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Tuition expected to increase 13 per cent by 2016-17

Earlier this month, a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) predicted a 13 per cent increase for the average Canadian student’s tuition fees by the 2016-17 school year.

According to the CCPA report released on Sept. 11, tuition in Canada will cost each student on average $7,437 by the 2016-2017 school year, compared to $6,348 in 2012-2013. Considering that the average student paid $1,464 in 1990-1991, tuition in Canada has tripled in the past 27 years—even after adjusting to inflation.

With these numbers in mind, the Tribune set out to examine the issue of rising post-secondary education costs, and the various methods that have been proposed to reduce them.

When measured as a proportion of the Canadian GDP, federal support for universities has dropped 50 per cent in the past two decades. To fill this gap, universities have turned to tuition increases. Tuition had grown to form 35 per cent of universities’ operating revenue in 2009, in contrast to 14 per cent two decades earlier.

Erika Shaker, one of the authors of the CCPA report, explained that lower- to middle-class families are increasingly forced to choose between taking on extra debt, postponing retirement, or sending their children to university. These choices mean that some families miss out on the economic and social benefits of post-secondary education.

“The social returns, while more difficult to quantify, I think are more profound,” Shaker said. “If you have access to post-secondary education, you generally are healthier, and therefore less of a strain to the health system. You’re generally more involved with your community and your family. There’s also a higher degree of social mobility so eventually there’s the movement to a more equitable society.”

Shaker explained that the current systems of government aid for university students are complex and difficult to navigate. Often, the onus is on the student to find out which aid he or she qualifies for. As part of her report, Shaker recommended that tuition be reduced for lower- and middle-class families through increased public taxpayer funding.

“People should pay what they can afford, and the most progressive and efficient way to do that is the tax system,” Shaker said. “There is a great deal of public funding already going into the [post-secondary education] system. The fact of the matter is that the majority of the costs are borne by the wealthiest amongst us, as it should be, and that is what we want in a progressive tax system.”

Christopher Ragan, a professor of economics at McGill, suggested a different approach to the problem of university underfunding. He advocated raising tuition, saying that current tuition represents only 20 per cent of the total cost of a degree. However, Ragan acknowledged that universities would need to ensure accessibility if tuition fees increased.

“There are a lot of good students who are low-income and don’t have the means to pay for a high tuition,” he said. “I think the way to square that circle is to let tuition rise for everybody and then use either an expanded loan program or student bursaries from universities to make sure that the good quality low-income students don’t get excluded as a result of high tuition.”

McGill students say that they are not surprised by the CCPA’s predictions of increased tuition for upcoming years. Amalia Slobogian, a third-year PhD student in English Literature, spoke against tuition increases at McGill.

“I don’t think [McGill is] improving in teaching undergrads,” Slobogian said. “To justify tuition increases, it should be based on the quality of teaching.”

Hannah Sinclair, U3 Arts, said that while she is not surprised by the findings of the report, she believes that future students must adapt to the reality of increased university tuition.

“It’s unfortunate [that] it seems like the price of tuition is rising but the value of the degree is going down at the same time,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to start changing the way we think about university, especially for kids coming out of high school. [University] needs to not be the only answer.”

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