Hot! Austerity Canadian-style, now in Britain? Pity

TheGlobeandMail.com – Report-on-Business/Economy
Posted on Friday, November 12, 2010.   Armine Yalnizyan

Budget plans in the U.K. drove 50,000 students into the streets this week. They were protesting proposed public spending cuts that could double or triple university tuitions.

We’ve seen this movie, and it does not end well for students.

The British government is happily taking a page from the Canadian playbook of the mid-1990s, when our own age of austerity reshaped public policy and the role of the state.

Massive federal budget cuts in 1995 devolved responsibility for a range of social programs to the provinces and territories who, in turn, pushed costs onto municipalities and hospitals, schools and universities, community organizations and households.

One result of this cascade of downloading is that undergraduate university tuitions have more than doubled across Canada and tripled in Ontario since 1995. That’s just tuition. Compulsory administration fees, rents and the cost of books have also shot up.

For generations, parents have chided their children for grousing and told stories of how hard life used to be. But my generation of university students sure had it a whole lot easier than today’s kids.

When I entered university in the fall of 1979, the average full-time undergraduate tuition in Ontario was $740. The minimum wage was $3 an hour. I needed six weeks of full-time work in the summer to pay my tuition. Work all summer, and the costs of my books, rent and even some beer money were covered for the year. I could focus on learning during the school year.

By the fall of 1994, before the big federal spending ax came down, inflation and demand had caused full-time undergraduate tuition rates to more than triple in Ontario ($2,252). The minimum wage had risen too, but not as fast ($6.85 an hour). You would have had to work full-time for eight weeks to pay off tuition, but things were still manageable.

This fall, the average cost of a full-time undergraduate program was $6,307 in Ontario. Minimum wage was $10.25, meaning you’d have to work 15.5 weeks at 40 hours a week to cover off your tuition.

That’s if you could even find the work. One of the biggest casualties of this recession was young people. Between October, 2008 and July, 2009 – the bottom of the labour market’s slide – there were 213,000 fewer Canadian workers aged 15-24.

Unlike most other age groups, the nation’s youth is still waiting for signs of recovery. Last month there were still 206,000 fewer workers aged 15 to 24 than there were in October, 2008.

Many in this age group have turned to post-secondary education. Since the recession hit tuitions have increased at twice the rate of inflation, or more, in most Canadian provinces.

The British are facing the biggest budget cuts in their history. They’re doing what we did in 1995 when we undertook, as then finance minister Paul Martin noted in his budget speech, “the largest set of actions in any Canadian budget since demobilization after the Second World War….Relative to the size of our economy program spending will be lower in 1996-7 than at any time since 1951.”

This was no temporary change. Whether you see that as a good or bad thing depends on whether you’ve picked up the tab for the ensuing changes. In Canada, government books were balanced in part by shifting the burden of debt to the slender shoulders of the nation’s students.

Now not only in Canada, you say? Pity.

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2 Comments

  1. I choose the article “Austerity Canadian-style, now in Britain? Pity” as a second year Canadian university student, I feel I can relate to a university student in Britain who is recently experiencing high university tuitions fees. Since 1995, university tuitions have more than doubled across Canada and tripled in Ontario (Yalnizyan 5). With the government cuts’ shifting the money from education to other areas, the British are following in Canada’s footsteps. I understand that the government has to make some budget cuts, but why does the tuition just continue to rise year after year? Recently I saw a huge raise in tuition rates just from first to second year; it makes me wonder where all of this extra money is going towards? The article also describes that students do not just pay high tuition fees but have to be concerned with the high prices for textbooks, food, living expensive, etc (Yalnizyan 7). Nothing is cheap in today’s society, making living on your own very difficult at times. I know many students who work one or two jobs just to afford all of these expensive prices while the consequence may be that your school work will suffer. Working just in the summer is not enough for many students anymore. This article shows how the older generations received a heavily subsidized higher education, but today we are left with paying high tuition rates to education. Past generations were fortunate enough to have more affordable tuitions rates then today’s students, as well as for future students.

    In today`s society it is impractical to survive on a high school diploma and a minimum wage job. Twenty to thirty years ago you did not need a post secondary education to make a living, but it is fundamental in today`s society. Unfortunately several people cannot afford this high price of education; students now are relying on getting help from scholarships, grants or loans but this could lead to debt in the future. At times I believe tuition rates are unreasonable because post secondary institutions know that people will pay for it in order to become successful.

    I was recently looking at newspaper ads out of curiosity and most employers are demanding postgraduate degrees for almost any position. A lot jobs even demand you to have your masters in your degree to even be recognizable in your given field. Even with getting a high level education, it is very difficult to get jobs in your choice of career. You put all this money into a career choice with the idea of making a good living but might end up in job where you are over qualified. I think all students would agree that we would rather have cheaper university education subsidized by the government however this is not reality and will continue to be a challenge for many students and families. As a university student I am fearful to see how much tuition will cost in forty years from now.

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