I work two blocks away from Dawson College, famous for the student shooting last year. It is two days since a group of its students are in a strike; they block the two entrances with a body-barrier and loudly ask for free education. I must admit it is hard for me not to skip work and just stay there and join them. This is the situation throughout Quebec. On Wednesday one hundred students were arrested for refusing to leave the premises of the UQAM.
The general strike arose in response to a raise of 50 dollars in the tuition decided by the Minister of Education, Michelle Courchesne. The opinions vary. Many students want free education. Many tax payers don’t want to finance their education at 100%. The media report that Quebec has the cheapest education tuition in all of Canada.
There are more variables to the complicated equation. Apparently the salary of teachers is less than in other provinces and in the States, which could indeed reflect in universities not being able to import the top non plus ultra teachers out there. And note that graduates are draining from Quebec to other provinces and other countries (also due to lower salaries). This is especially alarming in professions such as medicine.
This article http://www.iedm.org/uploaded/pdf/universites_en.pdf shows statistics about Quebec having the lowest rate of population enrolling in university, 20% vs. a 33% in overall Canada. If you read this editorial it has the gall to suggest that the higher the education fees, the more people will attend university. They call it a paradox. I call it silly. If the provinces that have higher attendance of students are those with the highest tuition, finding a logical cause-effect would probably show that you can raise the fees when students are motivated enough to and have enough income to pay. It is absurd to think that it is the high fees per se that attract young people to enroll. Two thirds of students come from well off families. One third from families with income under 100 grand a year. It is logical to think that there is an economical reason for this gap in enrollment. Obviously, the gap is even bigger if we suppose that the number of rich families is less than that of less well off families.
But the logic here is interesting. If education was free it would benefit mostly that majority of current university attendants that can perfectly afford to pay more. This is unnecessary and obviously unwise given the problem with giving good salaries to teachers. Yet, obviously, making education free could help with more enrolment from the poorest sectors of society.
I propose a solution here. It is based on the principle of redistribution that is the foundation of taxation law in most democracies. It means to take from the richer and give it to the poorer. It can be done simply by establishing a scale of tuition fees depending on a socio-economical analysis of the student on a case basis. A proportional rate, in other words. Depending on their circumstances some people can afford to pay more than others. If there is someone who can't pay anything for a very good reason, education should be free for him / her in certain universities and given that the person reaches an adequate degree of achievement.
I studied in a private university in my country. It was the best of the city and they had this system. I had no money to pay full tuition but this way I could pay much less than the rest and get two undergraduate diplomas.
I think Quebec and Canada should analyze if having more professionals could be achieved by having free education for a certain part of society, then maybe an analysis of cost-benefit could prove that free education is a good business for Canada. The long term redistribution of income globally would eventually follow too. This is called the Robin Hood effect.
Remember that graduates earn more than one third more than non graduates. More income, more taxes for a lifetime. So this is an investment, not a gift.