Earlier this week, CBC Ottawa published a story discussing the impacts of the Ford government’s cuts to education. First-year student Abiha Sajid told CBC that her financial aid was suddenly cut by $1,000 at the last minute. Others, such as second-year student Anne Hamels, said that her OSAP was cut by close to 75 per cent. Most worrisome of all, third-year student James Casey has had to drop out of school this year altogether. Despite qualifying as a “low-income student,” his OSAP grant was $2,000 less than what it had been for years.
At the same time, student clubs, services and associations are preparing for a dramatic reduction to their operating budgets due to the new Student “Choice” Initiative. Though students democratically voted to pay these fees over decades, much of the University of Ottawa’s student-run community is now at risk.
These include student newspapers, who help keep the student union and the university administration in check. Or faculty student associations, who welcome new students to campus, run social events and provide academic support. Or the Women’s Resource Centre and the Pride Centre, both of which support and lift up marginalized communities on our campus.
And, to pay for all of these cuts to the university’s operating budgets, the U of O has decided to raise international tuition by 12 per cent, bringing many international students’ tuition close to $40,000 a year or more. They have become the cash cows of our campus.
The comments section on the CBC article and others like it argue our generation is, quite simply, lazy. That previous generations only put themselves through school and achieved success through the unfailing wisdom of “hard work”. They suggest that instead of asking for a hand-out, our generation should simply “get a job.”
The reality, however, is more complex than that. Ontario still has the highest tuition fees in Canada, and, according to RBC, it has become more difficult to be a university student today than 25 years ago.
Studies reveal that tuition fees in Canada have outpaced the rate of inflation by nearly 300 per cent. Studies also show that it now takes over 500 hours of minimum wage work to pay tuition fees, compared to under 300 hours in 1990. And, since 1990, the government’s share of university funding has “fallen by nearly half”, increasing tuition fees in a way that had never been seen in previous generations. And all of this is excluding textbooks, transportation, food, housing, clothing and the many other vital student needs.
We’re not asking for a handout. We’re asking for a fair shot.
Because of the rising cost of university, students are relying more on loans and grants. We are, on average, borrowing nearly double the money our parents’ generation had to in order to get through a standard bachelor’s degree. That’s why the cuts to OSAP are so devastating for students across this campus. That’s why simply “getting a job” and “working harder” to pay for school is much easier said than done.
And instead of “working harder” on our behalf, the premier has sent out fundraising letters to his supporters calling students who run vital student services and associations “Marxists.” (I, for one, fail to see how volunteering at a Food Bank, for example, constitutes planning for the overthrow of the capitalist system.) Instead of working with students to see how he can invest in the future of his province, Premier Ford is choosing to cut tuition for the rich and make education more unaffordable for everybody else.
By cutting student services, he is turning post-secondary education into a business. And by cutting OSAP, he is turning students into customers.
Premier Ford can do this because we have never shown that we will stand up for each other and fight back. He can do this because it is more convenient for him to make life more difficult for students than ask wealthy corporations and individuals to pay their fair share.
But there’s hope. In 2012, students in my home province of Quebec took to the streets for months to fight against the government’s proposed tuition increase. Students went on strike, forced a provincial election and changed the government. And as a result of students standing up for students, Quebec still has, by far, the lowest tuition rates in the country. They also have one of Canada’s most generous student loans & grants programs. Combined with scholarships, affordable housing and financial aid, many students are able to get through a regular bachelor’s program with little-to-no debt. And provincial governments in Quebec now know to never try to make education more unaffordable ever again.
In Ontario, we’re not used to protesting when our government fails us. But we all know somebody who’s had to take more hours at work because of cuts to OSAP. Many of us rely on student services and benefit from a vibrant student community. And when students are literally dropping out of university altogether because it’s too expensive, it falls on us to make a choice of our own – do we just let it happen, or do we fight back?
This Tuesday, hundreds of us will assemble on Tabaret Lawn at 11 a.m. and march to Parliament Hill with our voices and our signs. Whether you’re an international student or a domestic student, whether you come from a rich family or a poor family, whether you receive OSAP or know someone who does, we can, by simply showing up, send a message all the way to Queen’s Park.
To the U of O community – let’s stand up for each other, and fight back against cuts to education.
Tim Gulliver is a co-organizer of the protest against cuts to education. He’s a second-year political science student at the U of O.