Winders: More than banks Occupy the minds of protestors

You realize we’re next, right?

While the financial sector’s robber barons have taken the brunt of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s wrath, many of these protestors would be just as comfortable outside the gates of universities across the globe. To their eyes, we’re part of the problem as well.

So I hope we have better answers for them than the banks are offering.

If you pay attention, you notice these protests are not about a lone grievance. That’s what makes them so frustrating to the mainstream media, who desperately need a single, usually simplistic, narrative. No, these protests are a result of an accumulation of burdens passed down from one irresponsible generation to the next until it hit critical mass on the backs of these folks.

Shrinking job market. Declining wages. Austerity cuts. Rising tuition costs. Growing debt.

All with no end – or, at least, positive end – in sight.

The music has finally stopped, and there are too few chairs to go around. And most of those are already taken by Baby Boomers, who are never, ever giving up their seat.

While The Banker has taken his place as Public Enemy No. 1, this is not about one profession or even one industry. (Although The Banker makes an excellent start.) No, this is a growing anger toward the institutions that brought these folks to this point.

And I am afraid universities have some explaining to do.

In the United Kingdom, student protests over drastic tuition increases have turned violent. In the United States, where only seismic events like Starbucks’ price hikes spark young people into action, a groundswell of support is building around the Occupy Colleges movement, which held protests on 140 U.S. campuses in 25 states. In Canada, as it has been throughout the global financial collapse, we’re better off than most.

But we’re not perfect.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian undergrads paid 4.3 per cent more in tuition for the 2011/2012 academic year. This follows a 4 per cent increase in 2010/2011. For reference, inflation grew at 2.7 per cent during that time.

And those added costs come at an added price.

The Canadian Federation of Students puts the average debt for university graduates at $27,000. Give or take a fraction of an interest point, that figure represents a $327 student loan payment every month for a decade after graduate. That’s quite a yoke to strap on new grads.

Unlike so many debates recently, these protests are not about the ‘value’ of a university degree. In fact, they bolster our argument of its importance. These people have and/or want a university education, so much so that they are taking to the streets.

When the conversation turns to money, universities get defensive. That’s understandable when you have been a target for so long. But this is not about what we spent the money on.

Accounting for every dime, even if we can show them it is applied in the most responsible manner possible, it simply does not matter. This isn’t about how we educate or research, it is about how governments and universities have decided to go about paying for higher education and how our grads can apply it when they leave.

These are real concerns which don’t get seriously discussed enough by those decades removed from their last tuition payment or job interview. Sure, we’ll play politics with tuition, but when was the last real change for the better? You can answer for Canada, but I haven’t seen it in 20-plus years in The States.

I don’t have the answers for these protestors, not sure any of us do right now. But we had best prepare some. Because this thing isn’t going to stop on Wall Street; it’ll be on our street soon.