Taxpayer Federation Gets Tuition Hikes Wrong

A friend alerted me to an article in this week's Hudson's Bay Post Review by Lee Harding, executive director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Saskatchewan branch, about hikes in tuition at Saskatchewan universities.

The thesis of Harding's article is that students shouldn't blame governments for rising tuition. As Harding puts it:

"For the first time in five years, there will be a tuition increase at Saskatchewan universities. Doubtless, many students will complain that if only the government increased funding their tuition wouldn’t have to rise. Whatever the problems of universities are, inadequate government funding is the last place blame can be laid."

The newspaper paper doesn't appear to have a website but Harding's article, which was actually written a couple weeks ago, is posted here on the CTF website (rural Saskatchewan papers run CTF columns because, one presumes, they're free).

Well, here's a surprise--I disagree with Harding's opinion.

In his article, Harding says, "Like much of the public sector, leaning on the government for ever-increasing dollars has become as much a preoccupation as its reason for existence—in this case, education." (Well, I'm sure the public sector loves you too, Harding.)

From there, he argues that the U of S has lots of lobbyists (which means...what?), that it has an allegedly gigantic workforce, that tuition is already sufficiently subsidized by taxpayers and that there are millions of public dollars flowing into the university anyway.

Some of that is just slime-tossing (universities overstaffed? Says who?), but regardless I don't get Harding's point. How should universities keep tuition down? Should campus worker pay be slashed (violating negotiated contracts?) Should workers be laid off? Should pensions be rolled back? Should professor salary be chopped? Should capital projects be cancelled? Should universities cancel research? Should departments be closed? What?

Harding doesn't say he supports these measures, but since tuition hikes, in his view, aren't caused by underfunding, you have to suspect he does.

"The bottom line is that taxpayers are doing more for universities than ever," says Harding. "Students angry about a tuition increase would do well to remember this. If they have anyone to blame, it’s those running their school of choice."

No, Lee--the bottom line is that students are paying more for university than ever and it's stupid and evil.

Other countries fund their universities more generously and have cheaper (or free) tuition. And we're seeing the results--according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, as of 2007 our country was in the lower half of OECD countries when it comes to proportion of young adults enrolled--which is the telling statistic.

(The AUCC says Canada only had 23 per cent enrolment, against an OECD median of 26 per cent and a high of 37 per cent in South Korea. This ranks Canada at 18 out of 27--the bottom third. In the early 80s, we were number two. Source: Trends In Higher Education Vol. 1: Enrolment, 2007.)

You're trying to tell me high tuition--which has roughly tripled in the past 20 years--isn't the reason more students are avoiding university?

In Canada, starting with the Mulroney government in the 80s, we've moved away from generous public funding of universities (and, um, everything) and toward a culture of tax-bitching and spending cuts--and the result is a more expensive country to live in with a steadily growing gap between rich and poor.

Universities are just one area that got hit by this shift, which was never voter-directed but politician-imposed.

There is ALWAYS a need for criticism of public spending. But there's a difference between useful criticism--which someone like Canada's auditor general does annually, and which the media ideally would be doing a better job of--and flat-out attacks on the public sector, which the CTF is into.

If Saskatchewan's CTF branch--which has in the past criticized public sector involvement in health care, libraries, schools, the arts, the rumoured Rider stadium and rural bus service, among other things--wants to help Sask students, they need to ditch the tax-fetish and call for adequate funding so tuition can be lowered to a level students can afford without destroying their finances for a decade or more.

If a province cares about having an educated population, it funds its universities adequately so that tuition will be affordable. It it doesn't, well, then its real priorities are revealed.

Like a smart businessman once told me, money talks, bullshit walks.

Pedal Power

June 18 from 4-7:30 p.m. the city's holding an open house at the Cathedral Neighbourhood Centre to discuss plans to create an east-west bikeway on 15th Ave. that would link up with existing north-south paths on Smith and Lorne to assist cyclists in travelling to and from the downtown.

Six in the Morning

1. OPPOSITION CALLS FOR MORE PROTESTS IN IRAN: Despite crackdowns on dissenters, foreign journalists and the internet, Iran's opposition party leader, Hossein Mousavi, calls for more protest. In a show of solidarity, Iranian soccer players take to the field wearing green (the opposition party's campaign colour). The Guardian is liveblogging developments. (Guardian)

2. WHITE HOUSE KEEPS IRANIAN OPPOSITION TWITTERING: According to the Guardian, the Obama administration asked the Twitter website to hold off on a planned maintenance shutdown so that Iranian protesters could continue to use the social networking service to organize their protests. (Guardian)

3. LIBERALS COWED BY CORPORATE BACKERS SAYS RAITT: Obsessed like teenage boys by Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt's use of the word "sexy," journalists apparently failed to notice other comments by her on the same tape about how the Liberals supported the Conservative budget because corporate backers threatened to cut off support to the indebted party if they didn't. Linda McQuaig has the skinny over on rabble where she wonders aloud about who's calling the shots in the Liberal party. Speaking of which....

4. STEVE AND IGGY MAKE NICE: Hopes for a summer election have dimmed considerably after meetings between the PM and Leader of the Opposition. Liberal leader Ignatieff didn't get Harper to commit to EI reform, though. The two have only agreed to study the possibility of maybe having some kind of such reform sorta. So.... they've delayed an election by delaying EI reform? Way to make this corpse of a parliament lurch about like a zombie. Thanks for that. (Globe and Mail)

5. CONWAY QUITS SCHOOL BOARD: We ran his press release last night -- which is a long but important read -- but the Leader Post is also reporting on popular school trustee (and prairie dog columnist) John Conway's decision to not run for another term on the school board. (Leader Post)

6. PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON WASTE TO BEGIN SOON: The consultant's final report on Waste Plan Regina went before the Public Works committee Tuesday. Once it gets past council Monday (which it likely will), that'll lay the ground work for a public consultation on the plan late this fall. Councillor Clipsham hopes to see the city's waste plan become an election issue. (Leader Post)