Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Montreal Tuition Protests

Students and other concerned citizens in Montreal will be spending much of today attending a series of protests intended to raise awareness about and show dissent for the tuition hikes planned by the provincial government of Quebec. Quebecois students pay the lowest tuition for post-secondary education in the country, and many in the province would (quite understandably) like to keep things that way. Though I agree that access to education should be a priority for any state, ultimately I believe that these protests are misguided.

The most significant fact, the way I see things, is that a university education is no longer much of a guarantee for a better career. According to a 2006 report by Statistics Canada, the income gap between university graduates and other Canadians has been steadily declining, with recent university graduates actually earning less on average than their college or trade school counterparts. With university still being seen as the primary route for post-secondary education by most Canadians, Quebec has ended up with a situation where the provincial government is providing very costly subsidies to a broken system.

Governments have limited budgets to work with. If, as the data suggests, our post-secondary education system is failing to provide a distinct advantage in terms of employment to university graduates, perhaps the money spent subsidizing this system could be better spent elsewhere - or not spent at all, lowering Quebec's budget deficit significantly and potentially preventing very significant problems in the future. I don't mean to suggest that employment opportunity is the only benefit of post-secondary education, but when seen from the perspective of governance it needs to be a top priority, and in this case the system simply isn't working as intended.

My personal view is that it's Canada's public secondary school system that's in greatest need of reform. The failings of our secondary school system have exacerbated problems with post-secondary education. Our high school education ought to provide us with a reasonable foundation for finding a career or for pursuing post-secondary education, and I do not believe that this is being accomplished by Canada's public high schools. Canadians have come to view post-secondary education as a necessity, pushing themselves further into debt and ultimately getting less value for their dollar as universities struggle to cope with an overabundance of students, many of whom have been ill-prepared for post-secondary studies. Reforming Canada's secondary school system would no doubt be a lengthy and costly process, but the potential benefits to our education system as a whole far outweigh those to be found in continuing the high level of government spending by the province of Quebec on their post-secondary education system.

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