Letter to the Editor published in The Brunswickan (Fredericton), 30 January 2006
Later this month, grad students will have the opportunity to join the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). I firmly believe it is in their best interests to vote a resounding ‘Yes.’
The CFS represents students at universities and colleges across Canada, both graduate and undergraduate. It advocates for grants, rather than loans, and that tuition barriers to education should be reduced. It has encouraged student participation in the development of public policy, moving beyond lobbying by a small number of student leaders.
The CFS has as its ultimate goal the elimination of tuition barriers to education, favouring the European model of zero tuition, where education costs are born by governments as an investment in the future. The example of Ireland, which eliminated tuition fees in 1996 and is now celebrated as the economic ‘tiger’ of Europe, demonstrates the strength of this policy.
Some people might tell you the CFS is the wrong choice for grad students, that they are better off remaining independent or affiliating with other organizations. The flaw in this argument is that students need more unity, not less. ‘Divide and conquer’ has always weakened the student movement in Canada. The small amount of dues paid annually to CFS pales in comparison to potential cost savings on tuition and other expenses. If Canadian students can achieve unity in one organization, there is real hope for the future.
Unlike other student organizations in Canada, the CFS derives its mandate from a democratic referendum vote of every student on each member campus. The roots of the CFS are deep, extending back to the National Union of Students of the 1960s, and is has a proud record defending the rights of women and minority groups. In recent years, opponents of affordable education have sought to weaken the CFS, creating splinter groups that take a soft stance in the face of funding cuts. The reason is obvious: without the CFS, powerholders have a much easier time cutting funding, raising tuition fees, and pursuing a top-down model of education.
I hope UNB grad students do their own research and put their best interests first in this referendum. I hope they vote for unity with students across Canada by voting ‘YES’ for the CFS. Spread the word, and remember to vote on February 20 to 22.
Ben Isitt is a PhD student in the department of history.