Students united against rise in tuition fees

Hundreds of students wielding traditional red and black protest signs marched at Queen’s Park in Toronto Wednesday afternoon, in a renewed effort to end high tuition fees in Ontario for post-secondary institutions.

According to the Canadian Federation of Students, tuition fees and student debts have continued to increase at an alarming rate. Since the liberal party has been in office, tuition fees have increased by yet another shocking 108%, despite the promise of a 30% decrease promised by the relatively new government upon election.  

(All figures taken from Statistics Canada)

“What we’re fighting for is a publicly funded post-secondary education,” CFS Chairperson, Rajean Hoilett said, standing with other students on the streets and holding a red protest sign. He goes on to say that only 30 years ago universities and colleges’ operating budgets were made up of over 80% of public government funding, whereas, now it has dropped to below a 52% operating budget.

“This sort of privatization of our public higher education should be a concern for everybody. We’re seeing a public service being stripped away.”

Hailed as the National Day of Action, three universities promoted this rally to students two months before the actual day, encouraging them to come out and stand against the government’s lack of response to student concerns. The crowd consisted of students from different universities – including University of Toronto, York and Ryerson. Similar rallies were held at other universities across the GTA.

High school student speaks out against government

This call-for-action had inspired high school student, Michelle Hopkins, to speak out with spoken word poetry about the government’s inability to improve conditions for post-secondary students at the rally.

“$28 billion in post-graduate debt and yet nothing but silence. What if you’re an international student who leaves home to seek better only to receive a letter with a bill so high you got to smoke a little to match it,” she said in anger, commanding the attention of all students, while standing alone on a small platform and dressed in the colours of the protest, red and black.

“What if you’re in a professional program? Well, joke’s on you because I don’t know when you’ll finish that degree when at every single turn you got to pay a different fee. What if you’re a member of a minority? Cards stacked against you from the beginning and they keep moving the finish line to keep you from winning.”

(Click here to hear the poetry)

Hopkins’ poetry was received with loud cheers and applause, followed by the crowd chanting “the students united will never be defeated.”

Previous rallies have prompted the liberal government to reconsider the tuition fees issue.

Some outcomes of these rallies are:

  • to make post-secondary education free to students with a family income of less than $50,000.
  • conceding that students do not have to start paying back OSAP loans until they are earning a minimum of $25,000 a year.
  • the introduction of the Ontario Tuition grant.

University of Toronto, Mississauga Student Unions’ President, Nour Alideeb, says that these are simple “band-aid” solutions. While the student unions on all three individual campuses of University of Toronto are advocating for reduction and elimination of tuition fees, conversion of loans into non repayable grants and the elimination of interest on existing student loans, Alideeb says it’s not enough.

“You don’t want to focus too much on the smaller goals but continue to reaffirm the larger goal. Free education for all. That is the ultimate goal. And we’ll continue to fight for that dream until it becomes reality,” Alideeb said, standing tall with confidence.

 Previous Executive Director of Student Union states facts

Walied Khogali has been the Executive Director of the Student Union at the University of Toronto for eight years and has participated in several previous drop-fees rallies.

“This years students from across the Province highlighted the importance of funding post-secondary education and the impact of student debt, which has reach crisis levels,” he says.

“The Government’s response has always been that we are doing the best we can considering other economic priorities. They claim to have increased funding for post-secondary education and are not ashamed for providing less funding per student for post secondary education. Ontario has the worst per student funding.”

Khogali also says that while the government claims that tuition fees for families with a household income of $50,000 will be free, in actuality students will still have to pay their tuition and other costs of post-secondary education.

Student unions, working with CFS have submitted a fact sheet that proposes to lower tuition fees without compromising school budgets that are allocated to resources that are offered to students for a good learning experience.

“We could eliminate tuition if education becomes a priority for investment that will drive our innovative economy forward. The residents of the Province of Ontario support the investment in students because that is an investment in our future,” says Khogali.

What prompted these rallies?

There are several factors that effect students negatively and lead to these rallies:

  1. Tuition fees in Ontario are the highest in Canada.
    1. In 2011, data collected by Statistics Canada showed 53% of university enrolments and 42% of college enrolments came from students in the highest income quartile of families, highlighting a socio-economic divide on campuses across the province.
  2. The average debt for a student who must take on financial assistance to go to school is $26,800 after a four-year bachelors degree and $15,700 after a two-year college diploma.
    1. Collectively, students in Canada owe over $15 billion to the federal government and Ontario students owe $28 billion in public student debt.
  3. Despite positive changes to OSAP on the horizon, students are concerned that increasing tuition fees disproportionately effect the most marginalized on campuses, including international students and part-time students who cannot access the new Ontario Student Grant.
  4. Tuition fees are no 45% higher than they were a decade ago.
  5. Increasing student debt is causing mental health problems.

 Students have also received support for these rallies and their hopes to reduce tuition fees from the Civic society from the labour Movement, to the Faculty associations to many elected representatives.

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