Think before you speak

It’s official. Far from being being reduced to zero, the cost of attending UTM is actually going up. Students (see article on the cover page) will now have to pay 5.2% more for residence, 4.1% more for food and 3 % more for parking.

UTM is not alone in rising costs. Calgary officials recently proposed tuition fee hikes of up to 47% in professional programs. And while tuition fees are not the same as residence, food and parking fees, the results are the same: students will have to fork over more money.

I have long argued that paying for university not only makes sense, it also results in better education. Indeed, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, performed yearly by the Centre for World-Class Universities and the Institute of Higher Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, none of the top universities of the world are free. Surely there must be a price to pay for such quality, which helps explain why the top spots in this list, as well as in other ranking lists, are taken by American and British universities, and not by institutions in the often-touted countries that boast of free higher education systems, such as Cuba and Sweden.

The same is true for parking, food, and residence. It’s unrealistic to expect these costs to never go up, especially when parking spaces need to be increased.  At the same, it’s unreasonable to expect students to remain indifferent when more money must come out of the pockets.

I could go on for pages about why I think paying for university is a good thing, certainly better than paying for it by means of stifling taxes, but thats not the point of this editorial. No matter what, others will remain convinced that higher education should be free, or at least cheaper. They are entitled to their own opinion. I wonder, however, if the increasing evidence that free (or cheap) education, meal plans, residence and parking fees are not going to happen, at least not in the foreseeable future, will persuade them to reconsider their tactics.

As it is right now, many of those who wish the cost of education to go down express their point of view by shouting and by flipping their middle finger to insult authority figures. A crude approach, indeed, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if crude was known to work. Loud protests, however, only seem to work when theres no sensible alternative—witness whats happening in Iran right now, where the government only faltered after angry, brave people took to the streets for weeks. Respectful criticism towards government officials is not only impossible in cases like Iran’s—it’s also guaranteed to land the critic in prison, if not in the gallows.

Democracies, on the other hand, are designed for reasonable debate. Incredible changes can be brought about when the right people work the right way, that is, when they think things through, show respect for their opponents, work hard and develop sound strategies.

I can’t tell those who want free university education or frozen residence and meal plan fees what to do if they want to accomplish their goal. I have no idea what they should do. But it almost always pays off to aim for smart rather than spectacular.

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