February 19, 2003

They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, of others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret.

Resistance to Civil Government
-Henry David Thoreau

I have recently heard a lot of complaints from my fellow students about the proposed 7.3% tuition increase at AU. So many students are ready and eager to complain about this proposed increase, but not one student has ever asked me “What can I do to keep this from happening”?

As with any political problem that affects the masses it is hard to motivate people to stand up for what they believe in. Everyone is so convinced that if the government does not want to fund education, healthcare, etc., then there is nothing that can be done about it. Wrong! We live in a democratic society, which means that the people have a voice, but that voice is not very audible to the government if only a few people ever speak up.

On Wednesday February 12th the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS: Athabasca University Student’s Union is a member along with the other 3 Alberta universities) and the Medicine Hat College Student’s Association put on a thought-provoking, informative forum to educate the general public about the rising costs of tuition. I, along with David Stevens from the MHCA, promoted this event to the 60,000 + population of Medicine Hat and area. David also promoted it for two weeks at the college to the students. We were both extremely disappointed when only 15 people were in the audience to listen to the speakers talk about the effects of rising tuition. Where were the hundreds of students who attend Medicine Hat College or the 300+ AU students who live in Medicine Hat?

As students, as parents, as aging citizens, what will happen to us if tuition increases keep rising at the alarming rates they have been over the past 10 years (209% in Alberta since 1993)? Think of what it is costing you to go to school. If you are in a 4-year Arts degree program you incur over $20,000 in debt before you graduate. If you want to go on to grad school, tack on another $10,000. Now if you have a child who will be attending post secondary education in 10 years, it will cost them close to $42,000 to obtain that same Arts degree if tuition rises another 209%. Do you think you are putting enough into RESP’s every month for your children? In order to afford to send your children to school in 18 years, you need to be putting away $200 per child a month. Keep in mind though they will still have books to pay for, and living expenses. Of course, they can buy second hand books while living on Kraft Dinner and donations from campus Food Banks. Who says you have to be well nourished to learn???

What about our aging population? All of those baby boomers that comprise a good proportion of our population are rapidly nearing retirement age. That means we will be left with a shortage of skilled professionals, especially in the rural areas. Alberta is already predicting a rapid decline in their workforce in the next 10 years. The United States is also feeling the pinch of a shortage of trained professionals, but they are doing a pretty good job coming up here to Canada to entice our Canadian trained professionals to take higher paying jobs down there. It’s hard to entice professionals, such as doctors and teachers, to stay in bigger Canadian cities, let alone expect someone to go to a rural area to practice. The pay will be considerably lower and the chance for continued learning and advancement slim. Can we really expect a new Canadian doctor with a huge student debt to take a minimal rural position, when he/she could easily go to the States or the bigger Canadian cities and earn more?

Some universities are proposing to differentiate the cost of some of their programs. Differentiating tuition is the practice of charging different fees for different programs, based on the cost of delivering that program and the supposed earning power of graduates of that program. The University of Calgary is proposing an increase in the faculty of law from the current $4,944 to $10,700 a year by 2005/2006. How many law students do you think will be able to open their practices and dedicate themselves to lower paying levels of law like environmental law with a debt like this? The cost for one year in medicine at this same university is proposed to rise from $6,992 to $14,000 by 2005/2006. With student debt like that we might as well forget about medical students becoming general practitioners, they’ll need to specialize in order to have their loans paid off quicker. Economists know that the more you charge for something the less people will want it. Are more people in Canada going to decline the years of debt associated with a post secondary education? What will this do to Canada?

Why does Canada even charge tuition? Other economically developed countries like Germany, France and Ireland as well as some economically underdeveloped countries do not charge tuition. They see providing post secondary education to people as a boost for their economies and as less of a drain on their social assistance levels. Canada’s economy relies on highly educated and skilled workers. As our workforce is becoming more in demand of skilled workers able to adapt to the increasing use of technical equipment, and our cost of tuition to obtain the necessary skills to fill these positions is going up and up forcing students to abstain from a post secondary education, our economy is left with a lot of empty positions and a lot of unemployed workers unable to fill them.

In the last 10 years the federal government has cut 7 billion from higher education and training. This, along with provincial funding cuts, is what forces universities to jack up tuition. Mind you though, there are some universities that are run by power hungry administrators, unconcerned with educating their current students, but rather on building up their universities to have them internationally recognized.

What can you do besides complaining as you watch tuition rise every year? Watch the Voice for upcoming tuition events at local universities across Canada. Write or email your local MLA, your provincial Learning Minister, your premier, your MP, even Jean Chrétien. Let them know that you are concerned about the lack of funding by both the provincial and federal governments toward education. Education will soon only available to those who can afford it here in Canada. Are you prepared to let that happen?

Below are a few websites that will give you more insight into the rapidly increasing cost of tuition and the rapidly declining level of interest governments have to fund it. – Council of Alberta University Students – Council of Alberta University Students – Canadian Federation of Students

Contact information for Provincial and Federal Government offices related to education:

Jean Chretien
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa K1A 0A2
Fax: 613-941-6900

Alberta Learning Minister
Oberg, Lyle (Dr.) The Hon., MLA
204 Legislature Bldg 10800 – 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB T5K 2B6
Phone: 780 427-2025
Fax: 780 427-5582

British Columbia Learning Minister
Christy Clark
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2
Phone 250-387-1977
Fax 250-387-3200

Manitoba Learning Minister
Ron Lemieux
Phone 945-3720, 0418
Fax 945-1291

Newfoundland Learning Minister
Judy Foote
P.O. Box 8700
St. John’s, NL A1B 4J6
Phone 729-5097
Fax 729-5896

Northwest Territories Learning Minister
Jake Ootes
P.O. Box 1320
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9
Tel: (867) 669-2366
Fax: (867) 873-0169

Nova Scotia Learning Minister
Angus MacIsaac
P.O. Box 578 – 2021 Brunswick Street, Suite 402
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 2S9
Phone (General Information) 902-424-5168
Fax (General Enquiries) 902-424-0511

Nunavut Learning Minister
Peter Kilabuk
Tel: 867-975-5600
Fax: 867-975-5605

Ontario Learning Minister
Elizabeth Witmer,
Mowat Block, 900 Bay Street,
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1L2
Telephone: (416) 325-2929 or 1-800-387-5514
Fax: (416) 325-6348

Prince Edward Island Learning Minister
Chester Gillan
Phone (902) 368-4610
Fax (902) 368-4699
Sullivan Building
2nd Floor

Quebec Learning Minister
Madeleine BÉLANGER
Hôtel du Parlement
Bureau 2.20
Québec (Québec) G1A 1A4
Phone: (418) 643-7640
Fax: (418) 646-6640

Saskatchewan Learning Minister
Hon. Jim Melenchuk
Room 340
Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan
Telephone: (306) 787-7360
Facsimile: (306) 787-0237

Yukon Learning Minister
John Edzerza
Box 2703
Whitehorse, Yukon
Y1A 2C6