Eliminating Tuition Fees and Strengthening Public Post-Secondary Education

Federal and provincial governments used to play a greater role in funding education as a public good. The share of public funding for postsecondary has declined from 80% to as little as 50% since the 1990s – when the federal Liberal government slashed spending for post secondary education.

With governments backing away from their social responsibilities, the financial burden for education has increasingly been placed on the backs of students. Tuition fees have tripled since 2001, reaching a national average of $6,363.00 per year. The average student debt in Canada is $28,000, not accounting for private sources of debt like lines of credit and credit cards. In total, students owe a staggering $28,000,000,000.00 to all levels of government.

Making things worse, students today face a job market that increasingly requires its employees to have a university or college degree, with upwards of 70% job postings demanding some level of postsecondary education. At the same time, neoliberal policies have created a precarious job market in which even recent graduates are stuck with jobs that are low-paid, part-time, and have no benefits or job security.

It is time to bring fundamental change to our unequal postsecondary education system, and to reverse the transfer of wealth and power that has continued under Liberal and Conservative governments. We need to see education as a public good, similar to health care. Access to postsecondary education should not be determined according to income; it should be accessible and paid for through a progressive income tax system.

Offering tuition free postsecondary education so that no one is denied economic success because of an inability to pay rising tuition fees. This is possible by implementing an enhanced, dedicated, postsecondary education transfer to the provinces, which would ensure that they use the funding to eliminate fees. Our plan is based on the model proposed by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Federation of Students.

Helping Canadians already struggling with high student debt. First, by eliminating interest on federal student loans. Second, by doubling the income repayment threshold so that students who have taken out Canada Student Loans will not be required to make any repayment until they are earning at least $50,000 a year. This will provide significant relief to recent graduates who are struggling to pay back their student loans while living under the poverty line. Students will not have to payback their loans until they earn a living income.

Ending discrimination against international students. It is unfair that we exploit international students by charging them fees that are much higher than other students. I will also work with provinces, territories and postsecondary institutions to ensure that international students can access our postsecondary education system at an affordable rate – and will work to regulate the cost of tuition and non-instructional mandatory fees for international students so students do not face exponential rate increases year over year. I will also ensure international students receive public healthcare coverage and the ability to apply for citizenship after graduating.

Increase funding for Indigenous students as a Treaty right. As a result of a government shortfall in funding, not all Indigenous students can go to school and some communities are tasked with making difficult decisions about who can and cannot access higher education. I will lift the 2 percent cap on annual funding to the postsecondary Student Support Program, and fulfill the TRC recommendation to fund existing backlogs to counteract the underfunding Indigenous students have faced for the past 20 years. I will also expand access to Métis students who are currently ineligible from this funding.
Boost funding for graduate-level research. We need to make sure that graduate students have the resources they need to complete their research. Too often, they are forced to compete with each other for scarce funding. This why I will boost funding to the Tri-Council agencies, ensure that those agencies are funded equally across disciplines, and remove all commercial earmarks so that funding is awarded based on academic merit rather than potential short-term profit. A NDP government under my leadership will ensure that International students studying in Canadian universities will also be able to access these sources of funding to allow them to succeed.