On January 16, the Ford government announced the entirety of its plans for regressive changes to Ontario’s post-secondary system. This is undeniably an attack on the quality of education and student services on our campuses. We will do everything we can to fight it.
They’ve announced a series of changes to OSAP and ancillary fees (i.e. “student fees”) in Ontario that threaten independent student-run organizations. This includes student unions like YUGSA.
Here is what you need to know:
1) The 10% tuition cut announced is more complex than a simple cut to tuition fees.
The government is taking money out of students’ tuition but they are NOT increasing the amount of public funding to post-secondary institutions to compensate for the drop in revenue they will receive. A 10-per-cent tuition cut would take about $360 million away from universities and $80 million from colleges.
When the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, was questioned several times on how universities and colleges would make up this cut in revenue, she circled around the question, and then claimed it will be left it up to post-secondary institutions to decide – this could mean a 10% reduction in student services, cuts to courses and faculty positions, or other cuts (as it stands, how York distributes funding is not equitable).
This comes at a time when operational funding for universities and colleges is already low, and services like counselling and mental health resources, peer support, reproductive healthcare, accessibility supports, and more, are already stretched thin and need additional funding.
We need the government to invest in our schools and work toward truly free and accessible education.
The government also announced the removal of the 6-month interest-free grace period that students in Ontario had for the repayment of OSAP loans. Low-income students could qualify for grants large enough to cover the full cost of tuition under the previous government’s plan, but now a portion of the funding they receive will be a loan.
2) The government released a broad plan to make all ancillary fees (i.e. “student fees”) optional.
We are not entirely sure how they plan to implement this, but we take it seriously because the move to voluntary ancillary fees is an attack on students’ unions, democracy and services.
This matters a great deal because it threatens our ability to sustain YUGSA. Students’ unions were created as political organizations, by students, to challenge what the wealthy and powerful administrators of these institutions want, and to fight for universal, accessible education.
The YUGSA is proud to be an independent student-run organization representing graduate students’ interests and advancing graduate student representation across York. We absolutely need students’ unions to push back against cuts and actions that threaten our quality of education and student rights.
We will not waver in the face of a government that it has to find ways to deliberately silence voices that hold it and our universities and colleges accountable.
Unfortunately, if voluntary ancillary fees are implemented as early as September 2019, new students will be asked whether they want to pay into a students’ union they have never had time to know and participate in, so they may be likely to opt out of fees. This would in turn weaken the amount of resources students’ unions have to provide services. As a reminder, YUGSA provides the following services:
– Our healthcare plan for students who are not CUPE 3903 members;
– Funding to departmental graduate student associations;
– Funding for students for conferences, thesis support and skills development;
– Emergency loans and bursaries;
– Academic advocacy services for student facing accusations of plagiarism and other issues with administration and supervisors (e.g. involving racism, sexism, ableism, etc.);
– Support by executives to lead work in enhancing graduate student representation, organizing departmental graduate student associations, intervening in cuts and conflicts within our programs and departments; providing support for accessibility, equity and social justice work, anti-oppression training, graduate and community donations (e.g. support for the Unist’ot’en camp) and more;
– Orientation resources and resources in our office (tax filing, discount cards, etc.);
– Spaces like our conference room, Overgrad, and new café-pub;
– Services in partnership with organizations like the YFS food bank, use of Student Centre spaces, and more.
It’s also alarming the government didn’t think it worth consulting any stakeholders at Ontario’s universities or colleges in advance – this is what they did with the Free Speech policy last year. Ford’s announcement signals a top-down chilling effect to stop progressive campus activism.
There is no doubt that if the Doug Ford government is successful in their attack on student unions then they will further attack trade unions and potentially implement right-to-work law (a ban on contractual agreements between employers and union employees requiring workers to pay for the costs of union representation). This will seriously threaten the sustainability of trade unions to fight for workers’ rights. We need our allies and organize here and now to stop Ford’s attacks.
We are deeply rooted and committed to students and our communities. Students deserve to have independent student-run organizations. But that means respecting our autonomy – including the fact that thousands of students decide through democratic referenda that our student unions deserve funding.
We will let you know about the latest updates and future actions to fight it.
The YUGSA Executive