As the 2013-2014 school year begins, youth across Canada will once again have to face the crisis facing them under capitalism. Tuition fees continue to rise across the country, making post-secondary education increasingly inaccessible to a growing number of youth. Moreover, the lack of stable well-paying jobs means that students are graduating with a record level of debt that makes a decent future seem like a pipe dream.
The situation for youth is particularly dire in Ontario. The average cost of undergraduate tuition in Ontario has been increasing by an average of 5% per year, well above the rate of inflation. At the current rate, the average cost of a single year of post-secondary education is set to reach $9,000 by 2015. Student debt, meanwhile, has reached record highs. There is little help coming from Ontario’s new premier, Kathleen Wynne. All that Wynne has promised is to continue the partial tuition break that some students receive if they receive Ontario student aid (OSAP), which a great number of students do not qualify for. Meanwhile, the consequences of student debt reverberate far beyond a student’s years in school and can be a crippling burden well into their working careers; according to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the average student now takes 14 years to fully pay back their student debt.
On top of astronomical tuition fees, many universities have begun to charge additional “ancillary” fees, to cover things like building renovations. In their most recent provincial budget, the Ontario Liberal government had demanded that universities cut $120-million over the next two years and naturally, these costs will have to be borne by students. Even with these cuts, universities regularly hand out six-figure salaries to their presidents who willfully seem to be oblivious to the pressures facing working-class students. One such president, Sheldon Levy of Ryerson University (who has a salary of $445,780, including an $80,000 bonus), had the nerve to scoff at one of the authors of this article when asked if he thought tuition fees are too high. Levy answered, “Of course not,” and snidely remarked that this concept stems from “non-factual rhetoric”! This goes to show the entitled attitude of those at the top, while the rest of us drown in debt and struggle to find work. While the federal government continuously cuts funding to the provinces that could be used to fully fund free post-secondary education, we see billions of dollars being wasted on corporate hand-outs and tax cuts. The same Ontario Liberal government that is cutting education funding and continuing to raise tuition fees managed to grant $13-billion in bailouts to auto manufacturers in 2009. Meanwhile, it would only cost $8-billion per year to completely abolish tuition fees — less than the $9.3-billion the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that banking executives awarded themselves in 2011 (after also receiving $110-billion in public bail outs).
Moreover, it is perhaps harder now to earn a livable income as a student or young worker than ever before. In the month of July, Canada lost almost 40,000 jobs, with youth and public sector workers taking by far the biggest hits. Youth unemployment in Canada stands at a shocking 14%, almost double that of the national average. And, this number is also deceptive because even those who have jobs aren’t exactly raking in cash. The vast majority of youth jobs are at, or just above, minimum wage and also tend to be precarious, part-time, with little or no benefits. Youth who are under the age of 18 are even harder hit as they often have to work at wages that are below the “official” minimum wage. In Ontario, for example, youth who are aged 16-18 get a “student minimum wage” of $9.60 per hour, 65-cents less than the regular minimum wage — an act that is more aimed at scratching the backs of the government’s corporate cronies than lending a helping hand to youth.
According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average student debt load now sits at $28,000, with 21% of students owing more than $40,000! 40% of students find it difficult to meet minimum payments on their student debt. This means that servicing debt alone becomes a major part of ex-students’ lives. According to a study by TD Bank, student debt, along with the diminishing value of degrees in the workplace, can seriously “set back” a student and force students to reach life milestones like retirement at a much older age. Higher education, which has historically been a platform for those looking to improve their standard of living, is instead entrenching class division, as it is becoming the case that only the rich can afford to send their children to school.
The sad reality is that capitalism is condemning today’s generation of youth to living less stable lives than their parents and grandparents. The austerity agenda imposed upon us by the bosses and their representatives in government prevents youth from getting the education, social programs, or jobs they need to live full lives in society. For some youth, these conditions can force them into conflict with the law as no other options may seem available. It is ironic that while we are told there is no money for education, jobs, and the very programs and services that are proven to keep us out of jail, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported that the federal Conservative government more than doubled prison expenditure from 2009-2010 to 2011-2012. While it costs $147,467 per year to jail a federal prisoner, these same funds could be used to fund post-secondary education, employment programs, and much needed social services. It is unacceptable that our youth are being jailed for turning to illicit activity when they are left with no other options!
As socialists, we know that there are other options, but not under capitalism — a system that has ruthless competition, exploitation, inequality, and the destruction of our environment built into it. The youth have been at the forefront of many inspiring movements around the world and are showing their capacity to fight for a better future. These struggles must be linked to the class struggle as students are tomorrow’s workers, and it is the working class who can truly challenge the rule of the parasitic bankers and bosses. Universal and fully subsidized post-secondary education, day care, health care (including pharmaceuticals, dental, and eye-care), and public transit, as well as full employment, are possible if we break from this system of private profit and greed and replace it with a socialist planned economy in the interest of human need. The youth have no future under this system and so must fight to create a fairer and more just society. Join us and join the fight for socialism!