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In Britain and Canada alike, university fees are too high—and getting higher

simon wallace

Millbank Tower Protest

Credit: west.m

Last week thousands of British students descended on London’s Conservative Party headquarters to protest drastic increases in tuition fees. Despite protestations from Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the changing fee structure will make education much more costly—potentially three times more costly—for all students. Proponents of the fee hikes trotted out the usual lines about parental support, reasonable payment schedules and personal responsibility, but the images of tens of thousands of students smashing windows, occupying buildings and throwing documents and chairs from the roof of an office tower demonstrated to the world that many students—the ones who will actually have to deal with the changing funding regime—disagree emphatically.

A recently released Quebec study lends support to the protesters’ position and, for the umpteenth time, demonstrates how tired and fallacious the rationales for fee hikes are. The kids, it turns out, are not all right.

  • Including grants, co-ops, financial help from parents, scholarships and part-time employment roughly half of all Quebec undergraduates live on less than $12,200 a year
  • 40 percent receive no money from their parents, and 65 percent do not live with their parents
  • 80 percent of students have a job, half work more than 15 hours per week in addition to their full-time studies
  • 22 percent have credit card debt (average debt load: $2,700)
  • More than half of all students receive no financial aid
  • Just under 60 percent have housing costs that eat up more than 30 percent of their income.

The situation in Quebec, to be sure, is different from the one in England—but not so different. Students in each place are being asked to take on more debt, work harder and longer hours, spend more on housing and less on things like food, books, and entertainment. And all in an economy that cannot promise a decent wage, job security or benefits at the end of it all. I, for one, doubt that the most recent occupation will be the last.

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