Several things come to mind when I think of my prolonged stay in Britain – mainly I recall the differences between England and Canada. I’ve seen the centuries of history and prehistory in London and Avebury, the royal palace and the birthplace of English Canadian culture. Through it all I have managed to remain homesick for Canada despite the wickedly savage winter, the poorly rated loonie and a political canvas that is often distressing. Why? Because for all its troubles, Canada is a good and strong place to live in and to invest in.
This does not hold true for students, however. I began my degree like most Canadian students: on a Canada Student Loan, coupled with an Alberta Student Loan (a whopping $100). These loans have continued to support me as I work while attending university, whether I am in Alberta, Canada or Wiltshire, United Kingdom. I have been happy in this situation, and confident that the continued support of the Canadian government will get me that all-important degree, my passport out of the fast food industry. I still believe that this is the case. The only problem is that the shining light at the end of this four-to-infinity year tunnel is obscured by the Big Bad Bill at the end. A bill that wants paying six months after graduation. Is that really fair?
I question this fact solely because of what I have learned from British students, who are not required to pay back their student loans until such a time as they are earning enough money to substantiate their degrees. A British student can graduate safe in the knowledge that he or she need only pay for post-secondary education if it has been financially worthwhile! And me? I have to pay anyway. It’s not that I don’t want to pay. Of course I think my education is worth money, whether or not it helps me get a professional career. But the fact remains that six months is a very small window of opportunity to make the change from university student to full-time, degree-educated contributor to the economy. I doubt very much that I, and many graduates, will find degree-based employment with a salary worth the education in six months. [editor’s note: students who are not earning a sufficient income six months after their graduate can apply for up to two years of interest relief, during which time no payments are required and the government pays the interest on loans. The government does not, however, pay interest during the initial grade period].
Am I headed for a ditch after I finally complete this degree? What if I’m still serving french fries after all this work – how will I make payments until I make it as a writer/scientist? Maybe I am being paranoid, but I want to know that I’m not being led down a shiny and expensive hole. I miss Canada and I want to come home to work, but there are some things I am not homesick for. My vote is for Canada to adopt the British system — hopefully before I’m wearing a cap and gown.