Under current frameworks existing in both the US and Canada assumptions of meritocracy are
used to justify the acquisition of student debt. However, deconstructing these narratives reveals the
problematic underlying classist and prejudiced barriers that await for less privileged youth. The average annual cost for post-secondary education including transport, tuition, and living in Canada was $19, 498.75 in 2018 (Brown, 2018). Outdated ideals suggesting students are able to pay for such costs with humble work are truly divorced from the material conditions of the average student. To afford a post secondary education a student would have to work 28.8 hours a week earning just $13 an hour.
Post secondary education is evidently a key factor in developing a nation’s economy and human
capital. To keep up with the continuous rautomation of labour, skilled work is becoming increasingly
valuable in the workforce. However, inequalities in access to education deepen national wealth gaps and limit an individual’s freedom of choice.
The annual cost of subsidizing the tuition for every citizen and foreign student within Canada is
estimated to be $1.3 billion annually (Montreal Economic Institute, 2018). These numbers may seem
intangible upon first glance however in relativity to the resources of federal governments, $1.3 billion is just 0.00776% of Canada’s GDP.
Let’s talk about scholarships. While scholarships may subsidize the cost of education for some
students, the means to be eligible for such awards are in many ways inaccessible to those with learning disabilities, limited economic means or extra-familial commitments. Many scholarships require community service, in the form of volunteerism, a criterion that becomes considerably difficult to achieve when burdened with the responsibilities of work or economic instability. Further, athletic scholarships on the merits of sportsmanship are systemically built to favor those with the economic means to afford competitive teams, competent coaching and the opportunity to compete beyond local arenas. Therefore it can be derived that in many cases these scholarships, constructed to determine a students contributions, may be a better reflection of the students monetary resources rather than their character value.
Additionally, the scholarship system allows for private institutions to dictate a student’s value on
the mere basis of a grades report and an essay. While essays may be a good indicator of a student’s values, there are still continuous barriers for those who are English language learners or struggle with written communication. School marks are similarly impacted by these same caveats, as research continuously proves that wealthier students have more time, better access to academic tutors and increased family support. The expectation that children should work throughout their youth to tackle insidious community issues is preposterous. If a student is expected to dedicate their childhood, while studying, to the continuous pursuit of communal improvement, the responsibility of governments to resolve community issues is shifted. The increasingly competitive arena for scholarships devalues the worth of the vast majority of high school students and further erodes their mental and emotional wellness.
Those deprived of a post secondary education due to financial barriers face a great injustice often
unspoken. However, subsidizing the cost of tuition for Canadian student’s is an investment in the future and a commitment to equitable solutions for vulnerable populations. Many countries across the world offer free post-secondary education to their citizens, from Ecuador to Finland. Though these countries have varying economic means and positions on the political spectrum they have pioneered and proved the success of implementing free education. To align with national values preached by the Canadian government it only seems a natural progression that post-secondary education is adopted into the socioeconomic framework to truly allow students freedom of opportunity and choice.
Iliana is a grade twelve student from Calgary, Canada. She was a member of IYAB last term and is very excited to be back as Co-Chair for this year. Iliana is an avid volunteer with YVC and is a member of her local YVC Steering Committee. A licensed swim instructor, Iliana volunteers in the pool on weekends. She hopes to return to her work with Calgary Recreation in the fall where she supports an afterschool program. In her free time Iliana likes to avoid homework, get bubble tea and ski.
Brown, Mark. “The Cost of a Canadian University Education in Six Charts.” Macleans.Ca, 17
Foley, Hugh Mackenzie Kelly. “Should Post-Secondary Education Be Free?” Alberta Views – The
Magazine for Engaged Citizens, 1 Sept. 2020,
Montreal Economic Institute. “Higher Education: ‘Free’ Tuition Would Cost $1.3 Billion.”
CISSION, 23 Aug. 2018,