The threat of debt: UBC Okanagan professor raises concerns about student borrowing

UBC Okanagan’s Chris Martin recently spoke at an international debate, where he proposed higher education should be viewed as an essential service and therefore free for all.
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KELOWNA - A UBC Okanagan professor is arguing against students having to borrow money in order to attend higher education institutions.

Assist. Prof. Christopher Martin’s research focuses on educational equality and social justice, and he has concluded that borrowing money unfairly narrows a student’s choice while in school.

Martin, who teaches in the Faculty of Education, recently took his concerns to London where he proposed higher education should be viewed as an essential service and therefore free for all.

Martin was part of a debate in London, England where educators discussed whether western democracies have an obligation to better fund post-secondary education. The debate was attended by political economists, philosophers, educators and students currently burdened with student debt.

“An entire generation of liberal democratic citizens is now burdened with worrying levels of debt,” says Martin. “Debt-financed higher education puts an unreasonable burden on citizens, restricting the kind of life they can pursue.”

Martin argues that high levels of student debt are incompatible with the basic aim of higher education, which is to provide students with the knowledge and understanding they need to feel successful in life.

According to Statistics Canada, at the time of graduation 43 per cent of college students, 50 per cent of bachelor students, 44 per cent of master’s students and 41 per cent of doctorate students relied on government or non-government student loans to fund their education. Sources of funding included private, family and bank loans to finance their education.

Among those who graduated in 2009/10, the average student debt included $14,900 for college students, $26,000 for bachelor and master’s students and $41,000 for doctorate students at the time of graduation

“Higher education should be available to all because it is necessary to live a good life and move society forward,” says Martin. “It is unjust because students who are well off don’t face the same kinds of constraints around educational choices as someone who borrows money in order to go to school.”

Martin’s views were recent published in IMPACT: Philosophical Perspectives on Education Policy.

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