Muskens: Post-secondary education should be federal election issue

If you have been following the federal election campaigns, you will have noticed a lot of talk about funding post-secondary education.

The Liberal platform includes the Canadian Learning Passport, which would provide high school students up to $4,000 in bursary funding if they enroll in a college or university.

In the Conservative camp, their new budget looked at expanding the current Canada Student Loan program with a $34-million investment.

Regardless of who you plan to vote for, post-secondary education and how we fund colleges and universities is a big issue.

There are those who argue that a post-secondary education is a right, not a privilege.

Based on this premise, students should not have to pay to go to school.

Some countries do provide tuition-free post-secondary education but these are far and few between. France, for example, doesn’t charge tuition: Students pay on average about $220 per year to cover basic costs beyond teaching.

Yet France pays the price for a tuition-free system.

The country ranks poorly when it comes to the quality of their post-secondary system and although it has tried to implement some form of tuition, there is little appetite in the country for such a radical change.

Since the global recession, funding cuts to higher education have occurred in the United States, in parts of Canada, most of Europe and Japan.

Along with this, all these countries have witnessed increases in unemployment which translates to higher enrolments in colleges and universities.

Today most schools are trying to figure out how to deal with increased student demand on a tighter budget.

Without increases in government funding, post-secondary institutions can respond to increases in student demand in two ways.

They can increase their tuition fees which allows them to offer more courses and programs, or they can attract private investors to fund and support programming and other initiatives.

Although this sounds simple, it isn’t.

When it comes to publicly funded education, governments don’t always allow schools to increase their tuition fees whenever they want and to whatever amount.

So even if a school realizes it needs more money because more students want to attend, tuition increases can only help so much and they don’t always guarantee the financial return the school is looking for.

Conservative and Liberal post-secondary platforms are targeting support to students in the form of aid.

They are doing this to offset the annual tuition increases most colleges and universities have had to implement in the last few years.

So in a roundabout way, instead of providing funding to help colleges and universities deal with increasing costs, they are offsetting the cost of going to school for the individual student.

The concept is that providing support to individuals will increase our post-secondary participation rates and therefore, decrease our unemployment rates.

What it doesn’t do is help post-secondary institutions deal with the here and now and how they can provide enough spaces for all students who want to attend.

Even though schools have their methods of determining who gets in, it’s very hard for most institutions and the people who work there to turn qualified students away when we don’t have a seat for them in a classroom.

Collectively, we need to find ways to reduce the barriers to accessing a post-secondary education. We should be looking for ways to make it affordable for individuals, and ensure that the nation’s colleges and universities have the resources to provide the programs and classes that those students need and want.

That’s an issue for every political party.

Jane Muskens is the registrar at Okanagan College.





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