I went to a forum on post-secondary education this evening, hosted by the King’s Day Students’ Society on my campus. The guests were Darrell Dexter, Francis Mackenzie and Jamie Muir. The structure was as such: each official gave a five-minute opening remark, followed by two minutes rebuttal, followed by 90 minutes of questions from the floor (mainly King’s students). I was somewhat disappointed that Dexter didn’t manage to engage the crowd, though it was ironically amusing that the Liberal premier – forbidden from speaking about his party’s platform – came across as the best speaker.
Anyway, what I found particularly interesting about the evening was the question period that followed the half-hour of embarrassing squabbling between the Tory Minister of Education and the NDP’s premier. The themes ranged from hypothetical and historical tuition freezes to the feasibility of their outright abolition; from federal and provincial government funding models for universities, to known issues of deficiency in social welfare and student loan models; even to such trivial issues as taxation on textbooks and sources of funding for infrastructure maintenance. Though I learned quite a bit from the questions and answers themselves, what I found most startling was what wasn’t asked.
It seemed that both the students and the officials had an unspoken understanding of the postsecondary institution funding model as a strictly-government enterprise: universities get funding from the province, the provinces get equalization grants from Ottawa, etc. However, the federal government and provinces also run the student loan programs, and they do so with public money only. If I had the time to stand in line by a microphone, I wish I had the chance to ask this in front of a room full of students that really didn’t seem to realize that nothing should be taken for granted:
“When I graduate this year, I will have spent in excess of $35,000 on tuition and books alone. Though I’m lucky that not all of it was borrowed funding, I will have amassed a considerable debt. Now, from my perspective, it’s obvious that this debt will be paid off by the money I make from my employer. What doesn’t make sense to me is, if we’re such a socialist democracy, and if we openly admit that our educational policies are made based on the notion of education as training for work, why don’t government officials make the link between private enterprise and student funding? If private enterprise is the institution that benefits the most from our education, why don’t we see more investment in students on their part? It seems to me that the most logical, practical step to take would be to have the funding for student loans come from a pot to which private enterprise is forced to contribute as a gesture of faith in its investment. I invite the three officials at the podium to tell me how this proposal is flawed, and defend the sanctity of big business in the face of the painfully-clear relationships between enterprise and education that I’ve just underscored.”
Of course, it wouldn’t have come out so articulate. Shame.