Volume 94, Issue 45

Friday, November 17, 2000


Editorial Board 2000-2001

The sliding scale of debt

Editorial Cartoon

The sliding scale of debt

Students who have read up on the platforms of Canada's federal political parties have probably heard of the ICR, the abbreviation of the day in post-secondary policy parlance.

It doesn't promise to be nearly as much fun as ICQ, but ICR does have student group types chatting in worried and denunciatory tones.

ICR stands for "income contingent repayment" and is a plan that both Stockwell Day's Alliance Party and Joe Clark's Progressive Conservatives support whole-heartedly as a feasible way of dealing with Canada's post-secondary student debtload problem.

The idea goes something like this: university and college students would get educational loans to pay tuition but wouldn't have to pay back a penny until they leave the cradle of academia and learn to walk on their own two feet in the real world.

Here's where the repayment comes in: once students leave school, they'll be obligated to pay a certain percentage of the salary they earn in the working world towards those loans. So, each year, a certain chunk of a person's paycheque will automatically go to the government to pay off that student loan that helped him or her get the great job in the first place, depending on how much they make.

Theoretically then, the medical student who shelled out wads of cash to get through school will pay back the loan easily and quickly by giving a fair share of that sky-high doctor's salary back to the government.

Same goes for the English major who needed loans to study Chaucer and now pays those back by forwarding a certain percentage of the cash he or she makes by selling futons on a street corner.

On the surface, the plan makes a lot of sense. A university education is one's ticket to a job, the reasoning goes, so once that job is found, it's only fair to pay out some of its wages to pay for the ticket that got you there.

Student groups, however, have been quick to point out that such schemes have already been attempted in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. but have led to higher, not lower, student debt loads.

Greater interest would also accrue under an ICR plan, since interest would start accumulating from day one of a university education, rather than six months after graduation, as with the Ontario Student Assistance Program.

On top of those concerns, it should also be borne in mind that the ICR plan could discourage students from entering academic fields that don't necessarily lead to high-paying positions after graduation. If loans have to be paid off according to job salaries, less students will look to visual arts, music, languages or philosophy as subjects to study at university.

Student debt is a grievous problem for Canada and should be an embarrassment for a country that brags about windfall surpluses. The burden needs to be relieved, but the ICR plan is not the answer.

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