Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No wonder students are considered ingrates

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A Winnipeg Free Press editorial was critical of university students who demonstrated at the legislature against rising fees last month, arguing that they "offered harsh proof of how self-centred, how self-entitled, some university students now feel." At the risk of inviting the wrath of my fellow students, I would have to say that I agree!

After the demonstration, the students went to the University of Winnipeg to protest a Board of Regents meeting where fees were being increased. Canadian students at all Manitoba universities will now see a $100 rise in ancillary fees, and international students will see tuition rise between 35 and 80 per cent. Similar to Canadians studying abroad, international students -- who are not covered under the tuition freeze -- were already paying substantially more.

Regardless of how much fees rise ($100, $500, $1,000) and no matter how much universities need the cash, there are always those who will claim they are being robbed. It does not matter that leaky roofs loom large over their heads in overcrowded classrooms so long as they have their disposable income to spend on clubbing and iPods.

Student unions, which led the demonstration at the legislature, have no sense of reality; they appear to actually believe that they stand up for the underprivileged in the fight against rising fees. They fail to recognize that, in reality, universities only serve a "privileged" minority.

Yes, it is true, students from upper income families are twice as likely to attend university than others, but lowering tuition will not change these demographics.

According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report, children from lower and middle-income families were no more and no less likely to attend university during the period between 1993 and 2001, when tuition rose by 77 per cent. A similar Statistics Canada report released in 2003 that studied the period 1980-2000 added that drop out rates have not changed in any statistically significant way.

The 2005 report suggested that students whose parents attended university were more likely to attend themselves. Given that university grads typically earn more, this conclusion explains why university students often come from upper income families. When the report accounted for both "parental education and parental income," it was parental education that was the deciding factor, not the level of income.

The logical explanation is that it is one's environment and upbringing that play the greatest roles in decisions to attend university, not a $500 discount. It is not hard to imagine children whose parents have degrees being socialized to assume that attending university is simply what one does after high school. It is also not difficult to imagine parents who did not attend university, raising their children with different views and different goals.

Just because some become plumbers instead of doctors does not mean that they are underprivileged, or that they would go to university if tuition were lowered. To suggest otherwise is nothing short of crass elitism on the part of the university educated.

Cost is only one factor of many -- if it is indeed a factor. Socialization is the principle motivator.

The increase in enrollment across the country over the past several years is likely attributable to the Echo Boom generation -- the children of the baby boomers -- reaching adulthood. University participation rates for Canadian adults have remained relatively static since at least the early 1990s, hovering around 15 per cent.

If Manitoba universities are indeed more accessible, it is not so much the low cost, but the low academic standards for getting in. The U of M still admits students with high school averages of around 60 per cent.

With or without the tuition freeze, university education is highly subsidized. It is the vast majority of taxpaying Canadians that never enroll in our institutions of higher learning that get stuck with the bulk of the bill. All the while, the sons and daughters of the Mandarin class that roam the halls of the Ivory Tower whine bitterly about a $100 fee increase.

Universities are filled with many who have been indoctrinated with the self-righteous belief that it is their mission as "intellectuals" to coddle and cajole the working class. However, when it comes to tuition policy, they are fighting for their interests alone.

It is no wonder then that many Manitobans now see university students as "ingrates."

Carson Jerema is the editor in chief of The Manitoban student newspaper.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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