Letter to the Editor: Crunching the numbers on universal free tuition

The objective of universal education, like universal health care, is to give those who can’t afford education the opportunity to access it. It eradicates financial barriers to this human right.

It’s not surprising the attempts for justifying the position by lobbyists have avoided any kind of financial or economic analysis. Data published by Statistics Canada shows the current model is failing students.

We need an approach that uses taxes to subsidize fair and accessible education. If the idea is to make getting into, and staying in university fair, then we must contrast a fair, publicly funded education to the current flat rate of tuition. Here, a low or medium income earner pays a much higher fraction of their income than the high-earners. Those making $60,000 annually would pay about 10 per cent of their total income, while someone making $600,000 per year would only pay one per cent of their total income. Blanket tuition is not proportional, nor is it fair.

This is about shifting our funding in education from a half-privatized system to a fully public system that is fair and proportional. When 70 per cent of jobs in the Canadian market require post-secondary education, it makes no sense to not publicly fund an education that so many jobs require.

Canada comes in sixth for the highest cost of tuition in the world. It stands as such due to the exorbitant amount of fees imposed on international students in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. These provinces have schools that charge international students more than our province’s international student rate: around $14,000 per year. Yet our tuition for local New Brunswick students sits pretty at just under $7,000 annually, which is $200 more than the national average. By comparison, Quebec pays one-third of what New Brunswick students pay, just shy of $3,000 per year. This reduction in cost is thanks to the efforts of students in lieu of declining (student) populations and a response against the rising cost of post-secondary education.

Another aspect that many overlook include costs on top of tuition. For domestic students across Canada, the national median expenditures on post-secondary education beyond tuition (fees for university, trade and professional courses) rise to $2,500. In New Brunswick, these expenditures explode to $4,674. These expenditures are often forgotten in calculating the total cost of a post-secondary education.

Overall, those who attend post-secondary institutions for education are found to spend $30,000 more in household spending than those who don’t. Quebec students have fought against the privatization of post-secondary education and the slow increase of tuition fees by about $500 annually, paying about half of the tuition a New Brunswick student pays. Enrolment in 2015-16 has also increased in Quebec by about 22 per cent. Tuition prices only changed by less than two per cent in the same timeframe, while New Brunswick’s tuition boomed to a 4.7 per cent increase. It is clear to see the connection between enrolment and affordable education.

STU enrolment has seen a decline of almost one-fifth since 2013, and a stark decrease of 36 per cent since 2002. Enrolment of Canadian students has decreased by 15 per cent and international students by five per cent between 2011 and 2015, in contrast to a half-per cent decline province wide. Universities rely on enrolment to generate revenue, but rising tuition costs do not help with declining enrolment. On average, universities in New Brunswick receive under 30 per cent of their revenue from tuition. As a basic matter of math, tuition will need to rise to make up for decreasing enrolment and public spending. This cannot be the primary source of income for our universities in the future.

This has never been about subsidizing the wealthy’s education, but the education of all. We want to allow poor, low-income and middle-income earners alike the ability to access something they ought to without financial barriers.


AJ Alward, St. Thomas University student