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RM Issue #030810

Debt is crushing our students
PHILIP HU Aug. 7, 2003. 01:00 AM

I'm mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore! Student debt has become a North American way of life. The creeping deregulation of higher education has forced many young Canadians to mortgage their futures in order to contribute to society at the most important levels. Education leads to freedom, debt to slavery. But we are not alone. In the U.K., the average student debt is around 10,000. Australia used to have tuition paid for through the government, but no more. That policy has been phased out in favour of the English system. In fact, the World Bank recognizes and encourages saddling up students and sticking a bigger bit into our mouths. The race is on but the burden comes at the end of the race, not before. And it is a burden that lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 years. How's that for a graduation present? Just 20 years ago, tuition was 25 per cent of what it is today. The average student debt was about $8,000. Multiply that by three and add $1,000 and you'll see the mean of today $25,000. But I have a friend who has a $56,000 loan to grapple with; not bad for a political science degree. One of the justifications for tuition hikes stems from the idea that students will be earning the big bucks after school. Where are these jobs that will allow us to pay off a mortgage, a car and a student loan? If you know, please tell me. There are about 350,000 students across the country who would like to know. We certainly have enough resources in Canada to support higher education. There is no time in human history when we have been as rich as we are today. What this comes down to is willpower: the will of the Canadian people to take their money and run today, or to support Canada's future through educating its youth. What does it take to teach a child history anyway? A person who knows history and a book. How has education reached the point where one university course costs $1,000? I know some may tell the young to learn only what is practical. But have we come to the point where we determine everything by what can be bought and sold? Socrates refused to accept payment for his tutelage. He believed that education and wisdom couldn't be bought. But that is just the dilemma we as a society are facing today. There is a growing tide of Canadians who no longer see the importance of higher education for all. This withdrawal of support for students threatens the ideals of any society struggling to uphold freedom, political or individual. A lack of higher education threatens the very idea of freedom itself. For freedom must be born afresh each new generation, if it is to be truly alive. There is no freedom of speech if one has not learned to distinguish between fact and fiction. The willingness of Canadians to subject entire generations to indebtedness with cold indifference or bureaucratic bluff does not bode well for a free and just society among equals. To me, it shows a growing rift between those who have and those who wish. When Socrates went around to question the knowledge of the Sophists, who were willing to charge high tuition, he found their knowledge lacking. Embarrassed, they plotted to punish Socrates. He was sentenced to death, the wisest and the most just, not because he had the most knowledge but because he knew he had the least. And the Sophists, who thought they knew so much, unwittingly destroyed the best of themselves. I hope the society of today in Canada and the world does not destroy the best in themselves, slamming students down at the gate with decades of debt, or worse, forcing them to forgo higher education altogether. That would be a step toward slavery and the death of freedom.

Philip Hu is a freelance writer and fresh graduate from university, now living in London, Ont.

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