HISTORY SHOWS US when groups with similar aspirations band together, great things can be accomplished. From something as universal as women’s or civil rights movements, to the more small-scale and local, such as the designation of Ottawa’s gay village late last year, the mobilization of people to fight for a common cause can create real change in our lives.
As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, the ways in which like-minded groups can come together and organize movements are growing. And so, we hear more and more about movements of the people that transcend the miles and borders that once divided us. We hear more and more about the importance of being in solidarity with those facing the same challenges we do every day.
Last week, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) sent a busload of students to Montreal to participate in a protest organized by Quebec students. There have been ongoing protests in the province after the Quebec government’s decision to increase tuition fees by 75 per cent over the next five years.
As stated in a pamphlet distributed by the SFUO, “It is crucial that students in Ontario are in solidarity with our neighbouring province to oppose increases in tuition fees and to fight for an affordable post-secondary education for all!”
But is it?
Accessibility to post-secondary education is desired by Canadians from east to west. Whether one thinks being able to attend a university or college is a right, most people believe students who possess the aptitude and desire for a post-secondary education should not face any barriers to doing so. In this goal, students—and the greater population—stand united.
But accessibility to education can have different meanings in different parts of the country. Quebec, while boasting the lowest tuition fees in the Canada, has one of the lowest post-secondary attendance rates, fuelled by its relatively large high-school drop out rates. French-speaking males from Quebec drop out at a rate of 19.3 per cent—nine points above the national average.
Alberta, the wealthiest province in Canada, ranks seventh out of the country’s 10 provinces for post-secondary enrolment. The option to participate in the province’s strong job market steers would-be students toward earning a good income out of high school over investing time and money in their education.
Ontario and British Colombia are forced to address why the fastest growing segment of their populations—Aboriginal Canadians, who reside in large numbers in these provinces—are attending university and colleges at alarmingly low rates. Meanwhile, the Maritime provinces are faced with overall decreasing post-secondary enrolment rates.
While the fight for access to post-secondary education is a noble one, what determines the ability of a high-school student to make it to university or college can vary from province to province—often for reasons more complex than tuition fees. In fact, the barriers to post-secondary education are so complex, they fall beyond the reach of student associations and lobby groups.
Where our student federation can make an impact is on the accessibility issues faced by the students it represents. The SFUO needs to stand in solidarity with our students—some of whom have overcome various barriers to get here—and fight for the causes relating to our access to a quality education at the University of Ottawa.
We have students at the Roger Guindon campus who endure limited services due to their location that leave them feeling disconnected from the U of O community. There are students of the Faculty of Health Sciences without a proper place to call home on campus.
The participation of students with physical disabilities in campus life is limited by the inaccessibility of buildings at the university. There are students who face discrimination—racial, gender-based, and otherwise—on campus, even at the administrative level.
At our bilingual institution, we have students who cannot take courses in the language of their choice. There are thousands of part-time students who receive much fewer services than full-time students, even though some of these services are essential.
Before we stand in solidarity with Quebec students, we should work toward finding solutions for the problems faced by our own students. The students, united, will never be defeated—but we need to take a stand for our own students first.
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