Budget may limit student priorities

Graphic by Stephanie Truong.
Graphic by Stephanie Truong.

If the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) could have it their way, positive change would be in store for the province’s post-secondary students.

The advocacy group, which represents the interests of over 150,000 undergraduate students in Ontario, issued a series of policy recommendations to the provincial government last week in the hopes of influencing this month’s upcoming provincial budget.

The 2013 budget submission plan put forward by OUSA is titled “Unlocking Student Potential: the Key to Ontario’s Success” and includes six key recommendations to policy aimed at increasing affordability of post-secondary education, improving student health and employment and expanding student mobility across the province.

Rylan Kinnon, executive director at OUSA, explained that one of the biggest concerns he has encountered when speaking with Ontario’s undergrads is the issue of tuition affordability. To address this growing concern OUSA has recommended the Ontario government freeze tuition rates for at least one year.

“The recommendation is that the government shouldn’t allow for tuition to increase at all for at least one year,” said Kinnon. “And then we’ve recommended that the government increase per-student funding at the rate of inflation to partially compensate.”

Kinnon explained to The Cord that it is difficult to know which, if any, of the recommendations will be successful. “Last year one of the things that we called for was a system-wide discussion about improving teaching quality and improving productivity in our post-secondary system. The Minister of Training Colleges and Universities actually helped a conversation around those topics and many others.”

Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, was not overly optimistic about the inclusion of OUSA’s policy recommendations into this year’s budget.

“I don’t want to suggest when I say that something isn’t going to happen, that it’s not a good idea,” he commented. “The fact is that there are realities out there. In the last provincial election the Liberals made a commitment for more money than I thought was financially prudent given the budgetary situation. They don’t have money for a lot of programs, it’s not just the students.”

The Ontario Liberal government is currently facing a deficit of $11.9 billion, which as Kay suggested makes it difficult to provide additional funding to any group, be it students or not.

“At some point, the spreading around of money is zero-sum. Public policy becomes a matter of choices; if you give here you’ve got to take somewhere else,” he said.

Kay pointed to a growing concern amongst faculty members in post-secondary institutions, regarding the economic condition of the government.

“At the university level, the way it really affects us here, is people who are in part-time teaching situations,” said Kay. “That’s what is being cut because the university has more discretion in affecting that. “

He continued, “We are already seeing at the university level that when people retire they are not necessarily being replaced. That basically means fewer courses and fewer choices for students at Laurier and everywhere else.”

Ontario’s undergrads will find out exactly how the budget will be affecting them in the upcoming weeks. The official date for the release of the budget has not yet been set, but it is expected to be tabled before the end of the month.

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