SFU rally for education breaks down walls

In an effort to raise awareness for rising tuition fees and inadequate funding for post-secondary education, the SFU Community Coalition attempted to educate their students and demonstrate their frustrations in an event last week. Roundtable discussions took place and a circus-like atmosphere was created in hopes of assembling a student mass to protest rising school costs without resulting government funding.

On November 10, the SFU Community Coalition held a rally at SFU’s main campus labeled Unite for Public Education, complete with cheap burgers, hot chocolate and a flying trapeze artist. The main objectives addressed by the coalition were to have student interest rates reduced to prime through Student Aid BC, to increase students’ eligibility for the BC loan reduction program, and to generally make an increase in funding a prerogative for the BC government, with hopes of making post-secondary education more accessible to everyone in the province.

The rally aimed to highlight demonstrate the rising costs of education and the impact of student debt on university education, most notably in the past decade. While interest rates and tuition fees have skyrocketed in the last 10 years, government funding has not increased. As outlined on the SFU Community Coalition website,, “In 2001 tuition fees were $2,310 for 10 courses a year … In 2010, these fees had risen by 119 per cent to $4,815 [while] inflation [only] went up by 22 per cent … this is unacceptable.”

Various political parties from within the provincial government were represented at the rally. NDP MLA for New Westminster, Dawn Black, said a few words to an applauding audience of about approximately 150 students. Black echoed that, “Student debt in BC is the highest in the country,” and that “BC students pay the highest interest rate within Canada.” She continued to state that, “this [Liberal] government has forced young people to mortgage their future,” by not increasing funding for post-secondary education and by “eliminating most of the bursary programs set up by the former NDP government.” Black left the stage with strong applause and the support of the crowd.

Following Black was BC Liberal MLA for Burnaby, Henry Bloy. His statements were cut short by incessant jeers and boos radiating from the crowd. In Bloy’s brief remarks he stated that education was the “single best investment we can make,” going on to remark that his government has “added 13,000 seats for students provincially” since their tenure. Bloy spoke about respect, as he was receiving none from the booing hostile crowd before stepping down.

Following the speeches, a student in an ape costume came out and started dancing, but although the crowd seemed pleased and cordial, this was not the opinion of all.

Confused by the ape debacle, Bloy informed the Courier that he was invited to SFU to engage in a debate, and that instead he got booed off stage.

“I was really looking forward to discussing this issue with the NDP candidate and other speakers on the topic,” says Bloy. He also said that he “supports the campaign objectives completely,” but that party politics makes it difficult for personal sentiments to make headway.

“People think that everyone within a party thinks the exact same way,” says Bloy, “[but] the reality is that there are discrepancies within a party always … we have disagreements and debates within the government all of the time.”

One of the key organizers of the rally was Nicholas Perrin, who is involved in many aspects of the SFU Community Coalition.

The purpose of the event, he says, was to promote “restructuring how universities are financed.” When looking at the numbers, the issue is given merit. In 1997, tuition used to account for 23 per cent of SFU’s budget, and now in 2010 tuition accounts for 38 per cent. As these numbers are echoed around the province, it is clear that provincial government post-secondary spending has not risen adequately with the rate of inflation, leaving universities to increasingly rely on tuition, fees, and private sector donations.

Students should “educate themselves about the problems within education,” says Perrin, as the dominant financial contributors to universities, it is within student hands to ensure that universities are operating according to students’ wishes. Perrin went on to state, “it is important for students to understand that universities provide a larger scope of interests other than economic advancement … universities affect how communities are structured and how they operate.”

“This may sound harsh … but I always say what I think and vote within parliament as to the way I feel,” Bloy explained, in regards to what students themselves should be doing to alleviate student debt, “Canadian students need to prepare, to plan for their education … do they assume that it will be free without any effort on their part?”

A major deterrent for individuals striving for an education is the cost. Simply put, many people opt out of university because they cannot afford it. For those with a helping hand, things are a little easier, but debts and loans still occur. Most people come out of school with debt, and BC students have the highest rate of debt in the country. The rally’s cause was heard, if only by a few, however watching the masses walk by the gathering, and the tactics of entertainment used by the SFU Community Coalition, one has to wonder if anyone cares about student debt, or if our computerized generation is much too willing to swipe a credit card.

//Andy Mcdonnell, Writer

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