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An editorial

November 17, 2008

in today’s Gleaner argues that that the provincial government needs to look at proposals from student groups for caps on student debt (though it’s not clear how such a scheme would, as the editorial board writes, “target those who need help the most”). The piece then goes on:

Some will argue that university tuition should be free and no one should have to get a student loan to get an education, but that is nothing more than fanciful thinking that will never be viable, particularly not for a province like New Brunswick.

To make university and college free would dramatically increase student enrollment, but many of them would be there because they could, not because they should be or want to be. What an administrative nightmare, not to mention an equally chaotic housing issue for students who quit by Thanksgiving or Christmas. It would be a colossal waste of money.

Post-secondary education cannot be free. It must still be worth working for, otherwise it loses its credibility and value.

I respectfully beg to differ. First off, why not “for a province like New Brunswick”? What is the short hand here? What is being alluded to, that we all presumably understand and so doesn’t need to be said? That this is a poor province, a “have not” province? All the more reason, surely, to help N.B. students achieve an education. Or does it mean that this is a “blue collar” province of farms and factories, and so education is “unnecessary”? That there are few opportunities here so educating people just encourages them to leave? Perhaps, rather than denying education, businesses could pay competative wages; that would surely go a long way to stopping out-migration and giving our youth some reason to hang around.

The second paragraph quoted here is just plain fear-mongering. Universities have the capacities they have, with only some flexibility; if more people apply, the standards for admission go up, simple as that. Which would mean that our universities would be serving those best qualified to benefit, rather than those best qualified to pay. Quite the opposite of “a colossal waste of money,” one would think.

The last line quoted here betrays some confusion about different kinds of “value,” financial value and more intangible values: intellectual, emotional, or otherwise. It is arguably one of the tragedies of contemporary culture that the two are so frequently conflated. Here are two scenarios: a student from a poor family who works three part time jobs totalling more than forty hours a week in order to come to university and scrape by with C’s because she’s exhausted, and the same student working only one job, or perhaps none, and putting most of her effort into her schoolwork and getting A’s and B’s. Who is working harder? Who is getting a better education? Who will be able to go on to further education, if she decides to?

If you picked Student #2, go to the head of the class.

  1. Debra Lindsay permalink
    November 17, 2008 2:25 pm

    The Gleaner aside, we will be hearing straight from the horse’s mouth soon. Presumably the premier (aka horse) will reveal all in the Speech from the Throne anon. Drum roll please…

  2. Steeve Ferron permalink
    November 18, 2008 2:11 am

    Well, Miriam, you know what? I think you might be right here!

  3. Greg Marquis permalink
    November 22, 2008 3:43 pm


    As far as I know, Ireland does not charge tuition fees for undergraduate students, and neither does Scotland. As well, I think that most countries in Western Europe do not charge tuition fees. So several governments in advanced western economies see this an an importanr investment.

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