Though post-secondary education is a provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has an important role to play. I don’t need to spew out any rhetoric on the importance of education. In addition to running for MP here in Winnipeg South with the Green Party, I am a full-time student. I know the flaws of our education system and the challenges of paying for tuition, as every student does. So I will cut to the chase.
The key to affordable education is a low tuition rate, coupled with a strong student loan and bursary program. Greens would work with provinces and post-secondary institutions to reduce tuition through increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of the institutions. Bursaries — which are awards, rather than loans — would be targeted towards high-performing students with financial need, with a specific bursary available to graduate students. Greens would exempt academic materials from the GST — textbook publishers already rip us off enough, rearranging the chapters and making us pay for a new edition. Greens would remove all barriers to student loans and allow access for all students regardless of parental income.
Imagine: no more red tape, ridiculous delays or even denials of student loans. While students are still in school, loans must remain interest-free and should not have to be paid back until two years after graduation. Once out of school and paying off the loan, students could expect a lower interest rate (tied to the prime rate) and more time to pay off the loan. Most importantly, students who complete their degree or certificate program would see half of their loan forgiven.
So the Green Party would make education more affordable, but that doesn’t help unless you can get a job once you graduate. Industry-based job training and apprenticeship needs to be greatly expanded to bring post-secondary education (particularly university) back to the real world. Greens would require that a portion of federal education funding be spent on expanding cooperative education and similar programs. Universities should strive to make cooperative education the main path towards most degrees rather than the side option it is now. Graduating with industry experience already in hand makes students more employable.
As a student, one thing I want to see is more course compatibility between North American universities. Though I plan to remain at the U of M, I have heard many students express frustrations when they switch universities and have to repeat half of their courses. If elected, I would push to make increased course compatibility a condition of federal funding for universities and colleges. I have heard no other MP or candidate mention anything about this.
The Green Party’s education strategy is based on affordability and employability. It is also a key component of our strategy to eliminate poverty, which should not exist in a country as wealthy as Canada. The Greens have many more effective and realistic education policies that I did not touch on here. No other party lays out their platform so clearly, and no other party has as many concrete points of action for education (see Vision Green 2010). Something you may not know: the Green Party is second among voters age 25 and under, and we are only six per cent behind the NDP in the latest overall polls. The Green Party stance on education (and many other issues) is relevant.
To deal with emerging challenges such as supporting an aging population and moving to a clean energy economy, Canada will need “the best-educated, highly-trained, creative workforce possible.” Investment in post-secondary education must be a high priority.
Sean Goertzen is in his third year of Environmental Studies, and is the federal candidate for the Green Party here in Winnipeg South.