The announcement that the Ontario government will cut 10 per cent from tuition fees, and allow students to opt out of certain fees, has lit a fire under campus organizers. In the last few weeks, the voices of dissent have been getting louder as students and student leaders get ready for a big, province-wide demonstration of solitude.
There was a protest held in the University Centre courtyard at the University of Guelph on Thursday January 31 that could be seen as a dress rehearsal for the March for Students’ Rights that’s taking place on Monday. Guelph Politico was provided with an audio recording of the rally.
One of the speakers was former Guelph MPP and former Minister of Education Liz Sandals, who called the U of G “the family business” since she, her husband, and her father were all products of an education there.
Sandals explained that she saw first-hand how many people were being helped by the changes in OSAP during her last term in office. Young people, who otherwise thought that a university education was beyond their means, suddenly had doors open to them.
“The takeaway from all this is that student assistance, as it’s set up right now, really matters,” Sandals said. “In fact, the data shows that the number of students from low income families, the number of mature students, the number of students from First Nations families, that the people were trying to pull in to some form of post secondary education, it’s working.”
He wasn’t there in person, but current Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner sent words of encouragement through his constituency advocate Ran Zhu.
“I am opposed to the government using a tuition reduction to distract from budget cuts to college and university budgets,” said Zhu reading a statement from Schreiner. “Ontario universities and colleges already have the lowest per capita funding of post-secondary education in the country. Places like the University of Guelph have already been doing more with less, and students like you have already felt the burden of underfunded universities.”
Student government and organizations are also going to feel the burden. Kayla Weiler, the VP External of the Central Student Association, said that numerous student services are under treat including women and trans centres, the universal bus pass, health and dental plans, and campus clubs and groups.
“The Ford announcement is a step backwards in having a publicly-funded education system,” said Weiler. “Attacking students fees is an attempt to defund those groups that fight for public education that is accessible to all.”
“This Ontario government is not for the people, nor is it for the students, and the students united will never be defeated,” she added.
Another speaker was from one of the student groups that could be affected.
“A new student can tell you that more goes into academic success than just going to classes and studying,” said Kendra Lee, Head Co-ordinator of the Student Help and Advocacy Centre, or SHAC.
SHAC is a student-run organization that provides advocacy and referrals on matters related to human rights, academic rights, financial issues, and legal concerns including landlord/tenant relations. Lee said that she’s seen first-hand the real aid student groups like hers has provided, and why it’s needed.
“How can students succeed fighting for their rights when they have to balance academic life, social life, mental health and financial struggles on a daily basis? That’s what SHAC is here for. We’re here to help you fight,” Lee added.
Students at the University of Guelph will take part in the Province-wide March for Student Rights on Monday. Students will gather in Branion Plaza at 12 pm.