Students rally high tuition despite 30% grant

Students nation-wide rose up in solidarity against rising tuition costs and barriers to educational access on Feb. 1 in accordance with the Canadian Federation of Students’ (CFS) National Day of Action.

For many in Ontario, concerns surrounding lack of access to the Liberal tuition grant were the driving motivation behind engagement in protest.
“My opinion, certainly as a grad student, I’m a little disappointed because I don’t qualify for it and I’ve been paying the ever-increasing tuition fees every year, actually at a higher per cent increase than undergraduate tuition fees increase,” remarked University of Carleton Graduate Student Associate president Elizabeth Whyte.

Whyte was one of the primary facilitators in mobilizing graduate students from Carleton who joined with University of Ottawa protestors on Parliament Hill last Wednesday. “I would think that by wanting to address the financial barriers of post secondary education it has some value, but it’s doing it in the wrong way,” she alledged. “It’s doing it by picking and choosing between students.”

Despite its limitations, the tuition grant remains a significant investment in education. According to Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) president Sean Madden, while the restrictions are something worth addressing, there are other options available for alleviation of financial stress.

“This isn’t the only form of student financial assistance in the world, it’s, you know, one piece of the puzzle,” noted Madden. “Mature students or independent students tend to be eligible for more financial aid because the parental assessment isn’t held against them.”

Critiques of the tuition grant in some instances were indicative of larger concerns about the financial accessibility of education.

“While there’s immediate kind of relieving of stress, this is the perpetual problem with post secondary education advocacy,” acknowledged Zachary Dayler, the national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA).
“We’re getting these bandaid solutions and no one’s really talking about the larger picture.”

These larger problems are being tackled through other platforms as well, such as OUSA’s “New Framework for Affordable Higher Education,” submitted for consideration to the Ontario Government this month. Madden stated that regulations in regards to the way in which tuition is charged also deserve attention, such as problematic flat fees for tuition and a lack of consistency of tuition raises between programs.

Despite great numbers of students and supporters who participated in the Day of Action, the effectiveness of protest as an effective method for change remains contested. Despite being involved in the past, Justin Campbell, a third-year student and councillor on the Carleton University Student Association, was skeptical of the impact the Day of Action will have on policy.

“The more I took the time to read into it and that kind of stuff, the more I found fault with it because I kind of watched the same display go on every single year, and I’ve only seen my tuition and my fees go up, not down,” said Campbell.
“If we want to make change, we have to kind of engage the people who are making the decisions, and we have to try to make it known to them what our views are,” he continued. “And we have to do it in a way that actually connects with them.”

Campbell believes letter writing to MPPs is a more effective method for addressing these types of issues. Dayler added, “I think protests have its limits, and the extent to which it can accomplish things, especially related to tuition. We look to get meetings with MPs and senators and decision makers, we look to testify before federal committees because we believe that’s a more effective approach for our membership.”

Conversely, Carol Davison, a professor at the University of Windsor, felt that the potential of protest was actually underutilized. Davison cancelled an exam in order to participate in her school’s rally and march.

“I feel very strongly that in fact all my colleagues and the administration should have been out on that march that day,” she said. “I was a bit upset actually about the complacency and the lack of support shown toward the students that day.”

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