Helping students, without burdening everyone else

Posted on in Education Debates

NationalPost.com – Full Comment/National Post View
August 6, 2015.   Editorial

On Saturday, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced that it will be replacing student loans with non-repayable grants, making it the first province to abolish the loans. While many students will welcome this policy, it is bad news for taxpayers and anyone who believes that people attending university should have a financial stake in their education.

This decision can’t be divorced from the current political climate in Newfoundland. The PC government has come under attack as of late, particularly due to its perceived misspending of oil revenues. With 7,000 students expected to be eligible for this “free” tuition aid, the government is undoubtedly trying to divert attention from some of its other activities. But while this might make for good politics, it doesn’t necessarily make good policy.

Student loans are usually tied to financial need, in order to make post-secondary education available to the greatest number of people. But this isn’t a good argument for removing the obligation for students to pay the money back. At least with a loan, the liability is funded, even if that money takes time to come back to government coffers.

Government should help students, and particularly students in financial need, to finance their education. But the responsibility should still be shared, as the primary beneficiaries of the education are the students themselves
And there’s little doubt that students with some skin in the game — i.e., some financial stake in their own education — will be more apt to ensure they stay the course and complete their degrees. Government should help students, and particularly students in financial need, to finance their education. But the responsibility should still be shared, as the primary beneficiaries of the education are the students themselves, who will then have better employment prospects and a greater ability to repay any debt incurred while they were studying.

The Canadian Federation of Students, which has been pushing for similar policies in other provinces, claims that student debt deters people from attending universities and creates a barrier for low-income people. Yet, according numerous studies, the provinces with the lowest tuition rates — Quebec and Newfoundland — also have the lowest enrolment rates; while provinces with high tuition rates, such as Ontario and Nova Scotia, continue to see high enrolment rates.

Newfoundland and Labrador is a have province, so at least it can afford to give grants of this kind en masse. But this move is likely to cause a domino effect that could see Newfoundland’s new model advanced by anti-tuition advocates throughout the rest of the country, on the ground that state funding is a necessity and a right. And if non-repayable grants become an expectation of government, there will be pressure for all provinces to provide them, including ones that cannot afford to do so.

All provinces should affirm their commitment to assisting students in need. But they shouldn’t remove the sensible requirement that their aid be repaid, in order to do so.

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One Response to “Helping students, without burdening everyone else”

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