Commentary | Can it be free?

University education shouldn't cost a dime

McGill has a deficit, thus it has to seek a greater source of revenue. In this case the administration has chosen to increase tuition fees. In general, this is true of the whole province of Quebec – and across Canada – as our government is in a deep financial hole. Tuition fees are on the rise everywhere we go.

However, if we confine ourselves just to this elementary truth, then we are doomed. We will be stuck endlessly debating among ourselves how to prioritize the scraps of funding that we receive in post-secondary education – should McGill be research-oriented or undergraduate-oriented? Should the part-time teachers – low-paid as they are – get a raise at our expense? At the end of the day, we are pitted against each other: undergraduate versus graduate, student versus faculty, et cetera. We are fighting over the crumbs that fall from the table, putting our heads down, nibbling what’s on the floor for so long that we fail to see the feast laid on the table.

There are actually enough resources in our society to ensure free, quality, accessible education. There is no reason that we should choose between those three qualities. It can be free, ensuring that everyone regardless of their economic status can enjoy an education, and at the same time it can be of high quality and coupled with top-notch research. With this clear goal of free education, we don’t need to argue about how affordable affordable is, occupying ourselves with bargaining over the appropriate amount of tuition fees. Is it $2,000? Is it $2,500?
The money is there; we just have to take it. It is there, but spent on the war in Afghanistan. It is there, but spent to bail out the banks during the last recession. It is there, but given away as tax breaks for big corporations. This is where we have to look: in the banks and the corporations, in the pockets of the rich, not those of the poor.

For those who argue that education is a privilege and should thus bear a price tag, we should just leave them be. If they want to pay for it, we will take their money as a private donation to the University. In the meantime, there is a viable option for all of us, but choosing this path is not free, because it has to be fought for. Opting to set free education as our fundamental principle requires the greatest sense of sacrifice from the students, which is to engage politically and mobilize. It is a sacrifice today for gains tomorrow.

The sceptics will howl that this is an impossible dream. Let them wallow in their own cynicism while we will continue to dream of a better society, one that can provide every person with an education. Hasn’t our society always been built upon great dreams and the struggle to realize them?
Education can be free. It can be of high quality and accessible. This principle, however, doesn’t preclude us from the immediate struggle to stop the increases in tuition fees proposed right now. But we cannot be on the defensive all the time; it is high time to be on the offensive. When they say they want to unfreeze the fees, let them thaw altogether and we will flush them down the drain.

Ted Sprague is the pseudonym of a Masters II student in Chemical Engineering. He can be reached at ted_sprague@yahoo.com.


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