Women and tuition hikes

Here is an excerpt from the statement on tuition fees of Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute. The declaration in its entirety can be found here.

 

Statement on tuition fees in Québec and their impact on women

Neoliberal social policies and their impact on women

The idea that tuition fees need to be raised so that universities have the appropriate revenues to function is one typical of a neoliberal era. Neoliberalism refers to a social system in which the state plays a diminished role in ensuring that the basic needs of its citizens are met. Neoliberalism is characterized by public-private partnerships, the retreat of the welfare state (social programs such as Employment Insurance), the defunding and deregulation of state institutions, and the shift of service provision from state institutions to community organizations. Neoliberal social policy gives priority to a logic of the economy and cost saving. The decision to authorize the increase in tuition fees is, as such, a neoliberal policy in which the state plays a diminished role in funding postsecondary education in Québec.

Neoliberal policy has particularly negative consequences on women. When, for example, hospitals discharge patients early because of budgetary constraints, it is primarily women who are impacted, through the unpaid care giving work they provide in such cases(1). Similarly, social policy on raising postsecondary tuition fees in Québec affects women disproportionately.

 

Access to postsecondary education for women and their children

For decades now, feminists have argued that women earn less than men for doing the same work. Recent statistics support this claim: the latest data available from 2008 demonstrate that women still earn 71 cents for every dollar earned by men(2). Asking individuals to contribute more to their post-secondary education costs, then, affects women in particular. Since women still earn less than men overall, raising tuition fees will impact women first. This is an example of social policy that perpetuates gender inequality.

If we consider the case of single mothers (who still constitute the majority of single-parent families), it is clear that tuition increases will affect not only these women, but their children as well. Eric Martin and Maxime Ouellet, authors of Université Inc: Des mythes sur la hausse des frais de scolarité et l’économie du savoir, argue that a two-parent family would need to allocate 10% of its revenue to fund a BA for one child; in the case of single mothers, however, a woman would need to allocate 18% of her income to ensure her child obtains a BA(3). Educational funding policy which requires the contribution of individual consumers quietly bypasses the reality that such policy demands more from single mothers. Raising tuitions fees in Québec entrenches inequality for single mothers and their children, since they need to allocate more of their income to obtain the same access to state-funded institutions.

 

Long-term consequences of increased tuition fees for women

Some proponents of raising tuition fees contend that, since individuals who have a university education will earn more throughout their lifetimes, they should assume a part of the financial cost. Such proponents use an economic rhetoric, stating that students now need to “invest” in their future.

But again, this argument falls short when we consider that even with a postsecondary diploma, men and women do not earn the same income. On average, a woman with such a diploma will earn $863 268 less than a man with the same diploma over the course of her lifetime(4). Suppose that two students – one a man, one a woman – each finish a BA with a debt of $25 000. Each and every month, the woman has to spend more of her income to pay back her debt. Asking individuals to “invest” in their future asks women to pay more, proportionally speaking, than men over their lifetimes.

The Québec government is asking women to “invest” in their sustained inequality for decades to come. We reject this kind of neoliberal logic, and advocate a system in which access to Québec postsecondary education is equal for men and women – now and in the future.

 

Pedagogical implications of raising tuition fees: faculty perspectives

Objections to raising tuition fees generally focus on the position of students, and with good reason, since they are the ones most impacted. Nevertheless, members of the teaching faculty at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute maintain that raising tuition fees will have negative consequences for teaching and learning more broadly. The more expensive tuition is, the less diversity there will be in the classroom, since access is dependent on financial resources. Statistics Canada reports that “visible minority” women were more likely to be in a low income situation than non-visible minority women(5). Similarly, compared to their non-Aboriginal counterparts, Aboriginal women are less likely to have a university degree. In 2006, 9% of Aboriginal women aged 25 and over had a university degree, compared with 20% of non- Aboriginal women(6).

Members of the Institute understand that diversity is central to the teaching work they do. They see the work of postsecondary teaching as one of preparing students to engage in critical inquiry and dialogue with others, offering them skills and analysis to guide them throughout their lives. The work of critical pedagogy is facilitated through a diverse classroom. When social policy results in the exclusion of women and people from diverse backgrounds from postsecondary education, the work of teaching is compromised.

Ensuring equitable access to state-funded education not only supports students; it is one concrete way to support the work of postsecondary teachers, as well.

Summary and Conclusion

On the question of raising tuition fees for postsecondary education, members of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute emphasize:

  • Thinking about women and social policy means thinking beyond so-called “women’s issues” such as sexual harassment or daycare. While these issues are important, we also need to understand the way social policies impact women in particular.
  • Given that women still do not earn the same salaries as men, raising tuition fees means that women will pay more for their education now and in the decades it takes them to pay back their debt. Raising tuition fees perpetuates gender inequality now and in the future.
  • Increased tuition fees mean there will be a less diverse classroom, which will in turn impoverish opportunities for learning among students and faculty. We advocate social policy which facilitates access to postsecondary education, in order to ensure our classrooms are truly diverse and a rich site of dialogue and exchange.
  • Social policy which discourages women’s involvement in postsecondary education is not good social policy.
  • Québec has the financial resources required to properly fund postsecondary education and to ensure that women and men can access state-funded education equally. It is time for a genuine debate about how the Québec government should allocate its resources to make equitable access to postsecondary education a political priority.

Signed: Simone de Beauvoir Institute Concordia University, February 2012

Notes:

1       Pat Armstrong and Hugh Armstrong, Wasting Away: The Undermining of Canadian Health Care, Toronto, Oxford University Press (Wynford Project Edition), 2010.

2       Gouvernement du Canada, L’écart salarial entre les femmes et les hommes, July 29, 2010. http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2010-30-f.htm

3       Eric Martin et Maxime Ouellet, Université Inc. Des mythes sur la hausse des frais de scolarité et l’économie du savoir, Montréal, Lux, 2011, p. 16.

4       Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, L’éducation universitaire : un outil pour passer de l’égalité de droit à l’égalité de fait. Mémoire de la FEUQ sur le renouvellement du plan d’action gouvernemental sur l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, Montréal, 2011, p. p.iii.

5       Chui, T. and Maheux, H. (2011). Visible Minority Women. In Ferro, V. and Williams, C., Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report Catalogue no.: 89-503-XIE (sixth edition). Release date: December 14, 2011. Statistics Canada. Available from www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11527-eng.htm.

6       O’Donnell, V. and Wallace, A. (2011). First Nations, Métis and Inuit Women. In Ferrao, V. and Williams, C. Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report Catalogue no.: 89- 503-XIE (sixth edition). Release date: December 14, 2011. Statistics Canada. Available from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11442-eng.htm.

 

Further Reading

Eric Martin et Maxime Ouellet, Université inc. Des mythes sur la hausse des frais de scolarité et l’économie du savoir, Montréal, Lux, 2011.

Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec, L’éducation universitaire : un outil pour passer de l’égalité de droit à l’égalité de fait. Mémoire de la FEUQ sur le renouvellement du plan d’action gouvernemental sur l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes, Montréal, 2011.Normand Baillergeon, Je ne suis pas une PME. Plaidoyer pour une université publique, Montréal, Éditions les poètes de brousse, 2011

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