Prof says make it free

Student debt looms over many Canadians – but according to a UBC Okanagan professor, higher education should be free for all.

Assistant Prof. Christopher Martin has concluded that borrowing money unfairly narrows a student’s choice while in school.

Martin's research focuses on educational equality and social justice.

He recently attended a debate in London, England, where educators discussed whether western democracies have an obligation to better fund post-secondary education. There the UBCO professor proposed higher education should be viewed as an essential service, and, therefore, free for all.

“An entire generation of liberal democratic citizens is now burdened with worrying levels of debt,” said Martin. “Debt-financed higher education puts an unreasonable burden on citizens, restricting the kind of life they can pursue.”

He argued high levels of student debt are incompatible with the basic aim of higher education, "which is to provide students with the knowledge and understanding they need to feel successful in life."

According to Statistics Canada, at the time of graduation, 43 per cent of college students, 50 per cent of bachelor students, 44 per cent of master’s students and 41 per cent of doctorate students relied on government or non-government student loans to fund their education. Other sources of funding included private, family and bank loans to finance their education.

“Higher education should be available to all because it is necessary to live a good life and move society forward,” he said. “It is unjust because students who are well off don’t face the same kinds of constraints around educational choices as someone who borrows money in order to go to school.”

Of those who graduated in 2009-2010, the average student debt included $14,900 for college students, $26,000 for bachelor and master’s students and $41,000 for doctorate students at the time of graduation.

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