In Brief: It started with an article, the reporter admitted was written and submitted to the Dal Gazette before Charles Cirtwill even made his presentation on campus. It was followed with an online comment disputing the story from someone who actually attended the presentation. And now an Opinion piece in the latest Gazette keeps the discussion going and the debate continuing on options for post-secondary education. 

by Ben Wedge
Opinions Contributor

Tuition prices are arguably the biggest worry on campus. With Dalhousie posting some of the highest tuition fees in Canada, it is becoming increasingly difficult for some students to pay the bills. As the Canadian population ages, and the economy contracts, it’s time to look at alternatives for the way post-secondary education is funded in Nova Scotia and across Canada. Charles Cirtwill, the executive vice-president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), a Halifax-based think-tank, was on campus Nov. 24 to talk about his ideas for alternatives.

An article by King’s Students’ Union president Kaley Kennedy in the Nov. 27 issue of The Gazette hammered away the opposite side of the debate. Kennedy claimed that Cirtwill advocates higher tuition fees, reductions in government funding to post-secondary education, increases in student debt and education only accessible to the rich. That’s simply not true.

Cirtwill did make mention of a model that involves higher tuition fees, caused by government de-regulation of the price of tuition. He explained to those present that the value of a post-secondary education is misrepresented by the artificial limit on demand that the current government subsidy creates.

According to Cirtwill’s data, when New Zealand and the United Kingdom ended government regulation of tuition fees, participation of minority groups and the poor in post-secondary education increased much faster than participation of the “privileged” class. Why? Because the government provided the same amount of subsidy it did before, but instead of paying a flat rate to subsidize everybody’s education, the children of affluent people paid full price for their education.

They don’t need a subsidy. Instead, the money was focused increasingly on those who did. So, while the sticker price of a post–secondary education goes up, the cost of education for the poorest of students actually goes down.

Cirtwill, the son of a coal stoker, paid his own way through three degrees at Dal and has been researching education for AIMS for more than 10 years.

Kennedy’s article tried to link the increase in tuition fees to a decrease in student enrolment. Noah Logan, a Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) Student Union executive, attended the question-and-answer session after Cirtwill’s presentation to ask about the presence of the phenomena of decreased enrolment in Canada.

Cirtwill answered the question by showing that the decline in enrolment might be caused by a decline in the number of university-aged students in Canada, but that the participation rate of these students has gone up.

Nova Scotia needs to improve how it uses its 17 post-secondary institutions to prepare students from all over the globe to work all over the globe. Although our institutions are trying, to some extent, they need to do more.

Cirtwill advocates an increase in the flexibility and availability of distance education. If universities offered more long-distance courses, students would be able to spend more time at home and less time in the city where the institution is based. In combination with greater scheduling flexibility, students could balance full-time jobs and an education, potentially reducing the time it takes to get a degree by a few months.

The greatest cost in getting education is not tuition. It’s not housing.

“The greatest cost of education is the money you could be earning instead of sitting in the classroom,” Cirtwill said during his presentation last term.

If we can get students through school and into jobs quicker, they will start earning money and paying taxes sooner, benefitting both themselves and the government. According to Cirtwill, those with post-secondary education will earn $500,000 more in their lifetimes than those with only high school diplomas.

AIMS advocates streamlined delivery of education and a fundamental shift in the way we view post-secondary education. We need to act now to reverse the decline in our population and shift the public funding of post–secondary education to those who truly need it.

Deregulating the tuition prices at Nova Scotia universities will result in an increase in the participation rate of minorities and the poorest groups in our society. Will this change arrive soon? Not soon enough.

“You live in Atlantic Canada. That’s the painful reality. We’re faced with a problem and we’re sticking our heads in the sand,” Cirtwill said.

We simply cannot afford to continue on the current path.

Ben Wedge is a first-year engineering student and a member of the Dal-King’s Conservatives, the group that hosted Cirtwill’s talk.