As a long-term student, my memory reaches back quite a few years. I was trudging to work on Wednesday, after getting off a bus that stopped nowhere near my normal stop. While making the trek, I saw a loud little troop of students armed with red and black signs, and I had very vivid a flashback of witnessing the same scene three years previously.
There they were, disrupting traffic and stopping buses, delaying hardworking individuals and elderly folks on their way to medical appointments from getting where they needed to be. I am sure this disruption was part of the point of the demonstration, to force people to pay attention to our cause, or something along those lines. Let’s be real here though — we all know that these sorts of antics don’t make anyone more sympathetic to the student cause, right?
If you have any doubt, let me assure you, as part of the massive crowd of backlogged bus-riders, there wasn’t any love in the air where I was sitting. The protests never struck me as helpful to our cause when I first encountered them years ago, and they sure as hell don’t now.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that education is a right, not a privilege. I believe that it should not be a “debt sentence”. I believe that I have the right to an education that will contribute to the development of society. However, I am a realist, not an idealist. As a Political Science and Sociology student with friends residing in countries where education is free, I have a good grasp and understanding about education and the government, and so I don’t support the Day of Action.
Here are my three main reasons why.
1. Most student loans come from two different sources: federal loans and the provincial loans that are paid out by your province of origin. This means that students who come from out of province — a huge percentage of the student population at Dal — do not receive Nova Scotia loans. It is odd then that we are making converting loans to grants one of the key points of our protest at the provincial legislature.
2. The other half of our loans — the half that all Canadian students have access to — are administered by the federal government. Wouldn’t we be better off petitioning the provincial government to create more jobs, while going after the Federal Government to convert loans to grants and commit to increasing transfers to help us get to cheap or even free secondary education? To me that makes a wee bit more sense.
3. With very few jobs available to students who graduate from Nova Scotian universities, and with fierce competition across the small province, chances are most out-of-province students (and many native Nova Scotians) aren’t going to stay here. How much of an impact do you think that the demands of a largely transient population are going to have on a provincial government that doesn’t expect us to contribute long term, and doesn’t even expect most of us will be living here by the time the next election rolls around? Why would the government give more grants or draw away precious funding from other projects to decrease tuition fees when most students won’t likely be staying in the province to give back what they got?
A lot of us here in Canada have the idea that we should be getting free education because we are entitled to it. Perhaps we are, but it is a complicated matter that is going to require a lot more emphasis on policy development than protesting. The reason why some countries have free education is because their citizens pay incredibly high taxes, and those taxes give them that access to education, health faculties and more.
Maybe if the oil companies that get such great tax cuts started paying taxes to fund such progressive projects, then we may actually manage to achieve free education in our lifetime. There are plenty of discussions to be had — big national discussions about whether we value education in the same way that we value healthcare, for example. These are the sorts of conversations that will probably be better served with rational dialogues, not by alienating people by blocking traffic and waving around signs.
To drag things back in to my original complaint though, unless you are from here and plan to continue to live in Nova Scotia and contribute to the economy, you probably shouldn’t be protesting the provincial government over your tuition. Public disruptions really don’t win much positive attention from the locals (the same locals who vote in the elections we always try to influence), and ultimately, as the saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”