Thursday, May 15, 2008

Baby boomers need to take responsibility for new graduates’ angst

A recent study out of the University of Alberta[1] shows that students experience depression and angst up to seven years after they graduate from university. While this is a serious issue that should receive more attention, responsibility of this problem should not be laid at the feet of youth and students. For example, the Globe and Mail completely ignores massive student debt and lower wages than their parents, as an obvious source of this depression and frustration.

Instead, Globe author Tralee Pearce points to children returning to their parents’ home as the reason for high levels of depression—as if young people hate their parents that badly. Common sense would suggest that economic factors are the real force sending young graduates home to their parents. As a result of this omission, the Globe’s underlying thesis is that parents must exercise tough love, and evict their “boomerang” kids before depression sets in. Make no mistake, this is generational warfare. Baby Boomers paid a fraction of what students today are forced to pay for an education. It’s unsurprising that unprecedented debt levels might be causing new graduates’ angst.

In addition to the need for more research, the Baby Boomer generation must take responsibility for advocating tax cuts over reducing the costs of post-secondary education. Most importantly, attention needs to be paid to the lower starting salaries, fewer job prospects and high debt levels that recent graduates face. This will be the only way that we can have honest debate on the source of their new graduates' angst and growing feelings of dispossession.

[1]Galambos, & Krahn, H. J. 2008. Depression and anger trajectories during the transition to adulthood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 70, 15-27

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The most ominous sounding research project goes to…

The University of Guelph, one of Ontario’s pre-eminent destinations for naturalists, announced that it was the recipient of $25 million from China to fund the “International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Project”. Despite the University’s best efforts to tout its importance, this might not broadcast the kind of PR image that the University of Guelph wants to be saddled with.

Newsflash: Campbell didn’t get that big red nose from a clown shop

Community Colleges have a historic niche in Canada’s post-secondary education system. Not only do they help extend the participation of students from geographically diverse regions, but they are a relatively inexpensive alternative to university. Colleges also offer a range of practical training from technical to trades to general arts and science. British Columbia’s rich credit transfer system enhances the usefulness of the college sector by allowing students to chart a route from college into a university program with the minimum number of “wasted credits”, saving students in that province both time and money. Students in other provinces, particularly in Ontario, use the B.C. system to illustrate a transfer credit system that works, which should be the model for reform.

It is with this in mind that people may speculate that Campbell’s sudden move to assign university status to five provincial colleges was made in a similar state of mind as that which got him in trouble in Hawaii.

The Vancouver Sun likens Campbell’s bestowing of university status to Kwantlen, Malaspina, UCFV, Capilano and Emily Carr as "…a clown passing out balloons at a birthday party”, which may “…deflate the brand of B.C.'s highly regarded universities and specialized colleges."

Meanwhile, to facilitate this metamorphosis, the province is redirecting funding in the opposite direction; transferring $16 million from universities to colleges. Expect a big push to increase tuition fees at B.C.’s newest universities.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Canada's pitch to international students

On May 7, the Borneo Bulletin Online reported that Canada has unveiled a campaign to attract international students from Brunei. In case you weren’t sure, Brunei is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia.

Leopold Battel, Canada’s High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, was quoted in the Borneo Bulletin saying, “Everyday, international students turn to Canada as a source of knowledge, innovation and creativity as Canadian universities and colleges offer a wide choice of quality programmes that meet the interest of Asian students, and also because the tuition fees and cost of living in Canada are among the lowest in the world.”

What is Battel measuring Canada against? Australia? New Zealand? The United States? Compared to almost anywhere else in the world, particularly in Europe, where some countries’ tuition fees are zero for domestic students and international students receive full scholarships, Canada’s fees are relatively high for both domestic and international students.

