University students will debate Wednesday at the University of Windsor whether free tuition is possible in Canada.

The Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario University Students' Association will discuss the topic at 4 p.m. at Toldo Hall.

The University of Windsor Students' Association recently voted to put its participation in OUSA to a vote.

Blake Scott of the People's Alliance, which will host the debate, said students are concerned that the organization does not have their best interest at heart.

He said the referendum to withdraw from OUSA is in reaction to numerous instances where the organization advocated for raising tuition rather than fighting to freeze or lower it.

"They do have a voice in representing students, and they haven't spoken up in ways that students feel comfortable with," Scott said of the OUSA. "The Canadian Federation of Students has taken a strong stance against tuition fees, and we'd love to see what they bring to the table, face to face with OUSA in the same room."

According to Rob Crawford of the People's Alliance, each side must prepare a position on the question of whether free tuition is economically possible in today’s Canadian society.

"This debate will have an informal format to allow each team to give their perspective on the issue without necessarily taking a 'yes' or 'no' position due to the complex nature of the topic," Crawford said in a posting on the People's Alliance Facebook page. "This debate serves as an opportunity for each group to present their position on tuition fees to students, and also gives students an opportunity to learn about the student groups that represent them."

Toby Whitfield of the Canadian Federation of Students believes free tuition is possible.

'We need to hit the brakes on the current framework.'— Toby Whitfield, CFSA

"This discussion comes at a time when students are seeing the highest tuition fees and large amounts of student debt," he said. "We need to hit the brakes on the current framework. We need to see some serious action to see education more affordable in the province."

The CFS is calling for an immediate 30 per cent reduction of post-secondary tuition across the board. That's more than the current 30 per cent rebate the governing Ontario Liberals currently offer.

"The reality is that this is a grant the majority of students can’t qualify for," Whitfield said.

The 30 per cent rebate isn't available to grad students, students at vocational schools or part-time students, for example.

Students filled with ideas

Whitfield also claims that if student assistance programs, which he calls "ineffective," were to reallocate money, it could generate more money for free, public education. He also wants the province to raise corporate income tax.

"It would generate huge amounts of money for the government that could be redirected back into education," Whitfield said. "With fully public education, we’d look to government to fund post-secondary education, recognizing the huge impact a highly-skilled workforce has on the economy. Well-educated people benefit society in general," Whitfield said. "Post-secondary education pays dividends to society. When you graduate and you get a high paying job, you contribute taxes. We need highly skilled folks in Ontario."

Debate organizers hope the forum will allow student to make an informed decision when the question comes to a vote on whether to withdraw from OUSA later this month.

Windsor is the only school in Canada with a membership in both organizations.

CBC Windsor will hold a  town hall examining youth unemployment. Help Wanted: Is education failing our students? will happen March 20 at the University of Windsor Engineering building, beginning at 7 p.m. Panellists include University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman, St. Clair College president John Strasser, economist Mark Meldrum and Rylan Kinnon, the executive director of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance.

Beginning March 18, tune into The Early Shift and The Bridge on 97.5 FM at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, and CBC Windsor at Six on channel 9, cable 10 and Bell 587 at 6 p.m., for continue coverage of this topic.

For even more coverage and exclusive web extras, log onto www.cbc.ca/windsor.


Read more about tuition fees across Canada