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Chilled by fee hikes, students take to the streets

Monday, November 9, 2009

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  • Janice Folk-Dawson, President of Local 1334 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, addresses students in St. George's Square

    Janice Folk-Dawson, President of Local 1334 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, addresses students in St. George's Square

  • Speakers from the Canadian Federation of Students practice slogans with students in the UC.

    Speakers from the Canadian Federation of Students practice slogans with students in the UC.

  • UoG Students became walking corpses to draw attention to the death of affordable education.

    UoG Students became walking corpses to draw attention to the death of affordable education.

  • About a hundred students turned out to highlight the increased cost of attending university.

    About a hundred students turned out to highlight the increased cost of attending university.

  • Guelph students converged downtown to demand increased funding for post-secondary education.

    Guelph students converged downtown to demand increased funding for post-secondary education.

Written by Greg Beneteau

Braving poor weather, Guelph students converged downtown to demand increased funding for post-secondary education in Ontario.

About a hundred students from the University of Guelph and local high schools converged on St. George’s Square as part of the November 5th Day of Action, a nationwide campaign organized by the Canadian Federation of Students.

Organizers hoped to draw attention to the increasing cost of attending university in Ontario. The province is ranked last in per-capita university funding and was rerecently recognized as having the highest tuition fees in the country, according to Statistics Canada.

“For us, that is unacceptable,” said Momina Mir, External Commissioner of the Central Student Association at U of G. “That one of the wealthiest provinces in the country could be last in funding post-secondary education defies belief.”

Ontario’s undergraduate students can expect to pay $5,951 in university tuition this year, a thousand dollars more than the national average.

The province also outpaced other provinces in tuition fee increases. Tuition rose by 5 per cent this year, the maximum allowed under the province's tuition cap.  The rest of the country averaged a 3.6 per cent increase. 

Since provincial Liberal govenrnment under Premier Dalton McGuinty ended a two-year tuition freeze in 2006, tuition has increased by nearly $1000.

The result is that students like Andrea Lawson are being forced to take on thousands of dollars worth of debt in order to obtain a degree.

Lawson, a masters student at U of G, told the crowd she works part-time on top of her studies but still lives "well below the poverty line" while she tries to pay off her undergraduate debt, which tops $20,000.

"It's not right that if you have a job, you can't afford to take care of yourself," she said.

Alexandra Ingele, a grade 9 student from John F. Ross High School who attended the rally, said she doubted her family could afford to send her to university to study science, as she'd hoped.

"Tuition fees are just too high," she said.

Students in the country collectively hold more than $13 billion in debt, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

A tuition rollback to "pre-thaw" levels would be a step toward making university more accessible to students and their families, Mir claimed.

One guest speaker went further, demanding that tuition fees be scrapped altogether.

"Let's be honest: tuition fees are user fees and user fees are the cornerstone of privatization. We need to get rid of them," Janice Folk-Dawson, President of Local 1334 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, told a cheering crowd.

Folk-Dawson, whose local includes support workers at U of G, said the increase in tuition and ancillary fees at post-secondary institutions could be tied to increased reliance on private funding.

She noted unions are also under attack due to funding cuts, with positions being cut in favour of contracted labour.

"We have a common struggle... We stand with students to advocate for quality education with quality teaching and support staff," she said.

A procession of students marched from the university to the downtown and later picketed the office of Guelph MPP Liz Sandals, despite some uncooperative  November weather.

Students used their "Drop Fees" placards to shield themselves from sporadic hail, while strong winds knocked over Styrofoam tombstones set up to mourn the death of affordable education.

The irony of being out in frigid conditions wasn’t lost on the crowd.

“We’re out asking for a tuition freeze, in freezing weather,” quipped one person in the crowd.

At a speaking engagement in Belleville at the end of October, Premier Dalton McGuinty appeared to throw cold water on another tuition freeze, citing the state of the economy. The province recently announded an anticipated deficit of $24.7 billion for 2009-2010.

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