Yesterday students and community members held a press conference outside Sidney Smith Hall in anticipation of tuition fee increases that will likely be passed at today’s Governing Council (GC) meeting.
MPP Rosario Marchese, the NDP veteran who represents U of T’s riding, condemned the ongoing tuition increases at Ontario’s post-secondary institutions. In 1996, the average tuition for an Ontario arts program was less than $3,000. Today, fees average more than $4,500, with professional faculties at U of T well into the $10,000-$20,000 range.
“The real culprit is not the university, although I blame them as well. The real culprits are right here where I am—at Queen’s Park,” said Marchese, referring to the Tory government.
Several students spoke of the financial strain they endure while pursuing higher education.
Emma Johnson, a graduate student in the department of linguistics, and mother of a three-year old boy, said she had incurred a debt of $41,715 after taking out loans in the last two years of her undergraduate degree. By the time she finishes her PhD she will face a total debt of $63,715.
“With my guaranteed funding through the [faculty of] Arts and Science, after my tuition is paid, I am left with $1,000 a month to cover my living costs. My rent is $900,” explained Johnson.
“The cost to ride the TTC to school every day with my son is over $100 per month, and so basically I am left with nothing to eat, nothing to dress my child or dress myself, diapers…I don’t know where this money is going to come from. So I am forced again to rely on loans.”
Gabriela Novak, a PhD student in pharmacology, lamented the downward slide in post-secondary funding since she completed an undergraduate degree in the nineties.
“OSAP does not give out grants anymore; there is no subsidy for childcare,” said Novak.
Ineligible for OSAP now, Novak is in a bind. But it’s not just her personal welfare on the line. “My daughter’s life depends on me,” she said, adding, “university education is no longer a universal right. It is a privilege for those who can afford it.”
Many speakers criticized U of T’s response to inadequate government funding. Elan Ohayon, a student governor and the vice president external for the Graduate Students’ Union, called it a “cowardly approach.”
Rajini Ghosh, president of the Arts and Science Students Union (ASSU) said, “the university is not doing a good job of turning to [the provincial government] and asking them for the money.”
“What they do is turn to us, the students…who have no money. I have a hole in my pocket,” said Ghosh.
Marchese also condemned the university administration. “I am saddened that the university presidents are not actively engaging this Conservative government to say, ‘we need you to deliver money to our sector because we desperately need it.’”
Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) representative Pam Frache pointed to other provinces, saying lowered tuition is not “pie in the sky.”
In Newfoundland, the Liberal government lowered fees by 25 per cent, said Frache. And in Quebec, the Parti Quebecois has committed to launching a discussion paper on free universities.
Frache said lowered tuition and greater accessibility “requires a government that has a political will to look after the needs of students in this province.”
Marchese claimed the NDP is the answer. “The New Democrats are saying not only that we are freezing [tuition], but that we would roll back tuition fees by 10 per cent the first year that we are elected and eventually get rid of tuition fees. And that is our goal as a government…Should we become a government.”
In order to raise the funds necessary to provide universities with the resources to re-regulate programs and decrease tuition fees, the NDP would increase income taxes for the 3 per cent of the population that earns more than $100,000. Corporate taxes will be raised to 1995 levels.
“We believe that we need fair taxation, which includes the corporate sector,” said Marchese.
Justin Goldenthal, a Grade 10 student who was among the 15 individuals denied speaking rights for today’s GC meeting, said he was appalled the Council would not listen to him.
“Tuition should be lowered and it should be lowered now,” said the youth activist. “And they should be listening to us because we’re the future. We are the students of today and tomorrow.”
Students will congregate outside Simcoe Hall at 4 p.m. today to rally before the 5 p.m. GC meeting.
Photograph by Simon Turnbull