October 16 , 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 26  

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Lobby group to build "wall of debt" on Parliament Hill

By Anton Vidgen
Gazette Staff

A national campaign highlighting student debt loads in Canada is determined to bring awareness of the issue to politicians, the public and students alike.

The Generation Debt campaign consists of foam bricks being distributed to member schools of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations and signed by students with their current or estimated debt loads upon graduation, said CASA national director James Kusie.

Once all 2,000 bricks are collected, CASA will build a “wall of debt” with them on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Kusie said, adding this will coincide with a press conference and their lobbying of top decision-makers.

“We will hopefully be meeting with Paul Martin in the afternoon as well as key elected officials in the finance department,” Kusie said. “We want to get commitments from the federal government on how to deal with student debt in Canada.

“We are the most indebted generation in Canadian history,” Kusie said, adding the financial burden created by the current student loans system is inadequate, allowing only those who can afford to go to university to obtain a quality post-secondary education.

At the Fredericton campus of the University of New Brunswick, the total debt load written down by 400 students is about $7 million, Kusie noted. At the top-end of the spectrum, a dentistry student at Dalhousie University wrote her debt as $250,000, he added.

Kusie said the main message of the campaign is to inform the public that costs associated with post-secondary education are spiralling out of control and the current borrowing structure is ill-equipped to deal with the changes.

“I think it’s important that both the federal government and the public be made aware of the debt loads students carry as a result of government underfunding [of] universities,” said University Students’ Council VP-education Dave Ford. “The wall of debt is meant to represent the barriers to post-secondary education caused by student debt.”

Ford said he believes the wall will make an impact on the public and hopes people realize how student debts hurt both the affected individuals and society in general.

“When students are graduating from university with gigantic debt loads, it’s not just the individual that suffers, it’s society as a whole,” Ford said. “I think there’s economic and social benefits to society as a whole when we have an educated populace.”

“I think it’s important first of all because it makes students aware of each others debt,” said fourth-year pharmacology and philosophy student Suzie Berkhout. “I think there’s a sort of complacency about it.”



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