letter to Vancouver Sun

I wrote a letter to the Sun in response to an article by Nimmi Takkar, representing Canadian post-secondary┬ástudents, concerned with the usual in September: tuition, and student debt-load. The Sun edited my letter, and what remained was a very brief sessional-gripe…so here it is in entirety:

I am in agreement with Nimmi Takkar in her concern that tuition can be a roadblock for lower-income students.

However, as an ex-sessional faculty member, I feel a need to point to another side, one that students do not often think of–one of which, for the most part, they are unaware.

When I left sessional life two years ago, there was a total of 654 sessional employees in my institution, many teaching full-time, most too busy to do research and activities that might propel them to another job elsewhere. These sessionals make approximately 36,000 per year, and my guess is that most students like to think their annual salary will be a touch more than that post graduation. True, the sessional employee works 8 months of the year (interestingly, the exact same number of weeks that a public school teacher works) but if they are at all conscientious of the demands of their work, their hours extend well past the 30th of April. When these institutions can actually afford to pay for the teachers who are currently teaching, then perhaps we can revisit tuition.

What needs to change and will affect student well-being: cost of living. This is where the real debt comes from. There should be some partnerships in terms of housing and simple grocery shopping. This really needs to be brought to the table. The U-pass, for instance, is brilliant, and I’m pleased to see it extended to other institutions. Can we do more in this direction?

With a global view, Canadian tuition is still some of the lowest in the world, and basic first year research skills should allow anyone to discover that in parts of the world where tuition is low or nonexistent, there is a connection between that and the number of placements in the institutions…which also quite effectively raises roadblocks for those with low-income. You don’t need to think too far to realize that when a young person might have to hold a job to help with familial basics, it affects their GPA…and if there are fewer seats in an institution, the level of acceptable GPA rises, and those who must work suffer–again. Too often, it is the young people who have had to be resourceful who bring the most to their studies in terms of creativity and mental strength. We need to see more of these young people in the classroom, and more support for them…not just those who can learn to re-package teachers’ words and who have parent-resources to spend hours at homework. For some, hours at homework is a luxury.

Bursaries can make a significant difference in such a young person’s life (or older person, returning). Bursaries–not scholarships–are a means to recognize that resourceful quality and work ethic and creativity. Bursaries are an equalizing force in a world in which true equality is still not where it should be.