blame the province for wanting to get some return on its investment. University students only pay for a fraction of what their education actually costs – look at international student tuition to see the true cost of a university education. It would be different if students paid the full cost of their education. But they don’t.

    I don’t blame the province for wanting to see some value out of all the money it pours into university education. As a grad student who is a TA, let me tell you that I see far too many students at university who shouldn’t be here. They are wasting their money, and the province’s money. Many of these students will either be forced to drop out, or will graduate with degrees that are next-to-useless, unable to find a job and in significant amounts of debt. If some of these students had explored other options instead (college being just one of those options), they probably would have been much better off.

    • If by “fraction” you mean a third to a half, then you’re be correct. Not that it matters – Hudak’s plan would tie the provision of *loans* to arbitrary “academic success”. The government has no business attempted to direct students to particular programs on the basis of limiting access to subsidized borrowing. It’s another issue if this is to be done via grants or scholarships. But loans? Completely indefensible.

  3. Suppose for a moment that there was a magical land where students didn’t actually pay the real costs of education through their tuition. In some parts of this land 70% of the cost of their education came from another source. It may seem too outlandish, but let’s pretend, just for a moment, that the source of this money wasn’t from a magical money tree that the kingdom had hidden away, but instead the money came from tax payers. In this strange land lending money to people at low rates of interest actually cost these tax payers more money, even if the students paid off their loans. These loans, in fact, were another way the tax payers subsidized education.

    These taxpayers agreed to subsidize education under the premise that it would result in high skilled workers that would stimulate their economy. This one may be too hard to imagine, but let’s try to pretend, that there wasn’t a huge demand for english and philosophy majors. Shockingly, there wasn’t a large demand for D students either. All of these students eventually got jobs, but the jobs they found didn’t require higher education at all.

    In this odd place there were a lot of jobs in the trades, and labour. A lot of them. Yet in this magical land, people didn’t seem to want those jobs. So the kingdom had to bring in people from far away lands to do these jobs for them.

    One day the kingdom realized that it had run out of money. The people had to decide what things they could live without. The taxpayers told their leaders, “Oh learned leaders, we gave you money for higher education and you promised high skilled workers for our economy. You have given us some of these workers, and they have been good for our economy; however, too much of our money goes to people who slack off, and to those who study subjects that can only be hobbies. We will not stop these people from going to school, but they will just have to pay for themselves.” The leaders nodded in agreement, and knew they had to take action, in order to save the kingdom.

    That mystical land was Canada.

    The End.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *