From left to right, Joel Harden, Bilan Arte, and Avi Lewis discuss the possibility of free post-secondary education in Canada. Photo: Anchal Sharma.
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Town hall meeting explores feasibility of free post-secondary education

On Thursday, Oct. 13, a town hall panel was held at Carleton University as part of the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) Fight the Fees campaign. The event saw discussion on rising post-secondary tuition fees in Canada, and the role the federal government should play in lowering tuition.

The panel, hosted by CFS national chairperson Bilan Arte, discussed how government funding for post-secondary education has dramatically decreased over the last three decades, and that the CFS hopes to address this issue through their Nov. 2 Day of Action, where post-secondary students will rally on Parliament Hill to call for lower tuition.

“Our generation, youth overall, are tired of hearing the same old rhetoric that we have to invest into our future,” said Arte. “That somehow us being able to pursue our dreams … to go to university … that this will somehow be denied to us on the basis, of not our merit, but on the basis of cost.”

“We know that young people have been pushing the agenda, for progressive social change,” she continued, referencing the Quebec student strike in 2012 that propelled their provincial government to reassess tuition hikes.

Arte also shared how being the eldest of three siblings and the child of refugee parents affected her access to higher education.

“I helped sustain our family … part of my thinking was that as much as I might be close to pursuing this dream of post-secondary education, if I can’t go, at least I’m working so that perhaps my siblings can go.”

Arte’s story resonated with many members in the audience, who also shared their experiences of balancing school and part-time jobs to pay for their education. Some of these students were international students from places like South Africa and Ecuador, where the conversation around free tuition is much more open.

The cost of programs for international students are more than twice as high as the domestic fee. For example, an degree in common law at the University of Ottawa for 2016-17 costs $26,560 for Canadian students, whereas it costs international students $68,201.19.

Many students across the country share Arte’s views, such as Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, a fourth-year international development and globalization student at the University of Ottawa.

According to Moumouni-Tchouassi, U of O tuition fees have increased every year over the last 11 years, and this is hindering students’ ability to enjoy the university experience as a whole.

“I think for the U of O, it would mean that the administration is addressing the fact that we are not responsible for funding their institution and the way that they spend their money irresponsibly. I think that it would mean that for international students, coming here would be something that is not so tough,” she said.

Moumouni-Tchouassi also discussed the Day of Action and why she believes it is important for students to attend.

“This is a change that affects everybody, and it’s something that we want for all students. I will be there (on Nov. 2), and I’m hoping that a lot of students understanding the importance of this campaign will also be there because it is something we can achieve.”

“It’s been 11 years, and it’s not going to be 11 more,” Moumouni-Tchouassi said.

For students looking for more information on the Nov. 2 Day of Action, visit the Facebook event page here