Free University Tuition – A radical position?
A friend just pointed a UN treaty (the International Covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights), to which Canada adhered in 1976, which states that signing parties should strive to tend towards free tuition for post-secondary education. It is in fact one of the “nine core international human rights treaty” (dixit UN website). The relevant article (see provision c) and a link to the full treaty are copied below.
So Canada had 30 years to put this in practice. Well in spite of a good share of economic growth over the period, we are not exactly there yet, are we? In fact, people who call for such a measure are, more often than not, dismissed as radicals, while tuition fees are generally on the increase accross the country.
The latest attempt in that realm will happen in the province of QuÃ©bec this fall. The provincial government has already announced an increase, a position that is generally shared by all three parties (though each has its own preferred formula). However, it looks like several segments of the student movement are ready for a strike similar to the one that happened a couple of years ago. If they do take the streets, it’ll be interesting to see if they can garner a more widespread support this time, though the extent of the movement granted them a stalemate and the resignation of the education minister last time.
During the last strike, which was about preventing the change of student grants into loans, though polls suggested that the population was widely behind the student, they ended up alone in the street, various other social actors waiting “their turn” before asking the government for something. In fact, it could be argued that this is why the Charest government ended up doing pretty much what it wanted, since there was both a constant social pressure on various issues, but never a general front. Anyway, we’ll see what happens this time.
To be continued…
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
2. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that, with a view to achieving the full realization of this right:
(a) Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all;
(b) Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
(c) Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
(d) Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education;
(e) The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.
3. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
4. No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.