Fantastical dreams of something for nothing

It’s only proper students pay their fair share

by From the editors

Fantastical dreams of something for nothing

Photograph by Roger LeMoyne

Last week voters in France and Greece turned their backs on fiscal discipline, preferring the illusion that it’s not necessary to fix their own problems. As Senior Writer Michael Petrou explains in his story on the EU crisis (“Europe votes its troubles away,” page 26), austerity and responsibility are not always the most attractive ballot options.

This week, university students in Quebec will put their own grasp of reality to the test. After several months of often-violent protests against planned tuition fee increases, Quebec students are voting on the government’s latest proposal that maintains the hikes but creates a new and fairer system for student loan repayment. Early reaction from students opposing the plan suggests reality will once again be stymied. For now.

It is beyond debate that a university degree provides substantial economic benefits to the holder. The average after-tax income boost enjoyed by a university graduate is on the order of $15,000. Per year. Society at large may benefit from a well-educated workforce, but these gains are disproportionately weighted toward students themselves. It’s only proper students pay their fair share.

With the province in a fiscal crunch, the Quebec government has decided post-secondary students should increase their contribution to 17 per cent of total education costs. Quebec, of course, currently has the lowest tuition in the country. After the proposed increase of $1,625 spread over seven years, and assuming other provinces maintain current policies, Quebec’s tuition rates will end up higher than just one other province—Newfoundland. Adjusted for inflation, the new Quebec tuition rate will be no higher than what was in place in 1968. It’s still a tremendous bargain.

Premier Jean Charest, a politician not known for his rigidity, has rightly declared the tuition increase to be “non-negotiable.” In an effort to sway students, however, the province has already made numerous concessions. It has agreed to investigate the possibility of lowering extra fees charged by schools, create a university budget oversight body and switch to income-contingent loans.

To the extent tuition may pose a financial barrier for low-income students and their families (and a preponderance of research suggests it doesn’t), the province has offered to make repayment proportional to post-graduation income. “The student who earns less will not have to repay as much,” explained Raymond Bachand, Quebec’s finance minister.

All told, it’s a great deal for students. And popular support is strongly behind both Charest and the sense that students ought to pay a reasonable share of their own education.

In response, the loudest of the three groups purporting to represent students has made a series of nonsensical counter-demands. The group CLASSE wants to limit the amount of research that goes on at provincial universities, prevent schools from advertising and halt new construction. In other words, they want to put an end to competition, growth and the creation of new knowledge on campus. Not exactly a road map to a world-class education system.

CLASSE then ventures deep into economic absurdity by demanding the province institute a capital tax on financial institutions to raise $410 million and make tuition entirely free. Capital taxes are the least efficient of all forms of taxation. And with the province reeling from a $184-billion debt, the last thing Quebec’s economy can afford is a massive new social mandate such as free tuition.

Quebec’s students, as with Greek and French voters, have the right to make their views known at the ballot box as well as in public. And everyone likes the idea of getting something for nothing. But outrageous demands and fantastical dreams must inevitably collide with fiscal reality. The rest of the province is neither willing nor able to pay the full cost of a quality university education. The students have a good deal in front of them. It’s time to get back to class.




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Fantastical dreams of something for nothing

  1. We said all the same things about high school back when it was considered a ‘luxury’.

    However, the 21st century needs educated people, and a BA is now entry level.

    Are we going to be part of the knowledge economy or aren’t we?

    • Sorry folks, it’s true….a bachelor’s degree…any subject is now entry level.

      Hiding statements of fact is absurd.

      • It’s not entry level for whom I hire. I run a tech based company and a BA would not be an asset on the resume. I’d actually flare my nostrils slightly: would this person be able to _work_ and grasp that reality has hard edges? BSc different. Still not necessarily an asset, but less of a concern that it would be a detriment.

        • Heh…well if you were looking for welders, then you wouldn’t be looking for a degree either….depends on the job, dunnit?

          • …which was his point, I believe…

          • But which has nothing to do with the knowledge economy….

    • Trades aren’t part of the “knowledge based economy”, eh, Em? Hmm, so expound to us , for example, how the end use of a one-off piece for an oilfield firm would help you determine whether or not it should be made from L80 or 4140HTSR. Or, maybe you should momentarily expound for us the significance of 3/4″ taper per foot threads. How about something simple like the issues that can be created by similarity of materials in a threaded assembly? Maybe you can elucidate on the theories used to determine the proper spacing of ceiling and floor joists. How about welding cast iron? Brazing cast iron? What’s the difference between a root pass and a cap weld? How do minute changes in caster, camber, toe-in, and toe-out affect the way your car rides and drives? How does the intake valve on one cylinder of a v8 engine “see” the exhaust pulse of a neighboring cylinder? Relatedly, explain the relationship between overlap, duration, and installed centerline. While you’re at it, explain lock-up torque convertors vs. non-lock, and how stall speed of a torque convertor affects drivability and apparent power. Do all that and then tell us again how trades are not “knowledge based.”

