Do we really need more students in university?

Though Liberals promise more help for students, accessibility may not be the biggest issue for PSE anymore

With Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff announced his “Learning Passport” program, which promises $1 billion for non-repayable aid for post secondary education students, as part of his party’s education platform last week, making education more accessible has now become an election issue.

Yet as the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente pointed out in her column Thursday, considering Canada has one of the highest post secondary education rates in the world, accessibility may not be a problem anymore. In fact, Canadian universities may even be too accessible.

Wente argued that when tuition fees for most universities are a bargain and “virtually anyone who wants to can get in somewhere,” it lowers how much a university degree is worth. “The vast expansion of higher education hasn’t smartened up people. Instead, it’s dumbed down the standards,” Wente writes.

According to data from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, over half of Canadians age 20-21 had participated in some form of post secondary education in 2009. That number ballooned to over 75 per cent when counting students who withdrew from an Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP).

Ken Coates, dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Waterloo, and Bill Morrison, a former history professor from the University of Northern British Columbia, explored this issue in their book, Campus Confidential, in which they point out that too many students and parents have been falsely convinced that higher education holds all the answers. “They and their parents have bought the mantra: Go to university, get a degree, then get a white-collar career,” Coates told the Globe and Mail.

In their book, Coates and Morrision write that “the widespread perception is that fewer and fewer of them are participating beyond the bare minimum required for a degree.” That can’t be a positive sign for the value of higher education.

In spite of these concerns, student representatives and politicians alike continue to argue that the more students there are in university, and the less money they have to pay to be there, the better off we all will be. However, it seems as though there are often too many people in university who aren’t sure what they want from their degree at all. Further, though students typically spend four years plus working towards graduation, an undergraduate degree no longer carries the promise of a job. In many cases, it doesn’t even qualify you for one.

As a student, it’s easy to be branded as an elitist snob for pointing out that there are some people on campus that may not need to be there. But it’s not good for students or universities if everyone believes they are expected to be able to get a degree, and that doing so will always lead to success.

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