TORONTO, March 20, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) --
Hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Toronto walked out of the classroom today to protest changes to the post-secondary sector. This was part of a province-wide campaign at University campuses. The group of 300 were supported by campus labour unions, community groups and concerned faculty members. Speakers at the rally included representatives from the Canadian Federation of Students (C.F.S.), Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902 (C.U.P.E. 3902), and the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students at the University of Toronto (A.P.U.S.)
The Ford government announced sweeping changes to the sector, including restructuring the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (O.S.A.P.), a province-wide tuition cut and funding for campus organizations. The January announcements coming out of Queen’s Park have left many student groups across the Ontario wondering how they will make ends meet in the coming years.
Speaking to the move from grants to loans for low-income O.S.A.P. recipients, Jaime Kearns, President of A.P.U.S. expressed, "The changes to OSAP will continue to narrow access to post-secondary education that will undoubtedly effect low- and middle-income students; Indigenous, Black and racialized students; queer and trans students and students with disabilities. U of T has a duty to advocate for and publicly support an accessible system of post-secondary education and we need them to make the right choice and support students now.”
Other groups feel the Ford government is out of touch with what University campuses need. “A tuition cut without funding to fill the gap can only lead to increased pressure at the bargaining table, an as much as 5% cut across the board, job layoffs,” said Jess Taylor, Chair of C.U.P.E. 3902. The announced 10 percent tuition cut has come under public scrutiny as it has left many wondering if the government has a plan to support Ontario Universities. “The U of T will have to lower operational costs using other measures like increased student enrolment, increased commodification, increasing international student tuition, or clawbacks in working and learning conditions,” she continued.
In an unprecedented move, the Ford government has intervened in how campus organizations, clubs and centres are funded. The new policy will allow students to “opt out” of all ancillary fees that do not fall within “campus wellness services.” Affected groups include student government organizations, equity-based community groups, campus newspapers, and Indigenous student centres. Many of these groups have already had to fight for funding, petitioning students through “opt-in campaigns” to secure guaranteed yearly funding for their organizations. Speaking to the need for such organizations, Noor Alideeb, Chair of the C.F.S. said, "Students across the province need an independent voice in order to hold local administrations and the government accountable. It is through these mechanisms that we have successfully advocated for grants, reduced tuition, sexual violence and harassment support, mental health resources and more.”
The government has dubbed the policy the “Student Choice Initiative.” Alideeb continued, “Though the government claims that the Student Choice Initiative is a way to save money, students overwhelmingly reject it because it is an ideological attack on advocacy groups and unions that fight for students' rights. Student groups build community, ensure campus democracy, and provide crucial services."
In a fundraising email to Progressive Conservative Party supporters, Ford himself motivated for the importance of the Student Choice Initiative by saying “I think we all know what kind of crazy Marxist nonsense student unions get up to.” (Source: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/ontario-pcs-say-student-unions-instigate-crazy-marxist-nonsense-1.4291985)
Taylor referred to the potential for wider spread changes to Ontario’s public sector, “We know what is coming next, that the Rand Formula and the right to unionize will come under attack. This Government has targeted student groups that do not align with their political values. They will attack labour unions. But we are here to advocate for the rights of members, for stronger work protections. Benefits and higher wages are not a gift, they are won through negotiations and demonstrations of collective power.”
Chair, CUPE 3902
CUPE 3902 Staff
A photo accompanying this announcement is available at: http://www.globenewswire.com/NewsRoom/AttachmentNg/30cd3413-d61f-48fc-a0b9-039836002843