      • Even hunter-gatherers had ‘knowledge’ and passed it on.

        That’s not the same as the ‘knowledge economy.’

  2. The minimum entry level is not a BA it’s a Brain and knowledge on how to use it. Which is sadly lacking. A “BA” – Bachelor of Arts is mostly good for toilet paper, as it doesn’t give you much hard skills and it doesn’t help many people think as you say a knowledge Economy? People are educated when they choose to be educated not because they have a piece of paper with their name on it from a university.

    • If you require more precision, a ‘bachelor’s degree’…any subject…. is now entry level, whether you agree with it or not.

  3. Again the mysterious “editors” (Hi Ken!) come out with this malarkey about students receiving the bulk of the benefit of a post-secondary education.

    The average post secondary graduate makes a million dollars more over the course of their life-time than a person without post-secondary. This is true.

    The average cost of a 4 year degree, both public and private put together, runs about $180,000 or so — probably less, as I got that figure from basically tripling the average tuition costs, as here in Alberta direct funding is not supposed to be more than 30%, but everybody knows that’s full of crap, as the AB gov’t only counts the AB students, so student contributions can be as high as 50% if you consider students taking distance courses, etc.

    So even if all you look at is the extra taxation that will apply to that average graduate, you’ve already paid off the entirety of the costs of that post-secondary education. That’s if the student pays absolutely nothing, never mind the actuality of the system today where the student not only pays a portion of it, but pays even more in student loan interest.

    And that’s completely ignoring all the other benefits society receives from these graduates — benefits Statistics Canada has shown such as:

    Post-secondary graduates being out of work less often, and being unemployed for less time when they are — both of which mean they’re less of a drain on our social systems.

    Post-secondary graduates report having better health, and don’t require medical attention as often as those without post-secondary degrees (probably because their education allows them to get better jobs, so they have less stress and can afford a better diet/preventative care) which again saves us money.

    Post-secondary graduates are far more likely to start their own small business. Thus employing even more people in our society.

    Of all of those who start their own businesses, post-secondary graduates are more likely to have that business still operating after five years. So those people they employ are employed for longer.

    And one of the more subtle, but probably most powerful benefits of a post-secondary education is that the strongest determinant of whether a person seeks a post-secondary education and so provides all these benefits to our society is whether their parents already have degrees.

    So take your moronic assertion of the students receive the disproportionate share of the benefits and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine, because that’s assuredly where you pulled it from in the first place.

    Of course, that shouldn’t be any surprise, because it doesn’t get any better. Yeah, students in Quebec have the lowest tuition on the continent. They also have the highest tax burden.. taxes which are supposed to pay for, surprise, surprise, education. When you look at tuition as a percentage of after-tax income, Quebec actually runs in about the middle of the pack in Canada.

    As for your preponderance of research showing that low income doesn’t keep people away from post-secondary.. also crap. If you did any at all (which I doubt) then I’m betting you’re basing it on the research that looked at post-secondary attendance and income levels, which doesn’t tell you a damn thing about people who didn’t even pursue a post-secondary degree because they knew they wouldn’t be able to pay for it.

    Now, as for the second half of your article, about CLASSE’s demands, they do seem a little outlandish, but given how piss-poor and flat out wrong the first half of the article was, I don’t see any reason on earth why anybody should trust “the editors” to have a foggy-clue of what’s actually happening there.

    • I voted you up, but it seems we have a lot of denialists here today.

      • Denialists? Hahaha. That is rich. Perhaps Emily if you tried to see the worth in other types of education …oh for instance a welding journeymen ticket, someone would try to see the worth in a bachelor of arts degree.

        • Try and focus HI

          We aren’t talking about welders and trade school, we are talking about university

          It’s something you need to be part of the knowledge economy.

          • Knowing how to weld properly isn’t a form of knowledge? You want a high school dropout wiring up your house?

            You’ve been spouting your “knowledge economy” mantra on here for years; it still sounds all airy-fairy the way you describe it – as if it can completely replace trades and labour work. It’s not a magic cure-all.

          • You are just arguing to argue, and I’m not interested in drivel.

