Students and workers are appalled by the Doug Ford government’s shameful attempt to use a tuition fee reduction as a political gimmick to try and hide a $600 million cut to student grants, a $440 million cut to university and college budgets, all and a petty and vindictive attack on democratic students’ unions.
Ontario’s faculty, staff, and students are united in our opposition to these cuts and attacks, which threaten education quality, accessibility, and student life on campus.
Tuition fee reductions
We are in favour of making postsecondary education more accessible and has long advocated for tuition fee reductions, but not in the absence of increased core funding and sound student financial aid policy.
Without increased public funding for Ontario’s universities and colleges, the Ford Government’s announced tuition fee reduction is nothing more than a $440 million cut to the province’s already under-funded universities and colleges. This cut follows a decade of eroding funding for postsecondary education in Ontario
Despite these reductions, most students will find themselves deeper in debt.
It is important to note that Minister Fullerton signaled the government’s commitment to not cut core operating grants for postsecondary institutions, but these ill-conceived tuition fee reductions will shrink university budgets, increase class sizes, encourage further tuition fee hikes for international students, and threaten both the accessibility and quality of postsecondary education in Ontario.
International students, who pay the highest tuition fees in Ontario ($34,961 per year on average at the undergraduate level), are ineligible for this 10 per cent reduction in tuition fees.
The announced OSAP cuts and changes to eligibility criteria mean it will be harder for many students to access postsecondary education. The $600 million cut to student grants will result in thousands of students being forced to take out expensive loans and graduate with even more debt.
While the government may try to use the misleading and inaccurate Auditor General’s report for political cover, there is no good argument to be made for rolling back OSAP. Given the data available, it was an effective and popular program desperately needed by Ontario students.
We have real concerns with the Auditor General’s Report. It’s clear that most of the money in the existing program was reallocated from less effective financial assistance programs. The Auditor General’s claim that it is unsustainable is misleading.
Like a lot of Ford’s spin, this is a manufactured crisis being used to attack Ontario’s most vulnerable. This is a regressive policy that will force students from low-income families to pay more for their education.
Attacks on students
Ancillary fees are those fees that “support services and activities distinct from academic programming or general overhead for the institution. Examples of ancillary fees include convocation fees, student activity fees, athletic fees, health care and insurance fees, field trip fees and fees associated with the cost of buildings such as student centres.” Also, certain technology fees.
It is how the fee is set that matters, not what it pays for. When students vote to create a fee to fund a service through a referenda, they are expressing their democratic will. Any attempt by the government or institution to make these fee voluntary is an attack on democracy and students’ rights.
These fees can be implemented in a few different ways, but it is important to distinguish between those fees that are set by a university or college administration and those fees that are set by students in democratic referenda.
Students’ unions are distinct and independent democratic organizations. Students’ unions are formed and their dues are set by democratic referenda. Rather than paying for a specific non-academic activity or service, students’ union membership dues maintain the independent democratically elected and run students’ unions that represent students on university, college and government committees, advocate on behalf students, and provide cost-saving services.
Students’ unions are democratically run not-for-profits founded by and for students and should be free from government interference.
The dues that students’ unions collect and how those dues are spent are determined by students through annual elections, referenda, and membership meetings.
Making these dues optional would fundamentally undermine the rights of students and their ability to collectively organize and advocate as a group. It is a cynical attack on students’ rights that assumes that students are not able to make democratic decisions for themselves.
Through their advocacy work, students’ play an important role holding universities and governments accountable for decisions about issues including tuition fees and student financial assistance.
The government’s unnecessary and anti-democratic decision to make many student fees voluntary is not about choice. It is a deliberate effort to undermine students’ rights and dismantle democratic students’ unions. This is a petty and vindictive government driven by a desire to silence opposing voices, especially on university and college campuses.
It is no coincidence that this government is cutting support for students’ unions at the same time they are cutting OSAP and university and college budgets.
Despite this government’s claim to care about “free speech”, this is a deliberate attempt to stifle political debate, dissent, and student speech on campus. It will defund the students’ unions and student media that work to hold the government to account on postsecondary education issues.
The average students’ union dues are roughly only $100 and the services they provide are essential, including campus food banks, women’s centres, pride centres, Indigenous services centres, mental health support centres, sexual assault support centres, subsidized transit passes, non-profit health and dental plans, academic support and advocate services (such as challenging academic misconduct decisions and representing students on tribunals), funding for campus clubs and societies, funding for student refugees, collecting levies for independent campus press, and operating affordable non-profit commercial services such as book stores, restaurants and cafes.
Every student pays dues that support these services, every student has access to all of these services, but only those students who need support use these services. That is how it should be. Students have decided to democratically work together to fund a students’ union that can represent, advocate, and provide services for the collective good of all students.
Students’ union provide good jobs for thousands of students across Ontario.
Making students’ union fees optional will irrevocably harm student life on campus and eliminate many of the services students depend on.
Fee Bureaucracy and Democracy
Making these fees optional will substantially increase costs and red tape for university and college administration as they struggle to absorb essential services defunded by this government.
At every level of government, elected leaders sometimes do things they should not. In response, we don’t abolish or defund the government or the democratic structures that support it, we hold our elected representatives to account and make sure that, as a society or as a union or as a students’ union, we have laws and regulations in place to prevent these incidents.
It is shocking that the government would make an announcement of this magnitude without consulting any stakeholders at the province’s postsecondary institutions, including students, faculty, staff, or even university and college administrations.
In fact, despite the fact that postsecondary stakeholder groups, including students, faculty, and staff, have repeatedly requested meeting with this Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities Merillee Fullerton, the Minister has chosen to ignore or deny those requests.
This complete lack of consultation, transparency, and accountability demonstrates that Doug Ford’s government does not represent—nor does it care for—the interests of the students, faculty, or staff at Ontario’s universities and colleges.