Students lobby provincial government for positive change

The reasoning behind the requests

Roman Jakubowski

Staff Writer

LUSU is a member of an organization called the Canadian Federation of Students: it pays membership fees and the CFS provides it with services. One such action the CFS takes on behalf of the student unions it represents is that every year the CFS spends a week lobbying the provincial governments.

Representatives from college and university student unions across the province met with Members of Provincial Parliament, Ministers, and Staff at the provincial legislature in Queens Park including VP Orillia Ian McRae and myself.

The issues on the Federation’s agenda included lower tuition, OHIP for international students, a strengthening of legislation surrounding sexual assault policy on campus, and the reintroduction of Bill 184 which will protect student union autonomy.

The Canadian Federation of Students made the following cases for each:

Lower Tuition: Under the Liberals, tuition has gone up 108%. This is, after the Liberals recognized tuition was too high in 2005 and promised to freeze tuition. The CFS estimates that in order to return tuition to 2005 levels; it will cost $1.3 billion. The CFS put forward a three-year plan: in the first year, a 16.3% reduction accomplished through the reallocation of the 30% tuition grant and provincial education tax credits. Then, over the next two years, 8.3% reductions at a cost of 500 million each. They also advocate graduate students pay post residency fees; that is to say, 50% of their tuition during the thesis portion of their degree.

The CFS argues in support of getting rid of the 30% grant because a reduction to 2005 levels will make up for the reallocation of the 30% grant. In Ontario, education is increasingly becoming a privilege– in 2011, 52% of university enrollments came from the highest income quartile.

OHIP for International Students: International students are forced to buy a University Health Insurance Plan instead of being included in the Ontario Health Insurance Plan. The CFS argues that this privatized medicine is expensive and inadequate: ultimately, it makes Ontario an unattractive place for international students to study because if international students can’t get good health care, they’ll be less interested in coming to Ontario and they’ll go to British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, or Prince Edward Island; all of which include international students in their provincial health insurance plans.

It’s important to remember that the CFS notes that 75-80% of international students stay in Canada once they’ve graduated. Immigration is vital to the economy of this country and international students are vital to the success of our universities. Specifically, international students contribute 3 billion dollars to the economy: that’s $200 million in government revenue, and 29,000 jobs.

With the provincial government cutting funding consistently, universities have been forced to create large administrations capable of attracting and recruiting international students. Less money from the provinces and more money in the hands of administrators has left very little room for investment in the business of education. Universities have turned towards underpaid sessional lecturers.

The CFS believes providing OHIP to international students will bring more international students to Ontario and help universities accomplish their recruitment goals.  It will provide universities with an important source of revenue and Ontario with an influx of highly skilled immigrants who have been trained in Canadian institutions and who are ready to work in a Canadian economy. It will save money in emergency rooms by making preventative options more accessible to international students, it will increase already excellent retention rates of those students, and it will increase GDP as more students come to Ontario. They note that these factors need to be considered when calculating the cost of this option.

Sexual Assault: CFS members from Ontario met with Kathleen Wynne recently, and the government has passed legislation stating that post-secondary institutions must have sexual assault policies.

In addition to this policy, the CFS is arguing that an enforcement body be created to give the legislation teeth and hold schools accountable.

The CFS is also asking the provincial government for 6 million dollar resource fund to help strengthen support services.

The Liberal government has been very responsive to these issues, which leads the CFS to believe it a very good time to push for even stronger policies.

Protecting Student Union Autonomy:  Universities levy a student union fee on behalf of the student union and then allocate that money to the student union. However, the CFS reports that in some cases, universities have refused to hand over those funds citing paternalistic excuses like “holding student unions accountable.”

However, as the CFS representatives note, student unions are governed by the Not-For-Profit Act and thus, do not need university administrations to hold them accountable.

In some instances, student unions attempting to tackle sexual assault on campus have had their autonomy threatened for making the university look bad; meanwhile very little is being done to hold these administrations accountable. The CFS argues that the lack of regulation has allowed administrators to get rid of student unions that have become politically inconvenient.

These attacks on student union autonomy have real consequences: one such example involved a university administration who got rid of their student union and replaced its mental health services with a therapy dog.

Because these initiatives cost money, the CFS put forward a number of revenue generating options:

Abolish the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario: the CFS claims the HEQCO is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer money, all it does is provide a rubber stamp for government initiatives.

Salary Caps: A 250,000 dollar salary cap on university administrators and a $200,000 salary cap on college administrators will save the province at least 17 million dollars a year. Students who are curious can check out the sunshine list online to find out which administrators at Lakehead make more than $250,000.

Increasing Corporate Tax Rates: The CFS is calling for the provincial government to restore the corporate tax rate back to 2009 levels. From 11.5% to 14%. This will generate 3.9 billion dollars per year.