The federal government is writing off $231-million in unpaid student loans after exhausting “all reasonable efforts” to track down the money from more than 44,000 cases by 2012-13. The government absorbed even greater losses of about $312 million the year before. That’s half a billion dollars in just a couple of years.
The government has essentially thrown its hands in the air and given up on ever seeing a dime of that money, meaning a lot of people can start answering their phones again without fear of getting harassed by debt collectors.
Now, as someone who actually paid income taxes a few years ago, I am outraged that all these deadbeats are costing the public purse hundreds of millions each year. But as someone currently taking loans to fund my education, this gives me some hope of avoiding the full bill.
As Postmedia reported, most of the loans that get written off “are dropped because of the expiry of a six-year limitation period between when the borrower last acknowledged a loan and any legal activity by the Crown to recoup that debt.” Wait a minute. If all it takes to get out of paying back your debts is to deny all knowledge of the loan for six years, why isn’t everyone doing this?
Once student loan representatives start calling me after I graduate, I will simply pretend to be in traffic, put on a fake accent or start neighing like a horse to throw them off the scent. Trying to outrun my debts this way might hurt my credit score, but it could be a worthwhile trade-off.
The average debt burden for students who take loans to finance their educations is about $25,000. There is no guarantee of finding a dream job after graduation, with youth unemployment at 13.5 per cent. And so going off the grid for a few years is starting to sound enticing. If the alternatives are unemployment or slinging lattés, packing a sleeping bag and heading into the woods doesn’t sound so crazy. There’s plenty to do in the wild, after all. I could learn to hunt and fish, make my own clothes, maybe even get some whittling done. There’s never enough time for whittling in the city.
After half a decade or so, I can rejoin civilization debt-free.
Of course, the hundreds of millions the government has written off in the last decade may be a symptom of another problem. With more graduates than ever, the bachelor’s degree is devalued. Foregoing post-secondary all but guarantees a life of menial labour, while attaining a degree often entails years of financial hardship with only marginally better chances of a meaningful career.
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, especially if you find yourself in the arts and humanities.
This isn’t to say that degrees are useless. Far from it. University teaches critical thinking, better communication and effective problem solving. These are worthy skills in any workplace, and I shouldn’t minimize the joys of learning simply in pursuit of knowledge. We should want as many graduates as possible in Canada.
But if we are going to agree that education is important to us as a society we should at least make it possible without a trip to the poorhouse. Maybe we should envy the 44,048 lucky souls who just had their debts expunged. Whether through fecklessness or cunning, at least they got some good news.
Ishmael Daro was editor of The Sheaf student newspaper. He now writes for The Albatross.