Opinion: Germany’s axing tuition fees highlights Canada’s soaring costs

“Tuition fees are socially unjust,” says Dorothee Stapelfeldt, president of the Hamburg parliament. Such a sentiment is shared by many Germans, but is evidently not as common among Canadian officials.

As of Oct. 1, all German universities are tuition free. When the German state of Lower Saxton became the final state to ban tuition fees, it effectively ended the country’s eight-year experiment with paid tuition. The decision was made in response to intense public outcry that began when Germany first lifted its ban on tuition fees in 2006, a decision that was largely unpopular. Germany is now once again one of several countries to offer higher education to their citizens without the financial burdens that come with it.

Meanwhile, here in Canada tuition fees are the highest they’ve ever been. Last September, CBC reported that average fees have risen to $6,348 from $1,464 in 1990 and are only expected to get higher over the coming years. This is driving up the rate of student debt barring some from higher education. Not surprisingly, students in Canada are seeing headlines about free tuition in Germany and wondering why they have to put themselves in debt to put themselves through school.

The full elimination of post secondary tuition fees in Canada may not necessarily be the solution (or even possible) but the numbers make it clear that the soaring cost of education in this country needs to be addressed.

Part of the reason for high tuition costs stems from insufficient provincial funding. Canada currently has no nationwide policy covering post secondary funding, which has lead to drastic differences in funding from province to province. In those provinces where post-secondary funding is low, the cost to students is correspondingly higher.

With the cost of tuition in Canada on the rise, one might assume that quality of the education offered is rising as well. In truth, the reputation of a Canadian education has taken a hit in recent years. The three Canadian schools to make the Times higher Education World Reputation Rankings have all fallen down the list. Instructors are being paid less on average while students are increasingly being taught by part-timers. In contrast, tuition-free German universities have constantly risen in the rankings.

The prevailing attitude towards tuition fees in Germany is that they take education out of the hands of those who are economically disadvantaged, leading to more unemployment in income inequality. “[Tuition fees] particularly discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up studies,” said Stapelfeldt.

In Canada, the income gap is widening as education gets more and more expensive. Students leaving school are increasingly doing so with massive debt which hampers economic growth.

Germany has made the decision to invest in the education of its people. Canada has placed that burden on students. Time may tell that not investing in the education of our workforce was a costly mistake in the long run.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is a student journalist at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He is also a regular contributor to the Runner, KPU's student publication.

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