An urgent call for students to take political action and obstruct the provincial government’s push towards privatized education came last week from MPP Rosario Marchese, the NDP’s education watchdog in the Ontario legislature.

“We need to mobilize the public, we need to mobilize students—we need to involve all students at the high school level, at the college level and the university level,” said Marchese. “If we could mobilize that sector, this government could easily be made accountable.”

Concerns regarding the deregulation of tuition fees and the downloading of capital project costs onto students—promoted by university officials as vital to the maintenance of quality education—were discussed at a forum organized by Marchese, along with concerns over equal access to learning and increasing student debt levels.

Pam Frache of the Canadian Federation of Students said escalating tuition fees—resulting from cuts of over $1 billion in government spending since the Tories gained power in 1995—are part of that government’s policy to “play roulette with public education.” She echoed Marchese’s call for students to take action.

“If I could, I would run through the hallways pulling fire alarms,” she said. “The fight is about equality and universality—the fight is now.”

Kathryn Blackett, a lobbyist with People for Education, said as many as 21,000 students may be prevented from entering university after grade 13 is eliminated in fall 2003.

A combination of escalating tuition fees and tougher admission standards to cope with the influx of students will make post-secondary education inaccessible to all but the wealthy, says Marchese. Students graduating from basic arts and science programs are already facing minimum debt loads of $40,000—before interest charges begin to accrue six months after graduation.

Marchese, a St. Michael’s College alumnus, doesn’t understand why students are tolerating the deregulation of programs like law—where tuition will soon rise above $20,000 a year—or massive debt burdens that appear insurmountable in the increasingly pay-per-use economy implemented by the provincial Conservative government.

“When I graduated in 1977, my total debt burden was $1,500—it doesn’t seem like a lot, but for me it was interminable,” he said to the gathering at the Palmerston Public Library. “It seemed like I could never repay $1,500, and that was when the economy was growing.

“We’ve got to organize a debate with leaders, we need the debate now—before the election,” he said.

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