By Luis Armando Sanchez Diaz, September 18 2020—
All the unimaginable events any person could ever have expected for 2020 have occurred. Not even a movie writer could have possibly foreseen what this year had in store for humanity. Life in general has changed for everyone, especially in the way people from all over the world work, study and go about their daily activities.
Almost everything has transitioned to an online format in some way or another as a result of the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Post-secondary education is no exception. And although many things are already settled, people are still trying to figure out and adjust to the — hopefully temporary — new system.
Now, as the fall term begins, almost every individual that has direct involvement with university study has weighed in on how students can best take on the challenges that the novel coronavirus poses towards receiving a high-level education and developing the professional skills one normally acquires during that process.
There are many uncertainties that range from the financial situation of families across the world to the employment outlook of the careers we’re trying to pursue when we graduate. Questions like ‘What comes next?’ ‘What place does an undergraduate or graduate student have in the economy?’ These questions completely fill our minds with uncertainty regarding the future that awaits us.
The necessity of creating your own network in order to have connections to place yourself professionally is a difficult task to perform when you can only virtually interact with others. Due to the fact that most of the upcoming fall term courses are going to be delivered remotely via Zoom and D2L, the effectiveness of online learning remains unknown for all majors but particularly for those where in-person practice is needed.
When looking at the challenges that post-secondary education faces, there is a fundamental question undergraduates need to address. Should students be charged the same tuition fees for the upcoming term given the current state of the world’s economy and the struggle that millions of families within Canada and elsewhere are facing due to the high unemployment level?
Societies in different countries have faced economic collapses before and changes to the education system, but none in recent memory that emanated from a global pandemic. During the period from 2007-09, most of us were too young to comprehend the extent to which that recession had impacted the world and how many years it took the economy to recover from that crisis.
Things now look and feel very different from those days, owing to the fact that we’re now adults in search not only of a good education, but of good-paying jobs. The economic fallout that the entire world is going through is like nothing we’ve ever seen, not only for the economic implications but also for the danger that the pandemic generates for our own health.
Today, the human race is facing one of the most challenging moments in modern history. Consider the post-pandemic consequences that will take years to undo, like the fact that the inequality gap will widen, affecting disproportionately minorities and populations living in developing countries. This makes it even harder — if not impossible — for students to attend university, preventing them from achieving a bright future and unlocking their full potential.
By being young citizens we — regardless of our culture, background or nationality — have rights and responsibilities to uphold, and our voices need to be heard when implementing decisions that can affect our education. First and foremost, we need to take actions that can help to contribute to contain the spread of the pandemic — like wearing a mask and socially distancing. That will likely lead to a decrease in the number of infected people and the economy should begin to unlock and start recovering more rapidly, allowing students to return hopefully for the 2021 winter term — and to academically prepare ourselves and develop the skills and talents that will allow us to become the next generation of leaders.
We the students are not going to be using the facilities as we would in a regular non-coronavirus term. We also know that the university’s top priority is to keep everyone safe from faculty to students to staff. The University of Calgary is going to continue putting forward plans on how to navigate through campus avoiding the risks as best as possible using the measures and advice provided by the provincial and federal governments to create the safest environment.
The economic situation and the lack of usage of campus facilities are the main components of the argument as to why tuition fees should be lowered as much as possible. Universities across Canada and the world need to help with the recovery. Allowing students to pay, temporarily, lower tuition and exempt them from the fees that are not essential to receiving courses and to receive more material to maintain the quality of our education would go a long way to alleviating some of our stress during this time.
It is clear that UCalgary, or any other university, can’t dramatically lower their costs. Bills and salaries have to be paid to the educators that are putting their time, availability and knowledge for us to learn from. Campus infrastructure needs also to be maintained to prevent it from deteriorating and that needs to be ready for when classes go back to normal, as well as the programs and services that will continue to be open for us during the fall and after.
It’s also extremely important to note the effort and energy that professors and personnel are giving and continue to give during this whole situation. They deserve to be recognized for their effort of keeping courses going. From taping lectures to assisting students with questions about the class and providing as much material and resources as possible — while sometimes having children of their own who they also need to assist with school during a difficult and uncertain time.
Even if tuition fees were to be lowered — which is something I urge UCalgary to consider — there would be hundreds or even thousands of students who wouldn’t be able to afford the cost that post-secondary education comes with. So for those of us who are going to be able to attend university during the fall, we have to acknowledge the enormous privilege and opportunity we have in our ability to have access to high-level education. We have to thank our families for the effort that they’re giving to help our education thrive. It’s going to be a huge sacrifice and it’s not going to be an easy road. We need to take advantage of the possibility of receiving a good education.
For those that won’t be able to join us because of difficult circumstances, we who are privileged have a responsibility to advocate for lower tuition and more assistance for you.
This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.