Special to People's Voice newspaper
|Striking graphic from www.educationisaright.ca|
Confronting skyrocketing tuition fees and rising student debt, the Canadian Federation of Students will hold a cross‑Canada day of action for accessible education on February 1st. Actions are expected on over fifty campuses from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland, including mass rallies in Ottawa, Toronto and other cities.
"The Education is a Right campaign is the expression of students' collective vision for a well‑funded, high‑quality, public post‑secondary education system that builds a fair, and equitable society" says Roxanne Duboise, CFS Chairperson.
The campaign follows "12 days for public education" in December which saw Ontario students deliver the provincial government 30,000 "gifts" in the form of petitions.
The CFS will highlight attacks on education across the country, such as:
* Nova Scotia, where the NDP government just announced that tuition fees will increase three percent per year for the next three years, while operating grants to universities will be cut by three percent for 2012‑13, meaning students will be paying more and getting less;
* Quebec, where mobilizations against the Charest Liberals will be taking place at the same time as hundreds of thousands of students vote on a mass strike for accessible education (see below);
* Ontario ‑ the province with the highest fees in the country at $6,640 average undergraduate tuition ‑ where hundreds of thousands of students in need of aid are being left out of the new McGuinty Liberal tuition grants;
* Manitoba, where the average student will accumulate $19,000 of debt to complete their post‑secondary education and the Selinger NDP government is increasing tuition;
* British Columbia, where students pay more in tuition than corporations pay in taxes, but the Clark Liberal government charges the prime interest rate plus 2.5% on student loans, adding an extra 30.2% of principal to be repaid on the average student loan, over the standard ten‑year period.
"The fight for public education in Canada is part of a global effort to maintain education as a basic right for all," Duboise says. "Around the world, governments are tabling `austerity' budgets containing massive cuts to post‑secondary education and other public services."
In Canada, according to the CFS, tuition fees for university students will hit record levels this year in most provinces. During 2011 undergraduate tuition fees increased by 4.3% to an average of $5,366. This is a shocking 509 per cent above inflation over the last two and‑a‑half decades. At the same time official youth unemployment is fluctuating between 14.5 and 18 percent, while minimum wages across the country are well below the poverty line.
A joint statement by the Communist Party and the YCL expressed full support of the CFS slogan "education is a right" and for the student actions. The statement calls for all students to step up their struggles against tuition increases and reactionary governments, especially the Harper Conservatives.
"All young people are facing a corporate steam roller in the form of tuition fees," Drew Garvie, a student activist and Ontario organizer of the Young Communist League, told People's Voice. "Corporations want an educated workforce, but they aren't willing to pay for it through progressive taxation. And this is not just an issue for the students. Access to education is a broad class issue hitting hard at working people, unemployed youth, Aboriginal and racialized communities, and women."
The Young Communist League will be mobilizing for the demonstrations and promoting the Charter of Youth Rights campaign to unite progressive youth behind fighting demands, Garvie said. The YCL just concluded a successful student conference in Montreal with about thirty campus activists and friends, stressing that mass struggle and cooperation between the students and other movements, especially labour, is the only way forward.
"Despite the economic crisis, a militant, united and coordinated struggle across the country by students and their allies can win" said a YCL statement issued at the end of the conference. The event also looked at the need to link the struggles of Quebec students and those in English‑speaking Canada, and discussed the fundamental problems presented by the Canadian constitution in regards to post‑secondary education, and the sovereignty and self‑determination of nations. Participants considered ideas like the Post‑Secondary Education Act which would extend the principles of the Canada Health Act to education.
"We fully support this proposal, with the caveat that Quebec and the Aboriginal nations must have control over their own education," said Johan Boyden, leader of the YCL. "More generally, we need a fundamental transformation of the education system, a sharp break with the current `corporate greed model' of increasing two‑tier elitism, P3 privatization, for‑profit and military research, while millions of working class youth are left out in the cold.
"If capitalist Norway, Venezuela, and even poor socialist Cuba can afford free tuition then so can Canada," Boyden said. "If the Harper government can waste nearly $500 billion on the Canada First Defence strategy, then this clearly a question of political priorities. The opinion polls all show majority support to freeze and reduce tuition and strong support for total abolition of fees."
Boyden added that students must "escalate, expand and grow the movement with more large, continued and visible actions - working to create a broad, powerful and militant unity that cannot be ignored."