The dirty little secret is that Canada’s apparent benevolence in reaching out to young scholars abroad is that these students and their families are used by our institutions to subsidise our under-funded post-secondary education system. The more international students at an institution, the more money an institution gets.
The Borneo Bulletin Online also refers to Canada’s decision to allow international students to gain employment after graduation easier. The article reported this:
“Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley recently announced that international students can now gain valuable work experience through off-campus employment, resulting in the ability to obtain an open work permit under the post-graduation Work Permit Programme, with no restrictions on the type of employment and no requirement for a job offer. The work permit has been extended to three years across the country and this would provide international students with more opportunities for Canadian work experience and skills development.”
While this is a significant victory for international students in Canada, we should be clear that this is part of international advertising campaigns designed to allow Canada’s colleges and universities to reap the financial benefits of unregulated tuition fees for these students. At most institutions, this can mean three times higher than domestic students.

Apart from the continued fight for lower tuition fees for international students, Ontario students’ unions and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario are gearing up for another fight for international students’ rights. Students are demanding that international students be moved back onto the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). OHIP covers hospital visits and basic medical care. In 1994, Bob Rae kicked international students off of OHIP and forced them to access a private insurance plan—UHIP.

UHIP can cost as much as $800 per student and doesn’t deliver access to the same quality of care as OHIP. Students are often denied medical care if they cannot pay upfront. If they do pay upfront, they can usually expect to have only 65 percent of their costs covered. Of course, this is not inclusive of the additional health and dental insurance he or she needs to purchase from their students’ union, which can be another cost of $150-$300.

This is the way I see it: OHIP is paid for through taxes. International students pay taxes just like everyone else. In fact according to the often-cited Asia Pacific Foundation 2004 study, International students contribute nearly $4 billion to Canada’s economy, excluding their much-higher-than-average tuition fees. So why aren’t they covered by the public Medicare system? Denying this to international students is wrong and needs to be fixed by the Ontario government. Maybe Battel’s pitch to would-be international students from Brunei wouldn’t be so outrageous if we are only referring to provinces like Manitoba, where no extra health care fees are levied, rather than Ontario.

While it might be too much to expect our decision-makers to understand that universal healthcare and access to education is important in its own right, let us hope at the very least that they will be compelled to reduce financial barriers in order to make Canada a competitive destination for international students.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Ontario Liberals Launch Another Website

Last week, Minister of Child and Youth Services Deb Matthews followed in the footsteps of former Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Chris Bentley when she announced a website as a key tool to confront a major social problem. Matthews is charged with combating the growing poverty in Ontario. Her outreach campaign, however, is invite-only. For those individuals and communities who are experiencing poverty first-hand and would rightly expect to participate in a dialog on the matter, their input will only be accepted through a website—assuming they have access to a computer.

While the reduced number of quality, unionized jobs is one of the main problems for the decline in Ontario’s workers’ purchasing power, many of Ontario’s youth and students are citing mounting tuition-fee related debt as the main financial problem they have to contend with. So far, the ruling Ontario Liberals have failed both groups. Workers looking to organize their workplace were dealt a blow when the Liberals teamed up with the Progressive Conservatives in a May Day vote that maintained Mike Harris’ legislation that made it more difficult to form a workplace union. And since the brief 2004-2006 tuition fee freeze, students have seen their fees jump at rates which haven’t been seen since Mike Harris was in power.

As mentioned, Chris Bentley’s answers to criticism around the elimination of the tuition fee freeze was to set up a website (an “access portal”) that reviewed how deep in debt Ontario students could get into through OSAP. I should mention, however, that the media stunt created to launch this new website, was successfully disrupted by students. They called the stunt a sham, and provided the reasonable criticism that a website would not, in any way, provide greater access to post-secondary education. Their arguments were good enough to have the high school students in attendance to come on side and challenge the government.

For his PR move, Bentley was promoted to Attorney General. One is left to wonder what Deb Matthews’ reward will be for helping her party side-step Ontario’s mounting poverty crisis. At any rate, the people of Ontario should brace themselves for more poverty and a greater divide between rich and poor.