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OPINION: Canada, It’s Time to Erase Student Debt

Student loans are a hemorrhage in our nation’s economy. It’s the hole in the hull of this country, sinking more generations deeper into the great maelstrom of debt.

We are beyond any debate that a college or university education has become the most basic level of education in Canada. It is without question. Even entry-level positions are phasing out the minimum requirement of a high school education for a post-secondary certificate or diploma. 

In doing that, we’ve encouraged our youth to get educated at an absurd cost: an average student debt of $26,000 from federal, provincial and private loans. It’s debt that burdens close to 750,000 Canadians of the approximately 1.7 million students at Canadian universities.

For 750,000 burdened Canadians, 45 per cent of total students, that’s almost $20 billion in student debt.

OPINION: Canada, It’s Time to Erase Student Debt

The federal government has taken steps to soften the blow of student loans, requiring students to make $25,000 a year before they have to pay back their Canada Student Loan. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this doesn’t include interest payments.

The dire situation is only going to get worse. Canadian students are, in essence, prostituting themselves to cover their debts. 

Seeking Arrangements is a “dating” website that allows students to sign up with their campus email to meet an older “sugar daddy” or perhaps “sugar momma.” Your son or daughter will get “perks” for being someone’s “sugar baby.” The arrangement they make doesn’t need an explanation here. You get the gist.

Also, as a student, you’re told to take anything and every internship you can get. If companies pay, then fair enough. But that’s typically not how it goes. Most ask for free labour, inviting students to lend themselves and their time and skills for free. It’s the greatest exercise in exploitation in this country.

Universities encourage it as if it’s a necessary evil — by allowing organizations to demand free labour and selling the experience as valuable to their education. Universities need to stop treating their students like fodder for free labour and start demanding paid internships for their struggling students.

The NDP have argued before that unpaid internships only further the divide of income inequality. Wealthy students can take on unpaid positions at home, across the country or abroad with the familial safety net. Students from low-income families cannot afford even to attempt it. 

OPINION: Canada, It’s Time to Erase Student Debt

On top of all this, the average Canadian professor makes around $86,000 a year, according to Canadian Business earning just a bit more than the average Canadian family income of roughly $80,000.

In the case of Ontario, tuition hikes continue, federal and provincial loans and interest rates skyrocket and professor raises continue to grow, as they have, every year for the last 20 years.

Some associate professors pocket well into the six-figure range, according to Ontario’s Sunshine List of public employees, with an average salary of $138,000. It’s a figure that has universities competing with Ontario municipalities for the highest paying employers in the province.

It’s a venomous cycle that sees students get further in debt while professors take ridiculous pay hikes.

If there’s a possibility to rehaul the current education system, it’s certainly long overdue. Slashing obscene professor and administration salaries and allow the universities to roll back tuition prices would be a start.

Next, is forgiving all debt from students with a completed college or university degree. Close to 500,000 students graduate every year, and if we presume 45 per cent of those have student loans, that would cost taxpayers 5.85 billion per year. That’s 0.25 per cent of Canada’s GDP budget a quarter of Canada’s defence spending. 

It’s time to stop leaving the country’s future in the dark.