Level of study: Final year honours, not completed
Why I support a tuition freeze: Tuition hikes put profit over people, and we must fight to have the right to education.
I am a domestic ex-student at Simon Fraser University who was pursuing an undergrad English degree and writing my honours thesis when I dropped out. I dropped out during what was going to be either my second-to-last or last draft of my thesis.
I see questions in the eyes of almost everyone I have ever told that I dropped out of my undergrad. Even more questions when I tell them that I dropped out near the completion of my honours thesis. Some, mostly people who I organize with, understood and fully respected, even supported, my decision. It was one of the most difficult decisions of my life, but now I know that I don’t regret it.
I did not pay tuition out of pocket during the first year and a half of my undergrad. Excluding textbooks and class materials (as well as other expenses people usually write off as practically luxuries for students, like food), my tuition was paid for with the scholarships and grants I received after graduating from high school. The condition was that I take full course loads for every semester of the year, and that I be enrolled for at least 2 semesters per year. I lost my scholarships when I became severely mentally ill and could no longer attend classes full time.
The possibility of taking out students loans, having them accumulate interest post-graduation, and spending much of my life paying that debt back was a heavy mental (and now material) burden for me and my family
Had I not received scholarships or grants, me and my working class family wouldn’t have been able to pay for tuition. The possibility of taking out students loans, having them accumulate interest post-graduation, and spending much of my life paying that debt back was a heavy mental (and now material) burden for me and my family. My tuition each semester after my first year increased, and at that point I was already taking out loans to pay for it.
Tuition is already ludicrously and unjustifiably expensive. It was expensive when I was a student, and it is set to become increasingly worse. Tuition hikes would only make education harder to attain, and therefore harder for people to search for jobs that will support them in this increasingly and unsustainably expensive city. The possibility of taking out loans is no justification for a tuition raise, since these loans follow graduates for many years following their degree, and job seekers are in an increasingly precarious position (not to mention a trend of unpaid internships, contractualization, and stagnant wages.) This proposal sends the message that education is prioritized for those with money or (partly in my case) for those who can endure the unbelievable pressures (read: barriers) of keeping scholarships and grants.
At SFU (as would be the case in any academic institution under capitalism), I was a thing to generate profit continuously for someone else
Not only was I suffering mental illness and the burden of loans and debt, I was also becoming increasingly disillusioned with academia after having so much faith in it before. The neoliberal policies of the administration are evident in but not only in its proposed tuition raises. There was and still is a general push in the Liberal Arts departments to structure our education according to the needs of the locally flourishing tech and culture industries. At SFU (as would be the case in any academic institution under capitalism), I was a thing to generate profit continuously for someone else–profit through tuition, through loan debt, through my work in whatever industry they hoped I would enter.
My decision to drop out was not only because I couldn’t mentally or financially afford to keep going. It was also because I knew I was needed–and would be happier–elsewhere. My thesis, as much of a jumbled mess that it became, was an investigation on community-produced spaces, art-gentrification, and the solidifying of public-private boundaries by capital, settler-colonialism, and urban planning. My investigation remained incomplete during my thesis, because I brought it outside to my community and the people I work with, where it is being realized by our collective actions and struggles. I say this because it is fundamental to the building of true people power in this city that students fight against the systems that keep them from receiving the education that they need. These same systems reproduce settler-colonialism (which includes barring Indigenous people from all levels of education and generating profit through institutions on stolen and unceded land) and the widespread and growing unaffordability of living for working class and poor people in the city.
“W” being erected at Vancouver’s Woodwards Center. Downtown Vancouver has become one of the formost examples of gentrification in BC. Source: Museum of Vancouver.
I stand in solidarity with the student organizers at SFU as an ex-student. These tuition hikes put profit over people, and students have the capacity to organize, mobilize, and act against this proposal. If education is not treated as a right by the state and its institutions, if it is withheld from us, then we must take it back!