VIU student fee fight symptom of bigger issue

Now, a majority of students graduate with at least some debt, many owing tens of thousands of dollars

Sadly, the Vancouver Island University Students Union’s fight against new mandatory fees set to go into effect this spring seems, in the big picture, a little like trying to hold back a tsunami by shutting off a single faucet.

That’s not to say that it isn’t an important fight for many students for whom even a relatively small couple hundred a year going out of the wallet is a serious hardship.

But tuition and fees at universities across Canada have gone up over the last several decades at a precipitous rate that far exceeds inflation or, to clarify, any ability students and their families have to cover the costs without incurring serious debt.

Most students over the last two to three decades can only imagine a time when it was possible to earn enough money over breaks and by doing part-time work to cover the costs of getting a post-secondary education.

But that was the case in Canada. It wasn’t some fantasy, it was a reality. And jobs were, by and large, a lot easier to find once a student earned their degree at that time.

Now, a majority of students graduate with at least some debt, many owing tens of thousands of dollars — and that can be just for an undergrad degree.

It is estimated that student debt is more than $15 billion in Canada. The average post-secondary student graduates with approximately $35,000 in debt.

This ugly financial reality is putting school out of reach for some. And it makes retraining or changing careers impossible for others, as they tend to have taken on other financial responsibilities like mortgages and families. It’s something that’s vital to take into account, as we live in an age where it’s a luxury to be able to count on being in the same career for life.

It’s a further problem that more and more career avenues and jobs require at least some kind of course in order to even start in a desired field. There are many jobs that people once learned through experience or through training offered by an employer that have now shifted additional costs onto the individual.

The average cost of attending a university in Canada rose to $6,191 in the fall of 2015 according to Statistics Canada. That’s  more than three per cent in one year alone.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculates that the cost of university has almost tripled in the last 20 years.

This is an unsustainable system.

We cannot continue to have the costs put building a better life out of reach. Education is important to help eliminate poverty. In many European countries they manage to provide post-secondary for free.

What are they doing right? It’s time we find out.