Student groups petition Ontario for more support

Jeremy Appel

City Hall/Queen’s Park Reporter

Student leaders insist the Ontario government do more to make post-secondary education affordable for the province’s students in the March 2015 budget.

“Affordability in post-secondary education is a hot button issue” during budget negotiations, Executive Director of the Humber Students’ Federation  Ercole Perrone said.

Ontario’s average tuition was almost $7000 in 2014, Canada’s highest according to statistics from the Canadian Federation of Students.

Perrone outlined three ways the government can make education more affordable.

First, Perrone said, the budget needs to address the $4-billion disparity in funding between universities and colleges, whereby colleges receive less: “That gap needs to be closed quite considerably.”

Second, the province’s 30 per cent tuition rebate “is not inclusive enough.” Perrone would like to see more greater accessibility for the grant, which currently is restricted according to length of time away from high school and parental household income.

Finally, Perrone said the province needs to invest in colleges’ infrastructure and maintenance. The province has “some ancient campuses that are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 50 years old,” he said.

The HSF does not lobby the government on its own. This task is delegated to umbrella organizations like the College Student Alliance (CSA) and the Canadian Federation of Students.

“You would find it very ineffective for individual student federations at individual colleges and universities to advocate directly to the provincial government,” Perrone said. “It’s a matter of strength through numbers.”

Matt Stewart, president of the CSA, says his organization has “a great track record of success” working with the provincial government.

The CSA successfully lobbied the government to waive transfer fees for students who switch schools and deferral fees, Stewart said.

The CSA made two recommendations to the Ontario government this year, eliminating the vehicle assessment fee and making OSAP more readily available for Aboriginal students.

The vehicle assessment fee unfairly discriminates against students in rural Ontario who lack access to public transportation and must drive to school, Stewart said.
Eliminating it will cost the province between $17 million and $20 million, which only constitutes 0.02-to-0.03 per cent of the Ministry of Training, Universities and Colleges’ operating budget, he said.

“We feel Aboriginal ancestry students are significantly disadvantaged compared to other students” in terms of eligibility for student loans, Stewart said.

The CSA’s goal with this policy is “to close the educational attainment gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the province,” which Stewart said the government shares.

“The cost depends on future Aboriginal enrolment, which fluctuates,” he said.

The HSF is affiliated with the CSA on an ad hoc basis, but the CFS is the largest single student lobbying group in Ontario.

Anna Goldfinch, national executive of the CFS – Ontario, said her organization “is the only student organization that represents full time, part time, undergraduate, graduate, college (and) professional students across the province.”

The CFS is currently lobbying the Ontario government to reduce tuition fees to 2005 levels, as well as to include international students under OHIP and establish a clear policy on sexual impropriety on campus with support for victims, Goldfinch said.

Goldfinch concedes there is a long road ahead on the path to decreased tuition fees, but insists it is a worthy cause.