What it really means to fight the fees

Why fighting tuition fees is actually more of a problem than it is a solution


Ah yes, the “Fight the Fees” campaign is back. The All Out event this week was meant to tackle what we all complain about the most: tuition.

Tuition is interesting because it’s such a difficult topic to discuss without understanding the problems that are often associated with it. Tuition sucks. However, I believe that when we’re fighting the fees, we aren’t being specific in terms of what exactly we’re trying to fight. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never happy when I know that I need to drop $7,000 for university. I’m always questioning why my sociology courses are $600 each. On top of that, I’m required to purchase expensive textbooks. But I know I can’t complain because friends of mine in de-regulated programs are paying roughly between $13,000-$15,000 per year. And international students are paying upwards of $40,000-$60,000 a year. So my measly $7,000 is nothing compared to that. Do I believe that tuition should be lowered a bit? Of course. However, should university be free? Nope, and here’s why.

When we say we have to fight tuition, what part of tuition are we fighting? My problem right now is that when we claim to “Fight the Fees,” there’s a discourse that tuition is just one payment that only goes towards our classes.

Have we all actually looked at our invoices to understand that tuition isn’t just for classes? Are we fighting what we pay for classes? Or what we’re paying for the services that are provided to us?

The bulk of our tuition goes towards the price of classes, which is anything from $600 and more. Add that up and we’re paying quite a lot for these classes. I do understand that there is an opportunity to opt-out of the Drug Insurance Plan and the Dental Plan. However, that really saves me nothing in the grand scheme of things.

First things first, the RAWC or in other words, the swimming pool, the gymnasiums, the treadmills, the dumbbells, the weight-lifting areas, and the various classes that are held, are all things we pay for in our tuition. We also pay fees toward Hart House, which hosts student productions, a gym, the Arbour Room, a concert hall, and study areas. Health and Counselling—that’s definitely important for students who live on residence and may not have access to a doctor outside of campus. Many of us have access to healthcare options that help with anything from mental to physical health concerns. We pay fees towards student services. Things like the Career Center, AccessAbility, first-year transition programs, Diversity and Equity programs, International Student Resources, Leadership Programs, Multi-Faith programs that provide spaces for various religions, Quality Service to Students, which is a council that aims to improve the student experience at UTM, Student Affairs Administration, and study spaces throughout campus. I know for sure that many of us use these services in some capacity. We fund UTMAC as well, which provides opportunities for students to be involved in athletics. Your student newspaper, The Medium, which provides students with the opportunity to participate in real-world journalism. The beloved U-Pass (that we all so greatly appreciate), unless we live outside of Mississauga. We fund UTMSU and UTSU. The Drug Insurance Plan and the Dental Plan—useful for students who may not be under any insurance plans at home. We pay The Varsity, another journalism outlet for students. And last, both student-run radios are funded by us as well.

Okay so, now that I’ve bored you with the list of ancillary things that we pay for, let’s try to understand what potentially could happen if tuition was free.

I’ll preface this by saying that I understand that this encompasses only a portion of our tuition, however, it’s still a crucial part. The provincial government starts to fund universities across Ontario and what happens then? I believe that in some way, we lose most of (if not all of) these services. Or at the very least, the level of service we are provided with will now deplete due to a lack of funding. Things like the RAWC, our Student Services, UTMSU and UTSU, The Medium, and The Varsity can only survive if funded by the students who use these services.

My point is, if we’re going to campaign to fight the fees, then I need to be informed exactly what part of my fees we’re trying to eliminate. If we eliminate all of them, we could seriously be causing more harm than we think. Yes, the provincial government has cut their funding towards universities which resulted in an increase in our tuition, but why do we think universities increased it? Well, so that we don’t lose what UTM has already built. I realize this does get more complicated, and that what I mentioned is only a third of what we pay for. Nonetheless, we pay for it, and it’s a part of the tuition that we’re all fighting against.

University is a bubble. We’re all enclosed within it and have so much opportunity here to learn, to grow, to become a better person, and to have a good time. I think what’s happening right now is that we’re becoming too comfortable in this bubble. We forget that once we’re out of university, these services that we pay for are difficult to find. I don’t know about you, but I think the fact that we’re even offered all these opportunities is amazing. We’re completely taking it for granted and essentially implying that we’re entitled to these services, so it should just be given to us for free. How often is it that you’re going to find a service in the workplace that is solely designed to help their employees that may have any health problems, especially mental health, which is only now being realized as a legitimate problem that students are facing? What we’re given here is not going to be as easily offered to us outside of this bubble that we’ve become so complacent in.

Tuition is not the only reason there are massive amounts of students with student debt. Just like anything else in this world, we forget that any problem we face is the cause of many factors. What are we all told when we reach the end of high school and are about to graduate? Whether it be by our parents, our friends, our teachers, or our mentors: “You need to get a university degree, otherwise you’ll never be successful.”  If we’re all being fed this lie, then it isn’t a surprise that there’s a giant influx of enrolment in universities.  We’re always being told our lives depend on the degrees we’re getting, even though it’s been proven that university degrees are not the only way to be successful in life. We all still go because we know that if we don’t, we disappoint someone.

Education is definitely a right. We all have the right to learn and to enhance our knowledge. However, what we’re implying in the context of university is that university is the only source to gain that knowledge. We’re still feeding into the stigma that university is the only way you’re going to get a job in life, otherwise you’ll never succeed. You can learn and succeed in life without stepping foot into a post-secondary institution. We need to realize that when we graduate from university, we’re leaving the bubble that we’ve become so accustomed to. And once we’re out, almost all of us realize that the fields we studied so hard to get into aren’t taking us in immediately. It takes quite some time for us to get into the field of the degree we pursued. So how can we claim that education is a right solely for the purpose of gaining a job? Education shouldn’t be a right so that we can work, education should be a right for the sole purpose of wanting to learn, to enhance our knowledge so that we can do good things in our life. University shouldn’t be underlined as the only means in which learning takes place. Education isn’t limited to a classroom. Education should be a path we embark on for the sake of learning, not for the sake of getting a job.

In the “free tuition” argument, there is this constant desire to compare North America to various European countries who have adopted the free tuition model. However, what’s missing in this comparison? Well, first of all, the fact that Europe operates on a different economic system than North America. So maybe they’re able to offer free tuition to students because their economic system allows them to. Our country currently has more people than there are jobs, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that undergraduate students graduating with a bachelor’s degree aren’t immediately being offered top-notch jobs. It’s unfair to sit here and constantly bring up countries like Germany, Denmark, and Finland without understanding why they adopted the free tuition model. It takes more than protesting students; it comes down to the way in which their economic system works, how it contrasts to ours, and if the means to offer free tuition are there.

What I’m trying to get at by writing this is that there is so much that’s being ignored. If we’re going to “Fight the Fees,” tell me what part of tuition we’re actually trying to fight? The classes or the services that we forget we pay for as well? If we’re going to “Fight the Fees,” then I think there should be an explanation of all the factors that lead to debt after graduating. Tuition should not be blamed as the sole problem. If universities were free, then we would lose a lot. Just look around you. How else do you think we can have top-notch technology, the best research labs, our food court in Davis, the gym, and so much more? Fighting the fees because you feel that your education should just be given to you is not a valid reason to eliminate tuition.

You seriously want to eliminate tuition? Then understand the consequences we will face, the resources we will lose, and the opportunities we will miss out on if we keep fighting the fees.

Mahmoud Sarouji
Managing Editor