CASG, CUSA team up for free education debate

The Carleton Academic Student Government (CASG) and the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) hosted a debate about free tuition on Nov. 23.

The event was spearheaded by Alexandra Noguera, CUSA vice-president (student issues), and was designed to coincide with Financial Literacy Month. About 30 students attended the debate, which was held in the University Centre Atrium.

Ian Lee, a professor at the Sprott School of Business, and three members of the Carleton Debate Society, Ali Hassan, Ashley Pinheiro, and Katy Mclean, led the discussion.

Shawn Humphrey, CUSA council chair, moderated the debate. He asked the panelists three main questions: “should education be free in Canada?”, “what would Canada have to do to make free tuition happen?” and “Should Canada regulate international student fees?” The speakers had three minutes to answer each question, with a five-minute debate among the panelists after each member answered the question.

Hassan and Pinheiro debated in favour of  free tuition, while Lee and Mclean advocated for a more “targeted approach,”  where tuition would be waived for low income students, while middle and upper-class students would continue to pay their own tuition.

According to Afreen Delvi, a third-year global and international student who attended the debate, there isn’t a “single solution” to the problem of tuition costs. She added that while free education would be nice, she doesn’t think it’s plausible for students at this time.

The discussion centered largely around  the moral need to provide free education and whether it is feasible.

“We have an economy that depends on having a high level of skill, and having a certain set of skills that allow you to participate in the knowledge economy, and we think university education . . . very much like healthcare, is critical to a person’s survival,” Hassan said. He added that while healthcare is equally expensive, it’s understood to be a universal right in Canada.

However, Lee disagreed with Hassan’s argument.

“The important issue for students to realize is that it’s not a simplistic solution, like ‘oh, let’s just waive tuition fees,’ ” he said. “When you do that, somebody somewhere else is going to pay for it, either universities are going to have to cut services, or salaries and wages or they’re going to have to pass it up to the Ontario government [which will] have to raise taxes.”

Karlena Koot, a third-year global and international student, said the education system does work, but “a lot of students fall through the cracks.” She added that not everyone gets enough funding through student loans.

Delvi echoed this, and said that just because someone’s parents can financially support them, doesn’t mean they will. “I understand they’re doing the best of their ability, but there’s always room for improvement,” she said.

On the question of whether education was a right, Lee said he had no issue giving tuition to students from low-income families, but didn’t believe it was necessary for those who come from higher-income families.

“I’ve always believed that social policy should help those who need help,” he said.

According to CASG president Emily Grant, the goal of the event was to present information to students on whether free tuition could be possible.

“The topic of free education is an issue with a wide range of options and solution, which made us think that engaging in a thoughtful debate would be the best way to present the various options,” she  said.

Photo by Graham Swaney