While pursuing my PhD at York, I’ve had the pleasure of being a teaching assistant for several years. I take great pride in my position as an educator, especially since I struggled immensely to get to this point in my academic journey. As the daughter of immigrants and as a first-generation post-secondary attendee, I have first-hand experience of the struggle of accessing an education that’s become increasingly reserved for the privileged few.
Is this partly due to the constant OSAP letters reminding me of my looming debt upon graduation? That has certainly played a role, but my genuine passion for teaching and learning has always been the driving force.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from one of my top students expressing her gratitude for the material she was exposed to and for the opportunity to learn at a university in Canada. After spending a year with this student, I knew that she is capable of achieving greatness in her lifetime.
However, the email concluded with the news that she would not be continuing her studies in the fall. As an international student, her tuition fees are alarmingly high, and she simply does not have the means to cover the costs. She explored many options available, but was ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining the required amount — she has a dream of pursuing an education, yet she cannot afford it.
So many students skip lectures, complain about the endless amount of assignments, and look forward to literally “getting out of here.” Yet my student, someone who is eager to learn, is forced to drop out because she cannot cover the costs.
Reading her email made me reflect on the systemic hurdles embedded in our institutions. Why shouldn’t a bright, hardworking, and motivated young Black woman have access to education? Why should her dreams of becoming a lawyer be condemned to just that — a dream?
Tasha Gaye Saunders’ story can be read on her GoFundMe page.
Although domestic tuition will not increase for the 2021-2022 school year in Ontario, the same cannot be said for international tuition fees. International students are set to see a two to five per cent increase in their tuition fees this year, depending on their program.
As the province continues to slash post-secondary funding, universities have been relying on international tuition fees as their primary source of revenue to compensate for decades of cuts to post-secondary education. One year of tuition, not including residence fees, can cost upwards of $30,000.
The reality is that tuition fees will always prevent students who cannot afford them from receiving an education. So, it pains me when I see there’s a price on education. And what’s worse is the already-pricey post-secondary education is not made available to certain students in the global south based on their socio-economic status.
The neoliberal policies that have drastically transformed post-secondary funding are built on a premise that education is a commodity and students are consumers — a shift that can be seen in the global education industry.
The lack of public financing has created a funding gap for universities and colleges, which has been increasingly filled by relying on private sources of funding, primarily in the form of high tuition fees.
We must reinvest in our social welfare policies and demand adequate funding from our governments. A reallocation of funds — not to mention a reform of the tax system — could allow us to significantly reduce tuition fees. Perhaps we can take a break from tax cuts for corporations and the wealthiest Canadian families to use that money in funding strong public services.
It starts with policy and putting pressure on our political parties to prioritize education in their platforms and agendas. Post-secondary education should not be a luxury exclusive to those who have won the citizenship lottery. Accessible education is essential for achieving an equitable society and world.