Calls for free post-secondary education rang loud and clear yesterday at Nipissing University’s Student Centre. The Nipissing University Student Union (NUSU) hosted a panel to discuss the benefits of creating a post-secondary education system that would be free and accessible to all.
The event, designed to open discussion about a more equitable education system, was part of a larger cross-country event. The Canadian Federation of Students, comprised of 63 student union groups across Canada, promoted events nation-wide. There are more than 530,000 members.
Riley McEntee, NUSU President, took part in the panel, as did Dr. Kevin Wamsley, Nipissing University President & Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Natalya Brown, Nipissing University Faculty Association President and Professor in Economics, and Rob Boulet, OPSEU Local 608 President.
“The panelists are all in agreement that affordable and accessible education is key for our region,” said David Tabachnick, a political science professor, and moderator of the panel discussion.
“It is a huge cultural shift for Canada to provide free tuition,” President Wamsley said, adding that it is possible if the public will exists to do so. The issue needs to be brought to the politician’s table and community groups and organizations must “redefine the issues that are important to you.”
“Everything is possible,” he added, “but it’s going to take significant steps for this one to be ratcheted up in the priorities” of people and politicians.
“It’s about changing the mindset that it’s not just about the individual,” who benefits from a post-secondary education, emphasized Brown, the economy and the entire society benefits.
See: Ontario extends post-secondary tuition freeze, names panel on sector's finances
Opening education to all would certainly increase education levels within the country, the panel noted, and free tuition would also remove the debt burden many students face upon graduation. Accessible also means greater access to programs, which would see students in North Bay have similar programming to larger institutions. This would help to attract more students to the smaller schools as well.
Currently, there are about 2.2 million students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary schools. Tuition at Nipissing hovers around seven to eight thousand dollars. However, this is after government subsidies. The true cost of educating a student, President Wamsley explained, is about $20,000 per year.
Removing the student paid tuition would require about $17.6 billion to fill the gap. This is a rough estimate, as tuition varies widely across the country. Canada’s gross domestic product was $2,105 billion in 2022.
See: Quebec plans to double university tuition for out-of-province students by 2024
OPSEU local 608 President Rob Boulet explained that his union of public service workers support the move to eliminating tuition. “This is one of our issues that we want to champion,” he said, and there are 180,000 members.
“Free and accessible education is important,” he added. “We need to see this happen.”
McEntee, NUSU President, emphasized the financial “suffering” so many students are faced with while trying to pay tuition that rises almost annually. “It can be different,” he said. “It is different in other countries, and this shouldn’t continue,” in Canada.
“We can make change.”
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca