WLUSU, UW Feds head to Queen’s Park

Student representatives from Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union and the University of Waterloo (UW) Federation of Students met with provincial parliament members in Queen’s Park last week to discuss issues in education.

Chris Walker, vice president of university affairs at WLUSU and Adam Garcia, vice-president of education at UW, were among the representatives from the nine member associations who met in Ottawa last week for the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Annual Advocacy Conference.

“Our mandate is to lobby the government on behalf of student issues, based on four pillars, which are quality, accountability, accessibility and affordability,” Walker explained.
The representatives from post-secondary institutions spent a week meeting with ministers, MPPs and party critics to discuss the problems and solutions in education for the next year.

They identified specific issues that are relevant to students at this time, which included tuition, mental health and credit transfers, and formed a dialogue with Parliament members to achieve a realistic solution.

“I think anytime you are able to put students in front of decision makers is an opportunity to really influence the process, because I think everybody can relate to the stories of students who are in university,” expressed Garcia.

Among the members that met with students were MPPs Catherine Fife, John Milloy and Brad Duguid, the minister of training, colleges and universities. Fife broke down her observations in an e-mail to The Cord and explained that OUSA made a strong case for a tuition freeze.

“We also want to give students a reprieve on paying interest post-graduation,” she stated.
Garcia and Walker both said that there was significance placed on the issue of tuition since the framework has expired and a new decision most be made by the end of the month. Currently, tuition increases by an average of five per cent each year.

“All indications have pointed to the fact that we will see a new tuition framework in place by the end of March, so ideally we will have influenced the decision making process,” Garcia explained.

“The common factor was that everyone pretty much agreed that the current model is not sustainable, that the amount of funding that we are giving the system is not working for what we want.”
Walker said that the “minister indicated that tuition will not be a status quo, it is going to be less than five per cent, meaning that we are going to see some sort of progress.”

Another prominent area of concern was mental health.

“Mental health is obviously a topic on everyone’s minds and certainly one that has become more pervasive in the last few years,” said Walker.
Walker continued, “The credit transfer piece is something that has been identified as a priority by the new premier and it’s something she wants to pursue.”

Fife explained that she shares the concerns of students on the mental health file.“We need a two pronged approach — improve crisis response in addition to building campus support to address stigma with a renewed focus on early intervention and prevention.”

Reflecting on the week overall, Garcia expressed, “I think it was great that we were able to meet with a variety of decision makes from all the different parties.”

“That’s the best way to influence the process, as well as to demonstrate that OUSA is not a partisan organization.”

Both Walker and Garcia expressed optimism and satisfaction with the results of the conference and explained that the conversation was productive and members seemed interested in solving the inquiries presented.

“We left the week feeling that we were very successful in conveying our message and now it’s up to the government on how far they want to take it,” Walker concluded.

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