    • Well Thwim, I am waiting on your research source that shows that the receipient of an education “doesn’t receive the bulk of the benefit”. Given that all of those Canadian CEO’s you abhor benefitted from a subsidized Canadian university education and now are in the “top 1%” earnings”, how can the measly $70 or $80K that they paid for a post-graduate education compare with the $500K that they are bringing down each year? Not to mention physcians? The average doctor in Alberta makes $250K a year. That 7 year education cost what $400K max….. They get paid for their residency. They are still coming out way ahead. Even us lowly nurses. Four years education, top pay of around $80k…it won’t take long to pay off the loans and make it all worthwhile….and who says we have to stay in Canada to work. The US offers top dollar to some Canadian educated professionals. It is a real kick in the teeth for our taxpayers to educate nurses for free and then have them all go south for warm weather and an extra $10.00 an hour.
      If a university student is taking a WORTHWHILE PROGRAM (leads to a real job) and they can’t figure out that $3,800.00 tuition per year is worthwhile, they don’t have the math skills or the smarts to be going to university. IF a student is going to university to “find themselves” and taking psychology or some other useless course that leads to no job, then they are wasting their money and need to spend some time working and giving thought to what they want to work at before they take out a student loan. It is different if you want to get your PhD but unless you are committed, you are throwing money down a sinkhole.

      • I really have to start wondering if you’re just trolling, because I can’t believe anybody with a degree would think as little as you appear to.

        How much in extra taxes have all these cherry-picked people you grabbed at the top end of the scale paid? How many people have they employed? All you’re doing is proving my point and that whatever degree-mill you mail ordered your RN ticket from wasn’t worth the stamp it cost you.

        Otherwise, you would understand very basic words such as “average”. You might even understand how talking about how much a PhD makes, a degree taking about twice as long as most Bachelor degrees, means absolutely nothing in relation to the point.

        Yeah, these people make a lot of money. So what? Society still receives the bulk of the benefit of their education. In taxes, in people employed, in reduction of social benefit costs, all of these still apply.

        Your myth about the “brain drain” is pretty much that.. a myth. Statscan has shown that any brain drain reversed itself back in the late nineties. We’re actually receiving more graduates from other countries than we’re sending to them — we just need better systems to enable us to assess and recognize their education.

        This crap about “useless courses” is also just that. Know something else Statscan has shown? That while it takes longer for BAs to find a job in their field than more specialized degrees, they tend to rise further in the end. It seems having a more generalized knowledge base and an ability to research and analyze aspects of various fields comes in handy when you reach the upper echelons of working and decision making. While very specialized degrees, such as RNs, allow people to be experts in their field which can be very difficult and for which they deserve respect, but, unless they make special effort, can leave them as morons in other fields — as demonstrated.

        • Thwim, given your almost identical “a-hole” comment to “the editors” I am going to take your usual nasty reply as a compliment. For the record, I agree completely. We, well-paid Canadian unversity graduates do pay alot of income tax and as such, the subsidized university education the taxpayers of this country afforded us was a completely reciprocally beneficial arrangement. It is neither necessary nor fair that certain Canadians should receive a free university education just because some of us have a higher academic aptitute. Oh and for your information, I graduated at the top of my faculty…..and there was a shortage of jobs that year so about 75% of the graduates went south to the US for jobs. This happened again in Alberta in 2007 when Ron Liepert decided Alberta had too many nurses. I think you would find that many engineering graduates also left Alberta that same year.

          • My country’s bigger than Alberta. It’s a shame you don’t seem to be able to think larger than that ever.

  4. Will raising tuition fees help Quebec balance its budget? Perhaps. But increasing costs for students is hardly the most fair or economically sound way to accomplish this. Rather than burden Quebec’s future knowledge workers, the Baby Boomers, whose livelihoods were built on the largesse of the Quiet Revolution, should be the ones to sacrifice.

    Quebec students aren’t selfishly protesting a modest tuition increase. They’re fighting a policy that is economically and socially unjustifiable. They see the long-term implications that their counterparts in Ontario failed to see 15 years ago.

  5. Dear Maclean’s editor,
    Let me point out that your magazine also asks for something (money) for nothing (Maclean’s magazine). So I guess we all have our fantasies. It is tabloid nonsense to treat the students, the Greeks and the French as spoiled and unrealistic when in fact they are addressing a reality: capitalism is failing us. At our current levels of resource consumption it cannot be sustained more than a couple of generations, especially if so-called “development” (more like commodification) continues to spread to the rest of the world, where non-capitalist economies have worked for millennia. So if the struggle for free higher education means slower growth or (God forbid) no growth, a more educated and more politically implicated society not seeking leaders but collectively deciding our destiny (like big kids!) then I’ll take higher taxation, especially of the wealthy. What’s more, as a graduate student I know that many graduates, who will soon be the ones paying for this, are part of this fight: not to pay less, but to build a fairer society. While I don’t expect a media empire to understand that, can you at least pretend to have some integrity?

  6. Education not for sale

    Stop with your individualistic capitalist traditions

    The Quebec should you be an example
    This is the only place in America where people demonstrate for education.

    And it’s the only place where people don’t want to become American, with american values.

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