The Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students—CFS-NS—is joining in the Canada-wide day of action for free and universal access to university education on Wednesday, Nov. 8. At 11am, students and supporters will convene at Grand Parade in Halifax as a part of the “Fight the Fees” campaign organized by the national student grounp. They will march from Grand Parade down to Province House on Hollis Street, demanding change at a provincial level.
Yellow!! The day if action is in just over a week. Take to the streets. Demand better. Free education for all!♬ Swear By It - Chris Alan Lee
Students from six local students' unions will join their peers across the country in demanding "free and universal access to post-secondary education," as a CFS-NS media release about the day of action says. "In Halifax, students will be rallying downtown to call on the provincial and federal governments to reinvest in post-secondary education. Students are demanding:
- Free and accessible post-secondary education—Nova Scotia students are currently paying the highest tuition fees in the country. Education is a right and should be barrier free.
- Grants not loans—in July 2020, the total amount of student loans owed to the federal government surpassed $22.3 billion. Students need more accessible grants and all loans should be converted into non-repayable grants.
- Education justice—Everyone must be given an equal opportunity to access post-secondary education. This looks like fairness for international students, honouring Indigenous leaders' right to education, increased funding for graduate students, and supporting students with disabilities."
"The big thing that I hear is that people tend to think that the way our universities are run now is the only way that they could be run, which is that they're partly publicly funded but they also depend heavily on tuition," says King's Students' Union president Sara MacCallum. "And there's this idea that it has to be that way, which I don't think is true."
According to King's financial statements for the year ending March 31, 2023, the school received about $8.5 million in provincial grants and $8.6 million in "student academic fees," also known as tuition. The next largest revenue item on the $25 million budget is $2 million of investment income, suggesting student fees are a significant revenue stream for the university that would have to be found elsewhere if tuition was free.
Says MacCallum: "The thing about free education is that it would take significant change to the entire university system. But that doesn't mean that it isn't possible, it just means we need to imagine a way that it could be better. And that really depends on our government and its priorities."
Free tuition would "go a long way towards eliminating barriers that students face, especially marginalized students," MacCallum says.
"Free and accessible education is essentially the demand. But education being free goes a long way towards it being more accessible. Our education system won't be accessible to everyone until students who can't afford to pay the extremely high tuition prices, who are currently struggling to afford it and may be paying off loans for the rest of their life—it won't be accessible until those students can access it without being so burdened for the access to opportunity that education does provide."
The CFS has been fighting this fight for 30 years. It is Canada’s oldest and largest students’ union, "uniting more than 530,000 college and university students in the demand for high-quality, public, post-secondary education," says the day of action press release sent Tuesday, Nov. 7. According to an article in People's Voice, Wednesday's rally is CFS's first national day of action since 2016, when students were joined by representatives from other unions and supportive organizations in their call for accessible and affordable post-secondary education for both Canadian and international students.
On Sep. 13, the CFS-NS released a public letter in response to a statement made by Brian Wong, Nova Scotia's minister of higher education, about how students are affected by the housing crisis in Halifax.
In part, their letter reads: "In Nova Scotia, international students pay an average of 2.5 times more than domestic students and deregulated international tuition has led to universities raising fees for international students by 10-25% each year, in some cases. At the same time, the average price of renting a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax increased 8.9% in the past year, now at $1,987 per month. The housing crisis affects international students disproportionately, as many have insufficient information on how to navigate the system or how to assert their tenant rights with landlords."
MacCallum is hoping for a big student turn-out tomorrow. "It's hard for us to know that change is possible, when we are existing in our own little bubbles alone," MacCallum says. "So I think it really, really matters for us all to show up tomorrow to show the government that we will fight for fair and accessible education, but also to show each other that we will fight for each other. And that none of us are alone."
Here is a breakdown of the CFS talking points below ahead of Wednesday's national day of action: