Hearing it from the students
Catherine Fife, the New Democrat MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, met with students from both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo on Monday night to discuss the financial barriers facing students and the types of solutions students would like to see advocated at Queen’s Park.
Roughly a dozen students gathered at the Paul Martin Centre on the Laurier campus to meet with Fife and express their concerns about the annual five per cent tuition increase, as well as other financial measures effecting students such as the limitations of the 30 per cent Ontario Tuition Grant.
“The aim was to engage students in a conversation about post-secondary education and about jobs and the future,” Fife explained. “I certainly received some good feedback around ideas.”
The one-hour discussion consisted of the students and Fife having a dialogue about the increasing concern of debt hovering over the majority of students, as well as the frustrations that students have with regards to increasing tuition rates.
Fife explained that there is a disconnect between the rise of tuition and what people can afford. She also mentioned the youth job strategy that would aim to help recent graduates gain employment, which would essentially be an extension of a co-op placement.
“I’m a new politician, so I’m trying to do politics differently,” expressed Fife.
Additionally, students were able to discuss the obstacles facing the Ontario Tuition Grant, which offers selected students a 30 per cent bursary to help with tuition payments. The major flaw found in this grant, as explained by Fife, is that it does not include all students, such as graduate students, who have parents that earn more than $160, 000 a year and students who don’t meet the necessary citizenship and residency requirements.
“I think we have to look at ways it can help more students, because what we’ve heard is that the terms and conditions to access that grant are really prescriptive so students are being left out,” Fife explained. “It’s not to dumb it down or take it out, there is always room for improvement.”
David Clement, a fourth-year political science major at Laurier, expressed his satisfaction with the discussion. “I think it went really well, I think that it is very honourable of her to put herself out there, basically in an open setting where you can ask any questions on any issue,” said Clement.
The dialogue swayed from student finances into a discussion about labour, and students challenged Fife on possible problems that an NDP government would face and received amicable and constructive feedback from Fife.
“It’s good to be challenged,” Fife said. “As you develop policy, it’s the lived experience of students that should inform public policy.”
Clement added that Fife is “obviously looking to restore the actual representative nature of being a member of provincial parliament, and I really respect that.”
Sean Hunt, a third year math major as well as a member of the senate at the University of Waterloo, expressed how he felt the discussion went. “I think it went reasonably well, I wish more people were participating,” he told The Cord.
Hunt, along with Clement, was among the few students who engaged in conversation with Fife. “I really admire that she’s willing to come and talk about anything, sometimes it is hard,” Hunt said.
Fife concluded by saying that she learned something from the discussion and explained that this is her responsibility to learn as a politician.