TORONTO, March 11, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The following is a statement from Canadian Union of Public Employees (C.U.P.E.) Locals 3902 and 1281 and the Canadian Federation of Students (C.F.S.):

Students and workers from the University of Toronto came together today at Queen’s Park. Representatives from Canadian Union of Public Employees (C.U.P.E.) Locals 3902 and 1281, as well as the Canadian Federation of Students (C.F.S.), were present. In a press conference sponsored by the Ontario NDP, the groups voiced their concern over the recently announced changes to the post-secondary sector.

In January 2019, the Ford government announced major changes affecting the funding of Ontario’s colleges and universities. The changes included the removal of mandatory student fees, except for campus health and safety services, a shift from grants to loans for Ontario Student Assistance Fund (O.S.A.P.) recipients, the removal of the interest-free grace period for repaying student loans, and a 10 percent tuition cut for domestic students.

C.U.P.E. 3902 spokesperson and Local Chair, Jess Taylor, spoke of the relationship between the tuition cut and the fear of job losses. “We have 10,000 members between the three campuses, and 8,000 of them are also students. They aren’t fooled by the promise of lower tuition. They want to know how the University is going to make up the difference. Our members all work on campus, but, as precarious workers on contracts of a year or less, they don’t have real job security.”

With student tuition contributing more than 50 percent of the University’s operating budget, a cut will mean huge changes, with University administrators have to decide which purse strings to tighten. Taylor continued, “We represent hundreds of sessional lecturers who don’t have guaranteed future work. With some workers groups protected from job cuts, we are afraid any cuts will affect precariously employed workers. This situation makes things worse for groups who are already vulnerable.”

Nour Alideeb of the Canadian Federation of Students (C.F.S.) put the tuition cuts into context, explaining that tuition has been steadily rising for 15 years and that the cut will not make up the difference. “Students will continue to suffer in a vicious cycle of high tuition fees and low wage work. The changes to O.S.A.P. will negatively impact marginalized students on our campuses.”

The government claimed the O.S.A.P. grant program was not fulfilling its purpose, spurring the shift back to loans. Alideeb pointed to this hypocrisy, citing a huge rise in participation in the grant program from Indigenous students, mature students, and low-income students. “Almost 19,000 students at the University of Toronto received enough grants to cover the average cost of tuition fees. Students are being set up to fail by a government that doesn’t seem to understand that education isn’t just for the rich.”

Rachele Clemente, a member of C.U.P.E. Local 1281 and worker with the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (O.P.I.R.G.) at the University of Toronto criticized the removal of mandatory student fees, “This will result in the loss of student centred spaces that have provided thousands of students and recent graduates with the opportunities and supports ranging from foodbanks to student placements. They say that this is to give students choice? Yet how is forcing students to make decisions without any giving context, any experience or understanding of what they would be losing if they opted out?”

She continued on the short-sighted nature of the cuts, “This policy in effect saves students pennies on the dollar while sacrificing the stability of organizations that work to support disabled students, survivors, and low income students amongst others.”

“Universities provide a huge number of jobs for Ontario residents,” 3902’s Taylor expressed concern over the larger effects of these changes. “These cuts could produce as much as a 5 percent cut across the board. We know that workers will be faced with the possibility of layoff, and collective bargaining will be made even more difficult.”

Contacts:

Jess Taylor
Chair, CUPE 3902
416-593-7057

Kathryn McDonald
CUPE 3902 Staff
613-532-5415