Monday, June 4, 2012

Quebec students

I'll be the first to admit I'm usually far too obsessed with myself to ever talk about anything as relevant as current events. However, I'm going to be talking about current events today. Let's hope to goodness this is a sign of my impending maturity.

Right so. There is this editorial in yesterday's Globe & Mail which talks about the Quebec students who are protesting a $325-per-year-for-five-years tuition increase, the final result of which will be a $3793 per year price tag by 2016-17. And what does the Globe say about this in its editorial? Essentially the educational equivalent of "eat your veggies 'cause kids are starving in the third world."

No really! They're like, "dudes, do you even know how little you pay for your dang university education compared to what those poor souls pay in Chile?! Those guys really have something to complain about! They're hard done by! They have it bad! You don't pay 98% of your entire family's income for education like they do, nor do you have to walk uphill to school both ways! Stop whining! Stop protesting! If you don't like your moderately-priced education, they should get it, not you!"

Now I'm not saying they don't have it a lot worse than Canada does in Chile, but you know what? Nobody ever said it was awesome in Chile. Nobody ever said Chile has the absolute best quality of life in the world. Nobody ever said that if you want your children to have all the great things that you didn't, you should take them to live in Chile.

But people do say those things about Canada, and I agree with those people. So let's try to keep Canada awesome, shall we? Also, everyone over the age of five knows that it won't help the starving people for you to force yourself to eat when you're full. Similarly, it won't reduce the price of tuition in Chile for you to pay more tuition in Canada. So I don't really know what point the Globe was trying to make, besides put up and shut up, you stupid, stupid Quebeckers. Which I believe is a POV shared by much of English Canada, but we all pay way too much in tuition too, don'tcha know. It's a lot more than an average graduate could easily make back in a few years, even if he's doing something "better" than delivering pizzas and has some kind of a quasi-professional gig which involves meetings and a desk and a pension and everything. Which means it's too much.

As long as I'm a really mature current events expert now, I'd like to make a completely unrelated point. I've been noticing that all the highly knowledgable Globe reader comments, on both this editorial and others like it, have been saying things like "Europe is so great! They subsidize education there because people only study really really ridiculously useful things, and nobody ever studies history or sociology!"

To which I say, contrary to what you may have read/thought/seen on TV, people in Europe actually are just as fat-assed as us, and they actually do like to eat at McDonald's, and they don't speak four or five languages fluently, and they're by and large not chicer than us, and really, every positive stereotypical thing you've ever heard about them is not even remotely accurate. Also, if they're not actually from Paris, there is literally no greater chance of them having visited than someone from the Yukon. It's true. I'm not lying.

I would also not be lying if I said everyone should study both history and sociology, including people in Europe. A society that started two world wars only needs so many engineers, really.


  1. Comparing Quebec tuitions to Chile reminds me of a great Homer Simpson comment on health care: "America's health care system is second only to Japan, Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, well...all of Europe. But you can thank your lucky stars we don't live in Paraguay!"

  2. I think it's a question of the most equitable use of the limited resources at the government's disposal.

    The government has a lot of services to provide - health care, education, road maintenance, public transit, etc. - and only limited resources with which to provide them. Given that, the government ought to use its resources in the most equitable way possible - that is, in the way that most benefits those who need it. Are university students such a group? Not entirely. Some students are impecunious, and for them subsidized tuition is money well spent. However, many students come from quite affluent families. The trouble with subsidized tuition is that it benefits the high-income along with the low-income. The scion of Westmount benefits just as much as the waitress' daughter. To borrow a phrase from tax policy, this is "vertically inequitable" - it treats as the same people who ought to be treated differently.

    In light of falling resources and rising demands on those resources, the Quebec government has proposed a scheme that ably solves this inequity. Quebec will offer bursaries to those with family incomes under $100,000, helping to ensure students from lower-income families won't pay any more tuition than they already do. Those from families with greater than $100,000 in income, meanwhile, will pay a modest amount more. This allows the government to maintain its services, targets government spending on those who need it most, and asks those can afford to pay more to do so. This is perfectly fair, and flows completely from the principles animating progressive taxation.

    Many attempt to counter the "limited resources" argument by demanding higher taxes on the wealthy. However, there's a limit on how high one can raise taxes without making the economy uncompetitive internationally, driving away the jobs that students would eventually hope to get, and over-burdening the middle class. As it is, Quebec has the highest tax rate in all of Canada, even after receiving an annual $7.2 billion equalization subsidy from the rest of Canada. Higher taxes may be necessary, but they are not the panacea that the students and their supporters claim they are.

    Combine these points with the disruption, vandalism, and flagrant contempt of court, and I think that the protestors are plainly in the wrong.

  3. I understand what you're saying Steve, but why should lack of money be the true barrier to education, rather than lack of capability? The system would be less strained if it were harder to pass courses and finish degrees, even if the government were to foot the entire bill. The way it is now, with a few exceptions in very specific subject areas, basically anyone can get to the end of the degree, provided they can pay.

    To move the discussion closer to home, if you look at professional degrees in Ontario, they are accessible to basically two groups of people: those who have help from their families, and those whose families are sufficiently low-income that they receive significant financial aid from the university or other sources. Anyone who takes on anywhere near full debt to study law/medicine/business will carry the debt for decades, possibly the rest of their lives. Undergraduate degrees may be cheaper than professional, but they are still hard for a middle-class person to finance and in many cases are not enough for gainful employment.

    Long story short, Canada seems to be going in a direction I don't much care for when it comes to education.

  4. I agree with you about making the system tougher. In an ideal world, we would have truly challenging university, funded entirely by the government, with progressive taxation sorting out the vertical inequity problem. But university isn't challenging, the government can't afford to fully fund it, and taxation isn't perfectly progressive. C'est la vie. In light of the circumstances, the government's plan seems like a reasonable compromise to me.

    Also, I hear you about professional education. I hear you all too clearly.