UBC student union files United Nations complaint over rising tuition fees

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      A student union at the University of British Columbia is asking the United Nations to appoint an independent expert or special rapporteur to look into human-rights violations in Canada.

      The Alma Mater Society made the request in a November 25 complaint filed with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights which argues the Canadian and B.C. governments have violated a human-rights treaty by not ensuring postsecondary education is accessible to everyone.

      Blake Frederick, president of the AMS, told the Straight that his student union has lobbied both governments for years to remove the financial barriers that stand in the way of many students trying to get a university education.

      “There are a vast range of stories of a number of students who because of these barriers have faced significant challenges just trying to attain an education,” Frederick said by phone from the Point Grey campus. “We believe that it is not appropriate for students to be denied education, and that’s why have filed the complaint.”

      The complaint—submitted by the AMS along with UBC graduate Tristan Markle, and with the help of the law firm Pivot Legal LLP—notes Canada signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976.

      Article 13 of the treaty reads: “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education”.

      Frederick noted that, over the past decade, tuition fees have continually gone up in B.C. while government funding for postsecondary education has dropped.

      His student union’s complaint argues that governments aren’t providing enough financial aid to students who need it.

      “We submit that the Governments have engaged in a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations,” it states. “The facts set out in this complaint demonstrate a sequence of legislative and policy changes that have resulted in a post-secondary education system that is inaccessible to a very significant population of Canadians. In particular, post-secondary education has become increasingly unavailable for individuals from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds.”

      The complaint notes that average annual undergraduate tuition fees in B.C. rose from $2,568 in 1999-2000 to $5,040 in 2008-2009.

      It also asserts that cuts to government funding have weakened postsecondary institutions’ ability to make education available to all.

      According to the complaint, the lack of funding for postsecondary, combined with a shift from student grants and bursaries to loan programs, has resulted in average student debts of $27,000 in B.C.

      Frederick said the AMS feels it has “exhausted all other avenues”, so it’s appealing to the UN to step in.

      “We’d like them to come and investigate the facts, so that we can get those facts out in the open and hold the government accountable to their commitment,” Frederick said.

      You can follow Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.




      Nov 26, 2009 at 1:17pm

      Are they kidding? The Canadian and B.C. governments violate human-rights treaties every single day by not adequately addressing the issues of POVERTY.. and the CHILDREN going hungry in their own back yards! This Frederick kid et al need to give their privileged heads a f'n shake. You think education is expensive? Try ignorance.

      EVIL Patrick

      Nov 26, 2009 at 1:28pm

      About bloody time someone is telling mommy and daddy that the baby sitter is a thief.

      We need to be like the French students and protest on a mass level. I shall be there to support it the whole way if the UN can't do anything.


      Nov 26, 2009 at 1:37pm

      Despite what the U.N. and Mr. Frederick might think, education is not a right. If you value your education, then pay for it and stop exploiting others by forcing them to pay your way.


      Nov 26, 2009 at 1:56pm

      Dear Blake,

      Go to the US for a while. My brother racked up that same 27,000 debt in under a year.

      You don't speak for students. You're helping out your old friend Tristan with his idiotic complaint to an international body that has better things to do.


      Nov 26, 2009 at 2:01pm

      By the way...when I posting my first comment here, the 'humanity' verification code for me was 'hungers assistant' !! Karma baby ..!


      Nov 26, 2009 at 2:32pm

      Dear UN, and everyone else.
      We're really really REALLY sorry for electing this idiot as president. In hindsight, he's kind of a tool.

      UBC students


      Nov 26, 2009 at 2:34pm

      Blake Frederick decided to submit this to the UN without going to the AMS to get approval to do so.
      He believes that his actions are justified as long as they do not contravene existing policies of the Society; however, Blake continues to forget about due process within the Society.
      His behaviour as the President of the AMS has been consistently inappropriate. Still, I never expected him to file a complaint with the UN, especially when UBC has some of the lowest tuition in the world.


      Nov 26, 2009 at 2:44pm

      mine was "votes digger"

      which is funny given his behaviour during his election


      Nov 26, 2009 at 2:59pm

      Soaring fees? BC tuition is going up by a soaring... 2% a year?
      Berkeley just went up by... 32%!
      If you are not happy in BC, go to the US Blake.