Student groups react to Trudeau’s comments

CFS and CASA want federal leaders to address student debt

Justin Trudeau said during his keynote speech at the Liberal convention on Saturday in Montreal that he wants 70 per cent of Canadians to have some form of post-secondary education because seven in 10 jobs will soon require PSE.

“We need to get education right,” he told the crowd. “We’ve heard young Liberals speak up for young people all across the country. They need help paying for school, help with their debts and mostly help getting a good start in the workforce.”

The Canadian Federation of Students, a lobbying group that students at dozens of campuses pay fees to each year, points out that students have been saying these types of things for a long time.

“Trudeau’s comments are not something new,” writes Jessica McCormick, CFS National Chairperson, in an e-mail. “He was merely echoing statements that have been made by many education advocacy organizations.” She added that she found it, “refreshing to hear the Liberal leader acknowledge the important role post-secondary education plays, and will play, in the Canadian economy.”

Tuition fees have risen in almost every province in recent decades and, as a result, students are graduating with plenty of debt. On average, undergraduate students paid $5,772 in tuition and fees in 2013-14, according to Statistics Canada. The total value of federal full-time student loans hit $2.2-billion in 2010-11, up from $667-million in 1990-91.

Federal investments to reduce tuition fees and debt, including an expansion of the Canada Student Grants program, must happen, writes McCormick. The CSG program offers free money to low- and middle-income Canadians and those with disabilities and dependents.

According to a Statistics Canada survey from 2012, 69.2 per cent of those aged 25 to 44 already have some form of post-secondary education. As many critics have pointed out, that is already close to the 70 per cent Trudeau is aspiring to. However, that same survey showed that only 59.2 per cent of those aged 45 to 64 have PSE credentials.

Jonathan Champagne, National Director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a smaller student-funded lobbying group, writes in an e-mail that he would like to see federal politicians focus partly on mature students (those who didn’t follow the common path to post-secondary after high school and who are trying to upgrade their skills later in life). That would require removing barriers like CSG income limits and a lack of childcare spaces on campus.

Like McCormick, he thinks the government should focus on debt reduction too. “While Canada has one of the highest participation rates in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, we know that other countries are catching up,” he writes. “In order for Canada to compete and excel on the global stage, we need to have an educated population and workforce.”

Connor Jay is a journalism and political science student at St. Thomas University.